Archive for April, 2012

“Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

MGM Double Feature DVD of the 1932 & 1941 versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Movie tie-in paperback edition (Pocket Books,1941).

Recently, I watched a DVD which contained both the 1932 and 1941 versions of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was familiar with the 1932 version (technically, it was released December 31st 1931, but is usually listed as a 1932 release), featuring the talents of Fredric March as Jekyll/Hyde and Miriam Hopkins as his mistress, the barmaid/chanteuse Ivy Pearson. This movie, which I hadn’t seen for years, impressed me so much upon revisitation. Over the years I had forgotten just how good this movie really is and almost developed a dismissive attitude about the decision to make a Hyde into a sort of monkey-man, a choice which was taken further 20 plus years later in 1953’s “Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in which Hyde is made to look like a sort of demonic ape in a top hat.
According to DVD commentator Greg Mank, director Rouben Mamoulian wanted to present Hyde as a representation of Jekyll’s baser primitive side. He was to represent the side of Jekyll that he suppressed so he could maintain his place in proper Victorian society. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the original story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” never really gives an in-depth description of Hyde, although he does say that he appears to be smaller and younger than Jekyll. In his analysis of the story for the “Essential Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Editor Leonard Wolf believes the reason for this difference in size and age is that Jekyll’s wild side had been repressed for so long that when it was finally set free, it was underdeveloped. This is emphasized in the scene in the story where Jekyll inadvertently begins to change into Hyde without the use of the potion, and Hyde is forced to wear Jekyll’s clothes, which are too big for him, while he tries to effect a reversal before he is discovered by Jekyll’s servant staff. There is also mention of his skin tone being a bit darker and his hands are hairy, possibly hinting at the Neanderthal in a top hat look sported by Fredric March.

Frederic March as Edward Hyde (1931).

Spencer Tracy’s Hyde, however, looks like the type of guy who hangs around grade-school playgrounds. He eschewed the ape-man look of the Mamoulian version for a creepy sweaty guy with a fright wig on his head and dark circles around his eyes. Apparently, director Victor Fleming opted for a more “realistic” looking Hyde, with minimal make up, but Tracey’s portrayal was so ineffective that, according to Michael Toole in his online review of the film on the Turner Classic Movies site “…Somerset Maugham, while visiting the set, whispered to Fleming while studying Tracy’s performance, “Which one is he now, Jekyll or Hyde?”

Spencer Tracy as Mr. Hyde (1941).

He then continues to opine that “Part of the problem lies with the fact that the Hays Code was already well established, imposing strict censorship on the material. It was also unfairly compared (just as Tracy feared) to Rouben Mamoulian’s stylish 1932, pre-Code version which many film historians consider the best production of this oft-filmed tale. Mamoulian’s interpretation has a sexual frankness that is crucial to an understanding of Dr. Jekyll’s conflicted character. In Fleming’s version, the foundation to explain the sexual violence that Jekyll exhibits once he transforms into Hyde is never fully developed.”
True that. March’s performance of Hyde is so nuanced, ranging from the almost comical childlike first steps as Hyde in the first transformation scene where the newborn Hyde skulks about the room in trepidation until he finds a mirror and realizes he is unbounded and shouts “Free! Free at last!”, to the truly frightening womanizer who abuses and taunts his mistress, actress Miriam Hopkins in her tragic portrayal of the hapless Ivy Pearson. Ingrid Bergman would play this role as Ivy Peterson, who is a little less of a trollop in the 1941 version, which of course is most likely due to the enforcement of the aforementioned decency codes of the day. The other female role in these movie versions is Jekyll’s bland fiancée; Muriel Carew in the 1931 version (played by actress Rose Hobart) and Beatrix Emery (played by Lana Turner) in the 1941 version. The character is uninteresting in either version and makes one marvel at just how much this pathetic woman is willing to put up with just to appease her mercurial suitor.
Oddly enough, neither woman exists in the original story. In fact, Sir Danvers Carew, who in the 1931 version is the uptight father of Jekyll’s fiancée Muriel, is only a passing victim in the story with no real dialog. He is seen by a charwoman to address Mr. Hyde in the street at night moments before Hyde falls upon him and beats him to death with his cane. Later, it is divined that he carried a letter on his person addressed to another character, Utterson, who is central to the original story, but is reduced to a peripheral role in these respective movie versions. Leonard Wolf puts forth the idea that since they were both walking the streets so late at night, Carew may have made the mistake of having propositioned Hyde, causing the man to assail him in such a manner.

Hyde attacks Sir Danvers Carew (Charles Raymond Macauley,1904).

All in all, the 1932 version is superior in every respect and arguably even trumps John Barrymore’s portrayal of the lead role in the 1920 version, which is saying a lot since Barrymore’s Hyde is quite a sinister character, but not quite as layered as March’s. When March’s Hyde taunts Ivy Pearson by repeating phrases he’s said to her when in the form of Jekyll, it really gave me goose-bumps and her terrified reaction is heart breaking.

Edward Hyde leering at his ill-fated mistress, Ivy Pearson (1931).

He is the ultimate cad and in total contrast to the angelic Henry Jekyll who is cast as being a virtual saint, helping cripples and the needy until his experiment in splitting the human ego goes awry. In Stevenson’s story he is not quite so altruistic and really is only looking for a way to indulge his darker side without feeling guilt or getting caught.

Hyde tramples a little girl (Charles Raymond Macauley, 1904)

There are many other film adaptations of Stevenson’s story as well as spin offs, featuring such horror luminaries as Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Paul Naschy, Oliver Reed, et al. Why, Hammer films alone has several, including a “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde”! But that’s another review…

Reference Links and Materials
“The Essential Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the Definitive Annotated Edition” Edited by Leonard Wolf
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Classic Double Feature” DVD MGM (2004)
Turner Classic movies Links:
http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/13756/Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde/
http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/13855/Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde/
Internet Movie Database Links
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0022835/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033553/

Advertisements

The Night of the Demon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

The Night of the Demon

I recently came across the DVD of the movie “Night of the Demon” (1957) at work and decided to check it out since I have never seen it in its original form. Having watched the trimmed down US version (dubbed “Curse of the Demon” to avoid confusion with the film “Night of the Iguana”, which was current at the time of its Stateside debut) as a boy, my memories of it were vague so I didn’t know what to expect.

Cover for the Pan 1955 edition of "More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary", by M.R. James, which features the tale "Casting the Runes".

The film, based on the tale “Casting the Runes” by famed British ghost story writer M.R. James, is considered one of the classics of the Horror film genre but not without reservation. The director, Jacques Tourneur, was known for the subtle Horror films he directed at RKO with producer Val Lewton and had worked with the “Night of the Demon” screenplay writer, Charles Bennett, on creating a suspenseful supernatural thriller, but apparently, there was a big controversy over producer Hal E. Chester’s insertion of a rubbery looking “demon” in post production, which neither the director nor the screenplay writer had wanted. The debate over the wisdom of its inclusion persists nearly sixty years on.

Poster for "Curse of the Demon", U.S. title for "The Night of the Demon" (1957).

The plot as summarized by garykmcd, a contributor to the Internet Movie Database, is thus: “Psychologist Dr. John Holden travels to London to attend a conference on the paranormal. He’s actually going there to debunk these activities but finds on arrival that his collaborator, Professor Henry Harrington, has died in a strange accident. Harrington’s niece Joanna isn’t so quick to dismiss paranormal activity and believes that the subject of their investigation, Dr. Julian Karswell, had placed a Runic curse on her uncle. Unable to get certain book from the British Museum, Holden accepts Karswell’s offer to visit him and borrow his own copy. There he learns that Karswell was once a magician, which fits in well with his view that paranormal activity is just so much hocus pocus. Soon after he and Joanna return to London, he finds that Karswell has place (sic) a similar curse among his own papers. Slowly, Holden comes to realize that the dangers are very real and he must find a way to rid himself of the death sentence that has been placed on him.” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050766/plotsummary)

As I is my custom, I hunted down the original story online and read it to compare with the film and found it to be in essence faithful with some minor changes to flesh out the tale and give it some mass appeal. The addition of a female character gave it some romance and the villain of the story, Karswell, is fleshed out and made into a charming devil with a pointy beard and a sharp wit. The relationship between Harrington and Holden, as portrayed in the film, is similar to the one between Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, from X-Files, with the roles reversed as the female lead here is the believer and her partner is the unbelieving skeptic.

My only real complaint about the movie is the handling of the climactic scene on the train, which in the story is very suspenseful but in the movie is rendered ineffective by the  awkward inclusion of the kidnapping of the female lead, which never happens in the story. In “Casting the Runes”, the main characters, Messrs Dunning (the story’s counterpart to Holden) & Harrington contrive to trick Karswell into willfully taking a cursed slip of paper and acknowledging it as his own. Since Karswell has never seen the men before in person, they have that advantage, but Karswell is wary and watches the two suspicious strangers like a hawk, making their task it all the more difficult. This brilliantly written scene however is forsaken in the film for a confrontation between Karswell and Holden over the female Harrington.

Granted, the original ending of the story is a little less thrilling than the movie’s payoff with the appearance of the demon, which shows up to dispatch the “chosen” victim. So, in the end, maybe Mr. Chester was right.

Relevant Links

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_demon

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Casting_the_Runes

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050766/