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The origins of Columbia Pictures' The Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951), which followed MGM's Spencer Tracy remake of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by ten years and Paramount's Academy Award® winning version (starring Fredric March) by twenty, began with belly laughs instead of shudders. Entertaining the idea of preposterous film titles which they thought might appeal to moviegoers, writers Jack Pollexfen (a former newspaperman turned Hollywood writer/producer) and Mortimer Braus (a longtime employee of Columbia's second feature "B hive") were so tickled by the sound of The Son of Dr. Jekyll that they immediately set about cobbling together an original scenario. To the partners' surprise, the studio snapped it up and passed the material to Edward Huebsch to turn into a shooting script. Slated for a quick three-week shoot, the production was placed in the care of journeyman director Seymour Friedman, with matinee idol Louis Hayward in the title roles. Hayward had just played a dual role in Pirates of Capri (1949) for Jack Pollexfen's pal Edgar Ulmer but this time out bore a quadruple responsibility, cast as Jekyll pre et fills, Hyde, Jr. and the original Mr. H. Getting to play two creatures (albeit under the same makeup) afforded the customarily dashing Hayward the chance to ugly it up a bit. Whereas trailers for MGM's A-list Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde coyly withheld Spencer Tracy's monster mug from prospective ticket buyers, Columbia wore its fiend on its sleeve, making Hayward's Mr. Hyde the biggest thing on the poster.
The Son of Dr. Jekyll was released on Halloween day 1951, at a time when interest in movie monsters had slowed from a pre-World War II deluge to a thin postwar trickle. The heyday of the trendsetting Universal monster rallies had come and gone, bracketed on the far side by the success of Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) and seventeen years afterwards by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), which poked good natured fun at heretofore po-faced ghoulies. Five years after the detonation of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science fiction was the rage, with The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) making a killing at the box office and whetting appetites for the big beast terrors of Them! (1954), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955).
Although Gothic horrors were largely dclass in the first years of the Cold War epoch, the archetype of a decent soul making a man of his dark half adapted easily to the idiom of sci-fi, in which scientists were always meddling in God's domain. United Artists' The Neanderthal Man (1953) and The Vampire (1957) and Universal's Monster on the Campus (1958) were thinly disguised Jekyll and Hyde tales, and even Bud and Lou got into the act with Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). (If Karloff's Mr. Hyde and the throwback of Monster on the Campus seem to share an uncanny likeness, both were the creations of makeup man Bud Westmore.) Jack Pollexfen returned to the well near the decade's end with Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) around the time that Great Britain's Hammer Studios revived interest in both Gothic monsters and period settings.
After an opening scene in which the monstrous Edward Hyde is mobbed to death by London vigilantes, The Son of Dr. Jekyll flashes forward to the waning years of the Victorian era. Adopted as an infant by Henry Jekyll's friend Utterson (a character who appears in Stevenson's original tale), Hayward's Edward Jekyll is introduced in blissful ignorance of his convoluted bloodline. Inheriting the family mansion on the eve of his wedding, Edward finds himself unpopular with the neighbors, prompting full disclosure of the unpleasantness of the past. In a fit of familial pique, young Edward declares that "legends don't die, they have to be killed" and sets about recreating his father's experiment in a bid to clear his name. Playing fast and loose with the J&H mythos, the script makes pointed allusions to the then-raging "Red Scare" in America and the frenzy to name and punish Communists and their sympathizers. It should come as no surprise that Huebsch himself had been blacklisted for ducking a HUAC subpoena. "Burning witches has always been a popular sport," Hayward's avenging son comments in the film, which reveals itself to be spoiler warning a standard horror tale wrapped around the film noir conceit of an innocent man framed for a crime he didn't commit. While Edward Jekyll survives the mob's wrath and commitment to a lunatic asylum to see his name (if not his father's) cleared, Edward Huebsch remained a blacklisted and uncredited writer until the release of Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming (to which he contributed) in 1977.
Director: Seymour Friedman
Screenplay: Mortimer Braus, Jack Pollexfen
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Cast: Louis Hayward (Edward Jekyll/Dr. Henry Hyde), Jody Lawrance (Lynn Utterson), Alexander Knox (Dr. Curtis Lanyon), Lester Matthews (Sir John Utterson), Gavin Muir (Richard Daniels), Paul Cavanagh (Inspector Stoddard), Rhys Williams (Michaels).
by Richard Harland Smith
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