Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

03/16/2020 22:22

Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Year: 1920

Director: John S. Robertson

Writer: Clara Beranger

Starring: John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield and Brandon Hurst



Now I remember I first watched this movie when I was fresh out of college. It was around the time that I was starting to seek more of the classic horror films that I never saw previously. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this as I still hadn’t really gotten around to appreciating silent films like I do now. This is my second viewing and I’ve seen a handful of adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The synopsis here is Dr. Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.

We start this version of learning that there are two sides within man. There’s the good side as well as a darkside. It then introduces us to Dr. Henry Jekyll. By all means, he’s a great man. He runs a clinic that helps the poor. He’s a man of science. He’s engaged to marry Millicent Carewe (Martha Mansfield). Dr. Jekyll works alongside a Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane) who questions some of his work.

Things take a turn though when he shows up late for dinner at Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst). He mocks Dr. Jekyll for his reluctance to experience life. This is quite odd as he’s the father of Dr. Jekyll’s soon to be bride. I almost get the vibe that this taking place in the Victorian era, men were allowed to indulge more in their desires while keeping their wife at home.

Dr. Jekyll decides to do just that, but he turns to science. He takes an elixir and it brings out the dark side of him that’s buried deep. He names this version of himself Edward Hyde (Barrymore). He quite enjoys this and continues to give into this nature. The problem becomes that he starts to regret the actions of Mr. Hyde and it might be too late to stop him from coming out. The fear also is Mr. Hyde taking over completely.

Now much like many of these early movies, there’s not necessarily a lot to the story, but I do think this one conveys quite a bit still. I do find it interesting that this is looking at the duality of man. I’ve said this in the other versions for that and it really is the nature of the story that is being adapted. This is also one that has many different film versions as well.

What I do like here though is establishing that Dr. Jekyll is really a ‘goody-two shoes’. He doesn’t really seem to do anything wrong. He is running a charity clinic, he only has eyes for his fiancé and really doesn’t have any vices. It isn’t until Sir Carewe and his friends get into his ear and take him to a music hall that he’s tempted in the form of a dancer named Miss Gina (Nita Naldi). I can’t say the events that happen aren’t Dr. Jekyll’s fault, but these men do need to shoulder some blame for the tempting that they do.

I also like the science they have in this movie. They really don’t delve too much into it which I do appreciate. It would be hard to with how early this is in cinema. We do get some interesting shots that are under a microscope while Dr. Jekyll is doing an early experiment. The interesting thing though here is the removal of free will. If Mr. Hyde could come out with a serum, there conversely could be another one that would remove this evil side as well. Normally the good is considered to be less powerful as once corrupted, it is hard to go back. This is just a concept of thought of while writing this and makes it similar to something like A Clockwork Orange that would come out decades later.

Moving next to the pacing, I think that it is fine. We’re getting an 82 minute runtime. It establishes our characters then we get to see the corruption of them pretty early on. There’s the internal debate of what to do and then we see Mr. Hyde as he does whatever he wants and really starts to ruin Dr. Jekyll’s reputation. This movie does do some darker things than I remembered and I appreciate that. The ending is also bleak which I can get behind for sure.

To the acting, if you were curious, yes Barrymore who stars in this is Drew’s grandfather. I think he does a really good job in this movie. We get that baseline of seeing him good, clean cut and then I like the transformation we get into Mr. Hyde. He looks pretty creepy in his make-up and I love how different the two performances are. He really helps carry this. Hurst is interesting as this corrupting force along with Lane who isn’t that supportive. Mansfield I thought was fine as the love interest. They really don’t establish much with her to be honest. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

Something I was really excited about was the effects. They’re pretty limited in how the movie is shot being how early into the history of cinema we are. I won’t hold that against it. We get a couple of transformation scenes that looked fine. It is an easy technique but I’ll take this over CGI if I’m honest. I like the look of Hyde. There’s also a pretty creepy scene to show the dark side coming over Dr. Jekyll with a creature and I thought it looked great if I’m honest, not just to the era.

I do have a gripe though with the soundtrack of the movie. I don’t know if the score on my DVD is one that was originally intended or not. My problem though is that the music seemed to be started and allowed to play until that song ended. There were just times that it didn’t fit and it took me out of it. It is hard to hold that against a movie as I’m not sure what the intended selections are. But I just wanted to point this out here.

Now with that said, this is solid effort to this story in the early history of cinema. I thought that it explores some interesting concepts from the story and bringing that to the screen. The acting from Barrymore really helps to carry that. I thought the effects and make-up was pretty solid overall. There were no issues with the pacing and really the only issue would be the soundtrack that was on the DVD. I do want to seek this out with a different one to see if that alters my thoughts there. I would say that this is an above average effort for sure. I will warn you, this is black and white as well as from 1920. If that’s a problem then definitely avoid. If you want to see more of the history of this story in film or horror in general, give this a viewing.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10