Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

“You should go out, sir.  London offers many amusements for a gentlemen like you, sir,” says Poole to Dr. Henry Jekyll.  Jekyll responds, “Yes, but gentlemen like me daren’t take advantage of them, Poole.  Gentlemen like me have to be very careful of what we do or say.”

1931 was a year that saw the release of two of the most famous horror films of all time, Tod Browning’s Dracula and James Whale’s Frankenstein.  They were critical and box office hits that have endured for over 80 years, and are the films [​IMG]for which their stars are most famous for (Bela Lugosi for Dracula and Boris Karloff for Frankenstein).  1931 also saw the release of another great horror film, Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Although it hasn’t quite reached the iconic level of those two films, it is an Oscar-winning, innovative film that has I love the 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Bifocal Lens Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1931 The Journal of Wild 500x375 Movie-index.comfared well over the years.  I saw it on the big screen at Film Forum four years ago as part of a double feature with Whale’s 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge (both were part of Film Forum’s Essential Pre-Code repertory series), and it was a very enjoyable experience.  This review of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is my entry in the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Shadows & Satin and Pre-Code.Com (as noted by the logo at the top).

1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde follows the kindly Dr. Henry Jekyll in Victorian London as he creates a formula that, after testing it on himself, unleashes an evil alter ego called Edward Hyde, who commits horrible acts (including murder).  Mamoulian gathered a terrific cast that included Fredric March (as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Miriam Hopkins (as Ivy), Rose Hobert (as Muriel), Holmes Herbert (as Dr. Lanyon), Halliwell Hobbes (as General Carew), Edgar Norton (as Poole), and Tempe Pigott (as Mrs. Hawkins).  March is simply marvelous in his duel roles as Jekyll and Hyde.  He conveys the kindness of Jekyll so good that it’s hard to believe he also brings out the utter cruelty and savagery of Hyde.  His performance is so masterful that it Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Ivy under coverswon March an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Hopkins is also good as Ivy; she oozes sexuality as a bar singer who’s rescued by Jekyll early on only to be tormented and terrorized by Hyde later on.  The film was released prior to the creation of the Production Code; when the film was re-released a few years later, eight minutes were cut out (mostly material involving Hopkins, who the censors believed oozed too much sexuality for audiences to handle).  Thankfully, the cut footage was restored years later.

Mamoulian’s direction is top-notch.  The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Samuel Hoffestein and Percy Heath (based on the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson with some influence from the 1887 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Ivy swinging legstage version by Thomas Russell Sullivan) explores the duality of man, showing that evil can lurk inside even the most kindest of men.  It also explores how an unchecked ego and repressed sexual desire can manifest in the most horrible of manners.  The production design by Hans Dreier is atmospheric and effectively recreates Victorian London.  The Oscar-nominated black-and-Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Hyde embraces Ivywhite cinematography by Karl Struss is incredible, particularly the camerawork involved in creating the POV shots of Jekyll looking at himself in a mirror.  Wally Westmore’s Oscar-worthy makeup design for the de-evolved look of Mr. Hyde was truly outstanding, especially the makeup process (aided by Struss’ cinematography) that went into the transformation sequences (which are more impressive considering the fact that the film is over 80 years old).

The costume designs by Travis Banton were first-rate and stayed true to the period depicted in the film.  William Shea’s editing gives the film a good pace, jeckyll7and Herman Hand delivers an effective score.  Mamoulian’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remains one of the best adaptations of Stevenson’s book, thanks largely to March’s Oscar-winning performance, Struss’ Oscar-nominated cinematography, and Westmore’s innovative makeup techniques.  It is a cautionary tale about the duality of man, the dangers of succumbing to one’s own hubris, and the fear of science run amuck.  The film remains as chilling now as it was almost 85 years ago.

(Unfortunately, there is no trailer available for this film)

9 responses to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

  1. This is a fine, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, “The Great Breening Blogathon:” It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn’t have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

  2. This is one of my favorite movies, and you do it credit with your review. Thanks for sharing!

  3. It may be not as well known as other horror films from the year, but Fredric March’s performance is unforgetable!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

  4. I have only seen bits and pieces of this film, but never the whole thing from start to finish. Your review definitely makes me want to remedy that. I’m a big fan of both Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins, so I don’t know what has taken me so long to watch it! How does this version compare, to you, to the one with Spencer Tracy? Thanks so much for this great contribution to the blogathon!

    • I haven’t been able to see the 1941 version with Spencer Tracy, but from what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to be a good film but it is not as risqué when compared to the 1931 version (largely due to the Production Code being fully enforced). Many have also claimed that March’s performance in the 1931 version is superior.

  5. Agreed. This film has aged well. This is my fave movie version of Jekyll and Hyde for all the reasons you mentioned.

    Great review!

  6. Just when I started to take Fredric March for granted, you remind me of this outstanding example of his art. Truly a fine film.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s