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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde(1932)

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Home Video Reviews

Even though it was just released this January, Warner Home Video's DVD of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will doubtless remain one of the most notable of 2004. The disc actually contains both the 1932 and 1941 versions of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story, and it is the 1932 version, barely seen over the decades, which is the major rediscovery here. It is one of the most chilling American horror films of its time, boasting an Oscar®-winning performance by Fredric March that is simply unforgettable.

With its racy dialogue, partial nudity, strong sense of eroticism, and intense creepiness, the 1932 Jekyll is very much a pre-Code movie. Technically it was ahead of its time, with startling make-up and innovative lighting and camera techniques, including a famous subjective-shot opening. Both its cinematography and screenplay, in fact, were Oscar®-nominated. Director Rouben Mamoulian's mastery of technique was on full display. (Mamoulian's versatility is also visible in another recently released DVD - the 1932 Love Me Tonight, which is one of the most memorable and influential musicals of the 1930s.) March as Hyde is a hideous monster - menacing, unpredictable and very cruel. Dr. Jekyll is anxious to marry his fiancee (Rose Hobart), but her father wants them to wait. As Hyde, he is able to release his sexual energy on a tawdry showgirl/prostitute named Champagne Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) - and she's not exactly willing. Who could be? March throws his whole body into his amazing performance as Hyde. His physicality is terrifying, making it easy for us to share Hopkins' utter fear of him.

It should be noted that while this is the fullest existing version of this film, it's not completely restored. The opening tracking shot, a striptease by Hopkins, and other sexual overtones scattered throughout the picture were excised for a 1935 Hays Code-era reissue; most, but not all, of these items have been found and put back. Film historian Greg Mank, on his excellent commentary track, indicates precisely where footage was cut and replaced, and also what remains lost.

The 1942 edition directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, is not bad, but both Tracy and the movie pale in comparison to the earlier version. It's a straight copy of the March film. MGM actually bought the 1932 film from Paramount and withdrew it for many years in order to avoid negative comparisons, which is one reason it was thought lost for a time. (The studio also buried the 1920 silent version starring John Barrymore.) These two versions make for an interesting evaluation of the Hays Code. Next to the shock value of the original, the remake is much slicker, but it's also staid and rather lifeless. It contains barely an ounce of the sexual tension that makes the March version so compelling. One of the weirdest things about this movie is how alike Jekyll and Hyde look; you'd think Jekyll's friends would recognize him as Hyde! The print used here is beautiful, however, and MGM's grade-A production values are shown off to fine effect. This is especially good for Ingrid Bergman, who, appearing a year before Casablanca, is breathtakingly beautiful - not a bad reason in the least to enjoy this film. Moreover, her performance as Ivy is one of the remake's strongest selling points.

Extras, aside from the commentary track already mentioned, include a trailer for the 1941 version and a 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon spoof, Hyde and Hare.

For more information about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, visit Warner Video. To order Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold