Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
dr. jekyll and mr. hyde | victor fleming | john lee mahin | spencer tracy | ingrid bergman | lana turner | based on | novella | robert louis stevenson | mad scientist | remake | drama | sci-fi | thriller | donald crisp | ian hunter | barton maclane | c. aubrey smith
Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Director: Victor Fleming
Writer: John Lee Mahin
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner
If you have been following my reviews, then you know I’ve covered a lot of different takes on this story. This is one that actually had quite a bit of star power and production value that I hadn’t seen yet. I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen this one earlier, but I’m finally getting around to checking out this classic as part of my Odyssey through the Ones. The synopsis for this version is Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) allow his dark side to run wild when he drinks a potion that turns him into the evil Mr. Hyde (Tracy).
We get an interesting way to start this movie with the bishop, played by C. Aubrey Smith, giving a sermon about many of the joys of the world are evil. He also establishes that this movie is taking place in 1887. This sermon is interrupted when Sam Higgins (Barton MacLane) stands up and says some inappropriate things. He is escorted out of the room where Dr. Henry Jekyll comes out to talk to him. It is decided the police will escort Sam to the local hospital that Harry works.
The movie then allows us to learn more about one of our title characters in Harry. He is engaged to be married to Beatrix Emery (Lana Turner). Her father of Sir Charles (Donald Crisp) has his issues with Harry though. He doesn’t like the displays of public affection toward his daughter and isn’t full on board with some of the claims that Harry is making with medical experiments. Harry gets into with Dr. Heath (Frederick Worlock) and then upsets Charles along with other guests at a dinner party. Charles wants Harry to give up his pursuit and settle into a more acceptable practice as a doctor.
Harry believes in his work. He believes that all men have good and evil in them. Our upbringing decides which is stronger. He also believes in the case like Sam, trauma can cause a change. Harry also believes he can isolate and remove this evil side. He is unable to us his experiment on humans as he doesn’t have enough data on test animals yet. When Harry gets frustrated that his engagement to Bea might be canceled or at least pushed out farther, he decides to use the potion he has created on himself. Harry then becomes Mr. Hyde, a man who indulges in the joys of pain and debauchery. He also torments the lovely Ivy Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), a poor, young barmaid who took a liking to Harry.
Now that seems to recap the movie and getting a bit into the themes this version is playing with. What this movie really feels like to me is an update to this same story from the decade past. We are still getting here in earlier cinema that movies based off books probably did well and this is one that had success, we are just now revisiting it with better technology and using actors that were more popular at the time. I should preface that I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I had a lot of déjà vu that I have seen this before. This is my first time with this version, but it follows others very closely.
Taking from the novella, the main theme here is with the mad scientist playing God. I do think it is interesting that at the dinner party, the bishop is there. He seems to agree with Harry that the church can use whatever help it can. What Harry is proposing to do though is something that continues to be explored even in movies today. If you remove the temptation and the inclination to be evil, are you also removing freewill from humanity? What Harry is doing is playing God. His experiment also backfires which is where I’ll go next.
What I meant there is the idea of Harry experimenting on himself and becoming Hyde. It all starts with Harry wanting to see if what he’s done would work. The potion he created pushes forth the evilness that is within him. This movie does well in showing Harry flirting with Ivy when he helps her. He does have a good heart and his intentions were well. She doesn’t know at first he’s engaged. She finds a handsome man who is rich and she’s shooting her shot. He does kiss her and entertains her flirting. They both are wrong in the end as she continues to come onto him after she learns of Bea, but I mean him not shutting it down until he has to leave is on him. This long rant here is to say that Harry has evil within him and I think the movie does well in establishing this. It makes sense that when he tastes the forbidden fruit, he wants more and it takes over. This is showing me that it is easier to be bad as well.
Something that works here is seeing the depravity of Mr. Hyde. We see from the first night that he goes out; he has a proclivity toward violence when he sparks a brawl at the club that he meets Ivy at. He physically abuses her as well. We never get to see the actual beatings or even the aftermath, we get to see how broken of a woman that Ivy is. We also see the shock on others faces when they see what has been done to her. I’m assuming a lot of this was due to censorship. I think it is still effective. A lot of that though is based on the acting.
That is where I’ll take this next. I think that we have a strong cast across the board. Tracy does well as this determined doctor in Jekyll while also coming off as a mad-man with Hyde. There is a menace to him that works. There was something from the trivia I saw where it was hard to tell when Tracy was playing Jekyll and Hyde. I’m actually glad for this as it seems like there is a fine line with humanity when deciding what route to take. I was shocked to see Bergman in the role of Ivy. She is acting royalty and I think she does an excellent job in this role, especially later in the movie when she is broken. Turner works well as Bea. What I like here is that she is meek and ignores things about her fiancé. Crisp is good as her stern father. Aside from them, I’d say the rest of this cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then that will take me to the last thing I wanted to delve into which would be the effects. I was wondering if we would get a transformation scene or not. For the first couple of changes into Hyde, we get montages of surreal imaginary that I really liked. There is Bea and Ivy in different things, helping to show the two types of men and their desires within this one body. There are a couple of time lapsed shots showing different stages of make-up which was good. If I have a gripe here, I don’t think that Jekyll and Hyde look that different from each other. Hyde does have more of an under bite and his teeth aren’t great. It could be that I’m watching this and I know, but I feel they look a lot alike. Regardless, this doesn’t ruin the movie.
In conclusion here, I did like this version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. What carries this is the cast. It is strong across the board with Tracy and Bergman leading the headline. I like what they did with the effects for the most part and the cinematography was solid. This follows the story pretty well from what I remember and does feel a bit repetitive having seen as many versions of this story as I have in recent memory. It does run a bit too long though if I’m going to be honest. Regardless, the filmmaking here does set it apart from others for sure. I would say this is an above average movie that is just lacking a bit to go into the good range for me. It is in black and white so keep that in mind. If that isn’t a problem, this is a solid adaptation of the source material.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10