One of the great things about the Halloween season is that satellite and cable channels show more horror films. My favorite of these channels isTurner Classic Movies (Channel 256 for you Direct Tv subscribers). Each season many of the same titles get shown but there are always some newbies that I haven’t seen and I eagerly search the schedule to see what is in store for me in my favorite month of October.
Most everyone knows the story of Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is a scientist researching the possibility of being able to separate the two sides of man, good and evil. Jekyll is successful with his experiment by creating a potion which transforms himself into an evil and animalistic incarnation of himself. He is able to transform back into his rightful self with another potion. Even though the experiment is a success, Jekyll realizes the dangers of such a potion. Another transformation occurs without the help of the potion and all bets are off as Hyde goes on a murderous spree and is finally killed in a wonderfully filmed finale.
Fredric March plays the role of both Jekyll and Hyde. The Hyde make up is well done for it’s time. The transformation effects are extremely well done as well utilizing a makeup that can’t be seen in one type of filtered lighting but as another filtered lighting is turned on the makeup appears giving the effect that Jekyll’s skin is changing color. The full transformation makeup is very ape like complete with simianesque fangs. Fredric March completely changes character giving the impression another actor could be playing the role. A portrayal so well done it earned him his first Oscar.
What really surprised me about this film was it’s concentration on deviant sexuality. Early in the film Jekyll meets Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), a prostitute who he rescues from the hands of a violent man near the boarding house she lives in. Jekyll carries her to her room where Ivy flirts and pretends to be injured. She undresses in front of him, tempting him with her body and slipping under the covers of her bed. A pretty racy scene for 1931 I must say. Jekyll resists temptation since he is engaged to be married to his love Muriel (Rose Hobart). This seems to be the tipping point for Jekyll as soon after he takes his first taste of the mind and body altering elixir and goes looking for Ivy under the guise of Hyde. Hyde forces Ivy to do as he pleases and keeps her prisoner in her boarding room. Miriam Hopkins’ portrayal of a distraught and fearful prisoner is very well acted. Hyde’s existence seems to be built upon Jekyll’s own sexual frustration with his fiancé and wanting to up the date of their wedding. Muriel’s father will not budge on the date. Jekyll is able to live out a sexual side of him that actually plunges into depravity and violence.
The sets are well done and capture the feel of Victorian London very well. The slum neighborhood were Ivy lives is especially dank and seedy adding more to ambience. Jekyll’s laboratory is so chock full of beakers and test tubes it’s almost ridiculous but still adds to the overall feel of the good doctors lab. Supposedly the movie had a budget of $1.14 Million which was a huge amount of money for a horror film at the time. The film did very well for Paramount Pictures.
This is a true classic horror film that any fan of the genre should seek out. It is available on a double feature DVD with the 1941 remake starring Spencer Tracy. Go get it!!