Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920.2)

04/22/2020 06:20

Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Year: 1920

Director: J. Charles Haydon

Writer: J. Charles Haydon

Starring: Sheldon Lewis, Alex Shannon and Dora Mills Adams



This was a film that I didn’t know existed and actually got confused as this is the same year as the John Barrymore version. It was through some research that I discovered it and was glad to see that I could watch this on Amazon Prime. The synopsis is Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.

Much as the synopsis states, we have Dr. Jekyll who runs a hospital for the poor. He looks up to his mentor Dr. Lanyon (Alex Shannon). He’s married to Mrs. Lanyon (Dora Mills Adams) and they’re looking over their niece Bernice (Gladys Field). She is engaged to be married to Dr. Jekyll, but her patience is wearing thin as he always shows up late or not at all to their plans.

The problem is that he is engrossed in his work. He has a child that is in a coma, but still alive. This makes him question if people have souls if she can be on the edge like this while still being alive. This deduction doesn’t really seem to make sense, but I rolled with the idea. He is so wrapped up in what he’s doing, he misses another date with Bernice and this is the last straw. She breaks off the engagement to be with a childhood friend, Danvers Carew (Leslie Austin).

This depression causes Dr. Jekyll to create an elixir that will be able to bring out the bad side within him. He believes that no matter how good someone is, they have both good and evil. This causes him to become Mr. Hyde (Lewis) an uglier and evil version of him. Dr. Jekyll sets him up with a place to stay. No longer having Bernice, Dr. Jekyll decides to indulge in becoming Hyde who wants to seek revenge for everything that has happened to Jekyll.

I should lead off my analysis of the movie with that it is difficult to hold things against this version as it is one of the earlier versions of it. With that said, this one does something different from versions that I will compare it to. I would have to say that I did find this version to be slightly problematic with how Jekyll gets to the idea to indulge himself, but I like the changes it makes for what Hyde does.

What I mean by those last few statements is that, he decides to explore this due to the questioning of the soul. That makes sense for a man of science. I just don’t understand the leap to the good and evil aspect. This is a hallmark of the story from Robert Louis Stevenson, so it makes sense to have it here. That’s something that I really like. I also like incorporating that Hyde is getting revenge for what happened to Jekyll, even though it is his own fault. As humans though, we don’t always like to take ownership for our actions, which I think we’re getting at here with the Jekyll and Hyde concept by giving in to our darker desires.

Something else that we get to see is Jekyll and Hyde having to answer for their crimes. Other versions have something happening to them and people realizing they’re one in the same. This one comes to this conclusion and still holds Jekyll accountable as they realize the truth. I happened to enjoy this and how the movie ends to be honest.

This movie is credited as being 40 minutes, but the version I watched on Prime was an hour. I do think that for the most part, this is paced fine. If anything, I think they should have added even like 10 more minutes to really flesh out my issue of how they get to the idea of figuring out the duality within man. I think with that, this would have come up higher. It is hard to fault the movie too much, this is still early cinema, but there are films from the year that handle this idea better.

As for the acting here, I thought it was good actually. We really follow Lewis and I thought he did a really good job as Jekyll and Hyde. This is a tough role, especially without sound to really convey the difference between the two. I think he does a fine job in this respect. No one else in the cast really stood out to me, but they did just fit and round this out for what was needed in support of Lewis.

Being this is an early film, there’s not much to the cinematography. The version I watched really hadn’t been cleaned up all that much, but again, there are movies from this year that play with filters where this one really didn’t do that. They also didn’t attempt to do a transformation scene into Hyde or back. I’m betting they really didn’t know how to do it, so they just elected to avoid trying. It is a shame with what others from the year were doing. I like give the movie credit, I did like the title cards they used where they would have drawings of this version of Hyde or other things on it. I thought that was a decent touch.

The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack, but much like the other silent films, it is hard to know what was really synced up with what we’re seeing. I do feel that the score they used worked. It wasn’t great and didn’t really stand out to me, but it also didn’t take me out of what they were trying to do. It just seemed to fit in my opinion.

Now with that said, this version does seem to have an interesting take on the source material and that is something I can appreciate. I do think there’s a bit missing from it though to really put it all together though. It wasn’t boring, which is good. The acting I thought worked for what they needed. The soundtrack wasn’t great, but I thought it fit the feel of the movie overall. Not the best version of this tale I’ve seen, but it’s better than some of the ones I’ve seen previously. I’d have to say this is above average overall in my opinion.


My Rating: 7 out of 10