Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
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In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Victor Fleming's retelling of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story, Spencer Tracy plays the refined and respected Dr. Jekyll, a man who is fascinated with his recent studies of the human mind. He believes each person has a good side and a dark side, which can be controlled with the proper chemicals. After mixing a concoction that successfully transforms him into his alter ego, Mr. Hyde, he embarks on a wild night on the town where he indulges his darkest fantasies with a prostitute named Ivy (Ingrid Bergman). Lust quickly turns to sadism and homicidal rage as Dr. Jekyll loses control of the experiment and begins transforming without the drugs.
Although Robert Donat was originally considered for the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde, Spencer Tracy became the favored choice and Louis B. Mayer pressured him to take the role against his wishes. Among Tracy's objections were his hatred of elaborate makeup and the general consensus that the 1932 version with Fredric March was a masterpiece so why remake it? Eventually, Tracy accepted the challenge, possibly intrigued by the dual nature of the role, which had close parallels to his own off-screen struggles with alcohol. He also wanted Ivy and Beatrix to be played by the same actress - Katharine Hepburn - to reinforce the theme of the good and bad qualities in every individual. Instead, Victor Fleming chose two actresses but cast them both against type. Ingrid Bergman, who had only played "good girls" up to this point in her American film career, won the role of the prostitute, Ivy. Lana Turner, whose sex appeal was already legendary in Hollywood (the entertainment press had nicknamed her "the sweater girl"), got to wear billowy nineteenth-century gowns by Adrian for her role as Jekyll's elegant fiancee.
Critics have been somewhat uncharitable over the years of this version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and particularly critical of Spencer Tracy's performance in it. It was once said that Somerset Maugham, while visiting the set, whispered to Fleming while studying Tracy's performance, "Which one is he now, Jekyll or Hyde?" 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.
Nevertheless, Fleming's take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remains one of the best interpretations of the Stevenson story for many reasons. For one thing, Fleming wisely puts the focus on Bergman's character and she delivers a striking performance as Ivy. By moving her to center stage, Fleming filled that motivational void for Tracy with a desire that makes his character, and the film, much more fully realized. The film also boasts excellent production values from the handsome set design to the period costumes and was awarded three Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music Score. And let's not forget that bizarre, Freudian dream sequence where Hyde is whipping two horses that suddenly transform into Ivy and Beatrix! This scene was often cut from television prints for obvious reasons.
Director/Producer: Victor Fleming
Screenplay: John Lee Mahin (based on the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Daniel B. Cathcart
Editor: Harold F. Kress
Music: Franz Waxman
Special Effects: Warren Newcombe, Peter Ballbusch
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Dr. Harry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Ingrid Bergman (Ivy Peterson), Lana Turner (Beatrix Emery), Donald Crisp (Sir Charles Emery), Ian Hunter (Dr. John Lanyon), Barton MacLane (Sam Higgins), C. Aubrey Smith (The Bishop).
BW-114m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Michael Toole