FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ( 1920 )

FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ( 1920 )

I’m proud to announce that I’m participating in the fourth annual ‘Film Preservation Blogathon’. This event enables competing bloggers, who share a love for classic cinema to assist in raising money to help preserve our film heritage for future generations. Each year a certain film that is in the danger of being lost forever is set in place. For the fourth edition the perennial 1918 silent classic “Cupid In Quarantine” has been chosen. With the films theme being science fiction, all bloggers are entitled to write about any film that fits into the criteria of that genre.

This is the link address for the donate button:

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For my contribution I’m presenting a piece on the original 1920 classic “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde”, starring the legendary John Barrymore, in what is considered to be his first film of notable significance, and has later been hailed as the first great American horror film. Fortunately this film has been preserved, and is released on DVD through Kino Video after being produced by Bret Wood. For anyone interested, the DVD is also part of the John Barrymore Collection, a box set featuring several of his memorable productions. I attained the box set as a Birthday gift a few years ago, and I can honestly say that it’s well worth owning for the reason that these silent films in the collection has been revived and serve as great viewing pleasure for fans of silent cinema.

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The famous 1886 novella titled “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson was first brought to life when T.R. Sullivan adapted it into a stage play, which piqued an interest in turning it into a film in 1920 with John Barrymore taking on the plum role as “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde”. Ever since, it has followed a long journey, revolving into motion pictures and TV movies starring Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, and most recently concluding with the proposed 2015 production which is to star, Gianni Capaldi and Shaun Paul Piccinino.

Director John S. Robertson made his mark with “Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde”. Prior to this he had directed unidentified films with rather prosaic backgrounds, except for a few that received favourable outcomes at the time, but have later become indistinct and destroyed due to the age. After the release of Jekyll, Robertson would go on to place his directorial efforts in films including “Tess Of The Storm Country” in 1922, and “Our Little Girl” in 1935, which would serve as his final picture. With the increasing prevalence of sound, he left later that year.

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In this perennial horror classic fans get to witness two sides of John Barrymore, as he takes on duel roles as Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. Henry Jekyll is a highly respected doctor of medicine, who spends his time treating the poor and experimenting in his laboratory. Around town he is known for his amicable aura and his generosity towards others. His fiancée Millicent Carewe ( Martha Mansfield ) is enamored by his remarkable qualities and wants to marry him, but Henry although he loves her is to engaged in his work.

During the next few weeks, Henry becomes fascinated in the contrasting sides of human nature, and is obsessed in separating the two sides of man. When Jekyll confesses to his friend John Utterson about the matter, he replies that it’s impossible, but Jekyll’s impulses start to amplify, so much that he has to yield to it.

Shortly after Henry sets to work on his experiments and discovers a formula that will separate the two natures. This potion works and Henry Jekyll transforms into an abominable creature, who he calls Edward Hyde. Each time his inner demon is released, Mr Hyde’s personality exacerbates and he grows more violent and more depraved with each occurring minute, eventually controlling and taking over Henry’s life.

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“Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” has stood the test of time, even now, ninety five years since it’s release, it’s hailed as a classic of silent horror. Another reason why the film garnered positive accolades at the time was for Martha Mansfield, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl in one of her first leading roles.

John Barrymore gives one of his most culminating screen performances in his portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde. Some consider his acting to be over the top, but that was called for in the script. In fact he demonstrates some of his finest acting here. For the transformation scenes into Mr. Hyde, John Barrymore employed elaborate makeup for the role, however the early part of Jekyll’s initial transformation into Hyde was achieved with no makeup, instead relying solely on Barrymore’s ability to contort his face.

As for the numerous remakes. I don’t like remakes at the best of times, except on a few occasions. Although, Spencer Tracy’s 1941 version is considered the most famous of them all followed by the 1931 version starring Fredric March, I consider this to be the most impressive. As much as I’m a fan of Spencer Tracy’s work, I find that the many elements of special effects are not executed properly, for example, Mr. Hyde in the 1941 vehicle still looks like Spencer Tracy, only a bit more grotesque, where John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde looks like a totally different person with those large creepy spider hands, held high ready to strike, the crouched over position, the evil intent in the eyes and the brow. I don’t think any other actor could portray both characters as well as John Barrymore, he pulls this off with much less make-up than many others. It’s amazing how he can also pull off playing the tormented Dr. Jekyll-the complete opposite of Hyde perfectly and shows his tremendous range as an actor.

I also give the film credit for being way ahead of it’s time, with the special effects wise. Even for those who don’t like silent films, it’s worth seeing for the special affects. All in all, this is a chilling film that seeps into the mind and is still the benchmark film version for Stevenson’s classic tale.

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Trivia:

John Barrymore hauled many of his prized potted plants from his apartment to the set to appear in scenery in the movie.

In the short Renaissance flashback memory sequence, where Hyde is explaining to Gina about the poisonous mysteries of his secret ring, set pieces and costumes were brought from “The Jest”. That was a hit play in which John Barrymore had starred with brother Lionel Barrymore on Broadway in 1919 before shooting this picture.

In one scene, as Hyde reverts to Jekyll, one of Hyde’s prosthetic fingers can be seen to fly across the screen, having been shaken loose by Barrymore’s convulsions.

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Quotes:

Sir George Carew: In devoting yourself to others, Jekyll, aren’t you neglecting the development of your own life?

Dr. Henry Jekyll: Isn’t it by serving others that one develops oneself, Sir George?

Dr. Henry Jekyll: Which self? A man has two two – as he has two hands. Because I use my right hand, Should I never use my left?

[Carew pointedly moves both hands indepemdently, making his point known to the whole table]

Sir George Carew: Your really strong man fears nothing. It is the weak one that is afraid of – – experience.

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Cast:

John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blythe on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 60.

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2 thoughts on “FILM PRESERVATION BLOGATHON: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ( 1920 )

  1. Joe Thompson says:

    I’m glad you wrote about this version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It is my favorite, too. Barrymore handles both roles convincingly. I didn’t know those were his own potted plants. I’m having a great time with this blogathon.

    Like

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