Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

05/29/2020 06:38

Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Year: 1931

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Writer: Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath

Starring: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins and Rose Hobart



This was another version of this classic tale from Robert Louis Stevenson I had acquired some time ago, but never got around to seeing it. I thought coming in this was the Universal take on the story, but this is actually from Paramount. Aside from knowing the story and seeing a few adaptations, I came in blind as to what this version would give me. The synopsis is Dr. Jekyll (Fredric March) faces horrible consequences when he lets his dark side run wild with a potion that transforms him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde (March).

We start this with a point of view shot of someone playing an organ. This turns out to be one of our title characters of Dr. Jekyll. His butler, Poole (Edgar Norton) informs him that he must be off as he’s supposed to give a lecture and it is almost time for it to start. This is an interesting way to introduce us to our lead. He has issues with being punctual and he’s well liked.

The lecture that he gives is controversial. The younger members of the audience are excited while the older ones brace themselves. What he tries to state is that the soul is actually two parts. The good side that adheres to how we were raised and an evil side that indulges into the pleasures of the world. This idea upsets Dr. Jekyll’s friend Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert). The two of them walk together and we learn about a dinner the following night that Brig Gen. Danvers Carew (Halliwell Hobbes) is throwing. Dr. Jekyll states he’ll be there as he’s engaged to Danvers daughter Muriel (Rose Hobart).

He breaks his word though. Dr. Jekyll works in a charity hospital and decides to operate on a patient and will show up late for the dancing. This angers General Carew, but Muriel loves him. Dr. Jekyll takes her outside and wants to pretty much elope. She states that she wants to marry him sooner than the timeline her father set up, but they need his approval. Her father refuses the offer as they’re to marry on the anniversary of his marriage to Muriel’s deceased mother.

On his way home, Dr. Jekyll hears an altercation that leaves Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins) hurt. Dr. Jekyll cares for her and she tries to seduce him. Dr. Lanyon walks in while they’re kissing and Dr. Jekyll laughs it off.

Things take a turn though when Muriel and her father go to Bath for a month. Dr. Jekyll is upset and buries himself in his work. He makes a breakthrough that turns him into the animalistic Mr. Hyde. He stops responding to letters to Muriel and seeks out Ivy. He scares off the man she’s at a music hall with and he practically moves in with her. This causes her life to become a horrible experience and Dr. Jekyll also neglects his own life. He thinks he can control Hyde and that all he needs is Muriel, but Hyde might be more powerful than he realizes.

There’s where I want to leave my recap, but what I have to say is that I’m shocked with how far this movie goes. It makes sense that I read this was right before the production code went into effect. This is something I bring up, as it is pretty brutal for the time. We don’t actually get to see it play out, but I think through the performances, we see the repercussions of it.

Before I shift over to that though, I want to delve into this adaptation of the story. I like that they’re making Mr. Hyde to be the animalistic version like the synopsis stated. My initial thoughts were that he looks like an ape/man hybrid. This can be read like an actual representation of the human id. It is out for the base needs of food, water and pleasure. The make-up that they did on March was on point for this as well. It really doesn’t look like him as Dr. Jekyll which I dug. There are times that he hints as Hyde with phrases he uses to Ivy and I thought that was interesting way to reveal it to others.

What I find interesting is that this is set in Victorian England, much like when the novel is. I’ve sure in other versions my reviews bring up toxic masculinity, but I’m doing it again here. We still have that with this well to do family of the Carews, Muriel cannot decide who or when she will marry. It is up to her father. This was the society, but it doesn’t make it less sad. Going from here, Ivy doesn’t seem to have much of decision in her plight, especially since Hyde is rich and is paying for everything. What he does to her without consent was sad and seeing how things play out. Her performance was heart breaking.

Since I’ve already moved into this a couple of times, I thought the acting was great. March does so well at being Dr. Jekyll with his thirst for knowledge and then being completely different as Mr. Hyde. He moves and acts like an ape. It really just makes the two characters completely different despite one character portraying them both. There’s also this aspect that Hyde resents Jekyll for his good looks and I like that aspect. Taking this then to Hopkins who is quite attractive and I felt horrible for her when she’s begging for Dr. Jekyll’s help. I could feel that bad things have happened to her and she is seeking help. Hobart is solid as well as a young woman who wants things her way and it being her life, I respect that. The rest of the cast are fine in support of these three in my eyes.

With already talking about the make up for Hyde, I’ll finish off with the rest of the effects. I wasn’t sure if we’d get a transformation scene or not, but we do. We actually get a few variations of it. The first time the camera spins while giving us a montage of certain things that pushed Jekyll to what he did. The next I think was strategically done with cuts and camera movements. The last one though shows us Hyde back to Jekyll which looked really good. Overall I was impressed by what they did for a movie that is almost 90 years old. The POV angle we get quite a few times is interesting. I don’t know if adds a lot, but I liked what they did with it.

So with that said, I really dug this early version of this story a lot more than I expected. It is driven by the acting of our three stars, March, Hopkins and Hobart. They do so well in bringing these characters to life. The take of Hyde being animalistic and reflecting that through the make up and how he acts was good as well. Showing us a few different transformation sequences was impressive as well. Surprisingly, we have some good social commentary as well which I didn’t expect and this coming out pre-production code helps. The soundtrack didn’t really stand out, but it fit for what was needed and I never got bored with this version. I would rate this as a good movie with this first viewing. I will warn you. This is from 1931, so I watched it in black and white. It is also a period piece, so if that’s an issue, I’d avoid it. If not, I think this is one of the better takes on this classic tale.


My Rating: 8 out of 10