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DR.JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
While conducting experiments aimed at isolating the evil nature of man, Dr Henry Jekyll (Fredric March / Spencer Tracy) develops a formula, which he believes will be of ultimate benefit to man. His theories, however, are far too radical for the conservatives who include the father of his fiancé (Rose Hobart / Lana Turner). With increasing impatience, Jekyll awaits the old man's approval, but in the meantime his head is turned by the barmaid Ivy (Miriam Hopkins / Ingrid Bergman), who is the proverbial good time had by all. In order to satisfy his frustrations, Jekyll eschews all caution by taking the formula that transforms him into the murderous Mr Hyde, who is a danger to Jekyll and to all who love and admire him.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
The 1932 film translation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Victorian thriller is universally regarded as superior to all others. The New York Times reveres it as one of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, but their cheers turned to jeers when they came to review the glossy 1941 remake. In the earlier version, Fredric March won an Oscar for his blood-curdling portrayal as Dr Jekyll, the dedicated scientist who mutates into a drooling demoniac as Mr Hyde.

A decade later, Spencer Tracy not only failed to win an Oscar nomination for underplaying March's overplaying but received the worst notices of his career. "Not so much evil incarnate," said the Times, "but ham rampant!"

Now, at last, collectors have a rare opportunity to compare these two eminently viewable films on a "double feature" DVD, with bonus extra of a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon. In both films, the stories differ from the one imagined by Stevenson in his 1886 novella. The key character of Ivy, for example, the prostitute who is the source of Jekyll's sexual frustration (1932) and the barmaid who arouses his baser instincts (1941), is missing from the original. The tough restrictions imposed by the Hays Code forced a change in Ivy's "profession" but other differences are more subtle.

In Mamoulian's film, Hyde's face is at first unseen, but at street level passers-by scurry-by, reeling in horror at the malevolent and distorted face that is only later revealed. Mamoulian made effective use of split screens and wipes and to further heighten tension recorded his own heartbeats that were synchronised to the chiming of a gong. When, after swallowing his steaming potion Jekyll is transformed from the decent and upright doctor into the hideously fanged and ape-like Hyde, the camera rotates at 360°, creating a dizzying sense of delirium. March wore various layers of make-up which, at the switch of colour filters, recorded instant change thereby avoiding the need for extensive stop motion, cuts and dissolves.

This was the very technique that Fleming relied on. His more Freudian film has nowhere near the same innovation or flair. His major concession to ornament came during one of Hyde's flights of fancy when he sees himself as a charioteer, whipping at the flanks of two charging horses who dissolve into classical profiles of Turner and Bergman, manes billowing in the breeze.

This was Fleming's first film since the gargantuan Gone With The Wind, which had ruined his health, and he was perhaps not the ideal director. But from Bergman he extracted a performance that she herself doubted. Bored with being typecast as "the good woman," Bergman begged for the challenge of the trollop Ivy and convinced Fleming that she and Turner should switch roles. But, in a key scene when being menaced by the sadistic Hyde, she couldn't muster the terror and hysteria her director demanded. "I just couldn't do it," Bergman wrote in her memoirs. "(But then Victor) spun me around and struck me backwards and forwards hard across the face. It hurt. I stood there in shock, weeping, while he strode back to the camera and shouted 'Action.'" Ultimately, Bergman's performance is a triumph, which helps compensate for the flaws. Tracy could not manage the athleticism required when Hyde bolts from the scene of a murder. "What about my hernia?" cringed Tracy, who was allowed a "double," so slim and so obvious that you'd swear he was hired for Robert Donat, who was originally cast in the part.

In his Jekyll phase, Tracy is more forthright and more convincing than the namby-pamby played by March and when he emerged as the leering Hyde, he relied more on facial contortions and less on the magic of make-up. Jekyll believes that "good and evil are so close they are chained together in the soul" and because he changes less, Tracy more realistically represents the theory.

When celebrated writer Somerset Maugham visited the set he famously couldn't tell the difference between Tracy's reading of doctor and monster. Most observers regarded Maugham's question ("Which one is he now?") as an insult but Maugham may have been closer to the truth of what Tracy was trying to achieve than the actor was ever given credit for. After 60 years and the many mutations of Jekyll and Hyde, some images remain fresh...March grotesque with sunken eyes and swollen features...and Bergman, warbling that curiously ominous little ditty: "You should see me dance the polka; you should see me cover the ground...." It haunted Jekyll and Hyde way back then. It haunts me now.

Published October 14, 2004

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DR.JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: DVD (PG)
(US, 1932 & 1941)

CAST: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart (1932).

Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner (1941)

DIRECTOR: Rouben Mamoulian (1932), Victor Fleming (1941)

SCRIPT: Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath (1932) John Lee Mahin (1941)

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes (1932), 114 minutes (1941)

PRESENTATION: 1.37:1 with 4:3 transfer (1932 version - English 1.0, 2.0; 1941 version - English, French, Spanish 1.0, 2.0) Subtitles: Dutch, English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Czech, Slovenian, Romanian, Croatian, Danish, Swedish, Arabic, Icelandic, Greek, Hungarian

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary (1932 version), Bugs Bunny Cartoon: Hyde And Hare. Original trailer (1941)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: October 6, 2004







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