APES ON FILM: Dr. Jekyll, The Original Mad Scientist!

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE – 1941
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Spencer Tracy , Ingrid Bergman , Lana Turner
Director: Victor Fleming
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: May 17, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 113 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Robert Louis Stevenson’s treatise on the duality of man, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was born in London in 1886.  Like Dracula eleven years later, the novella has permeated the groundwater of our culture and stands as a landmark of gothic horror literature. The term “Jekyll and Hyde” has punctuated our vernacular and has come to be shorthand for someone who presents a friendly face but harbors private evil. There have been over 120 stage and film adaptations of the story since its publication, and today’s column features the 1941 film version from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But let’s back up 10 years to set the scene for this movie.

Paramount Pictures made what many consider to be the definitive version of the film in 1931, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March, who won the Academy Award™ for Best Actor for his performance.  The film was a box office and critical success, and has stood the test of time with classic film fans. Ten years later, MGM created as literal a remake of the Paramount film as they could, with slight changes to Samuel Hoffenstein‘s and Percy Heath‘s 1931 screenplay made to satisfy the Hays Code, enacted in 1934. This code regulated the film industry in matters of “moral decency” in what was presented to the public for exhibition. The result, while quite watchable, is an inferior film.

There was no need to remake a 10 year old film – barring the fact that there was little chance to see the original, as television, home video, and streaming services were still science fiction at the time – but MGM bought the rights to a filmable script, had bankable stars to populate the film, and in order to avoid lackluster comparisons, did everything they could to hide the Mamoulian version away, causing it to become mired in legal restrictions which kept it out of the public eye for many years.

The trio of Tracy, Turner, and Bergman are certainly enticement to see the film, but Fleming’s direction seems uneven and meanders through a story that should be taut, and fast paced. The majority of the heavy lifting acting-wise is handled with aplomb by Bergman, who was originally cast in Turner’s role. She begged Fleming to switch the actresses’ places as she was tired of playing saintly women (as she would in JOAN OF ARC, 1948) and longed to be the bad girl in the film. Tracy acquits himself decently in the title roles, but his appearance as Hyde is not nearly as effective as Fredric March’s in the original. In fact, he winds up looking a bit like George Hamilton after a serious bender in many scenes. Lana Turner does as much as she can with her role, and she and Ingrid Bergman look fabulous throughout…a definite point in the movie’s favor.

Warner Archive Collection’s presentation of the film reveals an enormous amount of detail unseen on previous home video releases. The studio’s restoration creates a much-improved viewing experience both in sharpness and accuracy of contrast levels. The sound quality is consistent with a film of this era, and presents Franz Waxman’s original score well. Unfortunately, the only supplementary feature on this disc is the film’s original trailer.

I wish I liked this movie more, but I won’t recommend you skip it. However, Warner Archive is set to release the 1931 version on BRD in October. Don’t miss that disc.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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