Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1955)
dr. jekyll and mr. hyde | allen reisner | gore vidal | michael rennie | cedric hardwicke | mary sinclair | mad scientist | drama | united states | based on | novel | robert louis stevenson | lowell gilmore | john hoyt | karen scott | gilchrist stuart | keith mcconnell
Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Director: Allen Reisner
Writer: Gore Vidal
Starring: Michael Rennie, Cedric Hardwicke and Mary Sinclair
This is a version of the classic tale from Robert Louis Stevenson that I’m not entirely sure where I found it. It has been close to a decade that I’ve owned it and finally decided to give it a viewing. I was pretty excited that when looking into this before starting it that it starred Michael Rennie and Cedric Hardwicke, who are both actors I’m pretty familiar with. There’s not much in the way of synopsis aside from a little known adaptation of the classic tale.
We start with Poole (John Hoyt) seeking out Mr. Utterson (Hardwicke) to relay his fears about his boss. The both of them return to the house of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Michael Rennie) and end up finding Mr. Hyde (Rennie). At this point, his crimes are well known throughout London and Mr. Utterson shoots him. Poole is told to go get the police. Mr. Utterson sits down and decides to go through a journal that has a note for him to go through it if Dr. Jekyll dies or goes missing.
The movie then goes into what lead them here. Dr. Jekyll wants to use science to find the soul. This seems to upset his friend Dr. Lanyon (Lowell Gilmore). He feels this is trying to play God and Mr. Utterson shows up during the debate. It seems like he tends to agree with Dr. Lanyon on this.
We then see Dr. Jekyll going about his research. He is his own guinea pig here and by happenstance, he mixes the right chemicals and salts together. It does the opposite of what he wanted and this transforms him into Mr. Hyde, a man who explores worldly pleasures and has a violent streak. He doesn’t consider or care for the ramifications of things that he does. Mr. Hyde also likes to spend his time in a bar where he encounters Mary Sinclair. He ruins her life in the process of enjoying his.
Dr. Jekyll realizes the deeper he goes, the more he’s addicted to the feeling and that he needs to stop. He does set up safeguards and tries to do charity work to make up for it. The problem is that the darkness he has awoken inside him is stronger than he knows.
That’s where I’m going to leave this recap as this is technically an episode of a show called Climax! It only runs an hour long and assuming this was something that was aired on television in a primetime slot. When I learned this information, it does make a lot of sense as this feels similar to that of a Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone where they flesh out a story in a shorter amount of time and is kind of like a stage play at times.
What I did really like were the two stars of this. Rennie is someone I first got introduced to the name from The Rocky Horror Picture Show since his name is in the opening musical number ‘Science Fiction Double Feature’. I’ve seen a few of his movies and I think he was perfect in this role of Dr. Jekyll. He seems like a man of science with good intentions, but the corruption of the soul is something that you can’t just fix. Playing opposite him is Hardwicke who I know from a bunch of classic Universal horror films. His performance here is solid and I’d say no one else stood out, but they help round out for what is needed.
Since this has such a low run time, they really don’t do great at fleshing things out. It is a story that has been told a few times and it feels a lot like the novel from what I remember in just telling the story. I do like the religious angle they use here. Dr. Jekyll believes that he can find the soul, but what he does is find the evil that hides in all men. This is even a line that is spoken in the movie. Dr. Lanyon won’t help him when he comes there during a scene where Mr. Hyde comes out unexpectedly. Lanyon really wants him to be punished for his crimes, which I did think was an interesting angle.
This version does well at displaying the toxic masculinity of Mr. Hyde. He pretty much ruins Sinclair’s character life from the first time he meets her and even more the deeper we get into this story when he gets into an altercation with her fiancé. It is hard to judge the film as it is taking place in Victorian times as she doesn’t seem to have much say in their first encounter, but I do like that they’re depicting what Mr. Hyde is doing as bad, even after their initial meeting.
The last aspect of the story is actually how it is told. I don’t mind that they’re showing us how it ends. Especially with a tale I’ve seen multiple versions of throughout the years. Mr. Utterson is getting into the mind of Jekyll by reading the journal explaining everything. This comes with voice-over narration a few times so we get to delve more into what he’s thinking about things that are playing out before us.
Lastly will be the effects of the film. At first, I thought they weren’t going to be giving us a transformation. This is hard for me rate higher if they didn’t give us something. We don’t get a great one here, but I’m also thinking that with the budget for making this as a part of a television series, they wanted to focus more on the characterization and acting. The screen has an effect of waves as they use cuts throughout different stages of the make-up. We do get to see it go from Hyde to Jekyll in front of Mr. Utterson and then front of Sinclair’s character the other way. It isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible either. As for the look of Hyde, they do give him a unibrow and make a mole more pronounced. They also add what I’m assuming is prosthetics to make him look darker. Aside from that, the cinematography is solid.
Now with that said, this isn’t a bad take on the classic tale from Stevenson. Being that this was made for a television show, with probably most of the budget going to the two star actors. That’s not to say this is bad, because their performances do carry this for sure. I think they flesh out Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pretty well with Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon to fill in what we needed. It has a runtime of close to an hour and to be honest, I would have been fine with it being longer. The effects we get aren’t great. There are better transformations and looks of Hyde in version before this. The soundtrack did fit for what they needed as well. I’d say this is just over average though and can’t really go higher than that for what we’re given.
My Rating: 6 out of 10