DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE(director/prodocer: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: John Lee Mahin/from the book by Robert Louis Stevenson; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Harold Kress; music: Franz Waxman; 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), Peter Godfrey (Poole), Barton MacLane (Sam Higgins), C. Aubrey Smith (Bishop), Frederic Worlock (Dr. Heath), Frances Robinson (Marcia); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Victor Saville; MGM; 1941)
“The entire effort was misconceived, one that offers more ham than steak.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Victor Fleming’s glossy but shallow and bombastic version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel pales besides the 1932 version by Rouben Mamoulian, in which Fredric March won an Oscar, which was not bothered by the Hayes Code and therefore could show that the problem could be traced to Jekyll’s sexual repression. Ingrid Bergman wished to change from playing sweet roles to show she was a more accomplished actress and took the more demanding vixen role offered Lana Turner, who played instead the sweet society girl and reportedly had no problem with the switch–a less demanding role she felt more comfortable with at this stage of her career. Ingrid said this was her favorite film part ever, but I thought both actresses were miscast against type and gave forgettable performances. The sweet looking Ingrid did not look the part of a street-wise prostitute, while Lana was about as important to the film as a piece of furniture.
The story is set in the Victorian England of 1887. While the respected Dr. Jekyll and his attractive society fiancee Beatrix Emery (Turner) and her snobby widowed father Sir Charles Emery (Crisp) are attending church services and listening to the Bishop (Smith) give a high-minded sermon on evil being eradicated from England, a rowdy worshiper (MacLane) loudly challenges those statements as lies. He’s about to be arrested when Jekyll intervenes and has him removed to the hospital where he’s on the staff. After his examination he declares the patient isn’t mentally ill but suffers from a nervous breakdown and that his evil side has been exposed. Dr. Heath, the hospital head, disapproves of Jekyll trying his untested chemicals to experiment on a possible cure for his condition. Jekyll vows to continue his research in his lab until he gets the right chemical potion. At a dinner party for the elite, Jekyll upsets all the guests when he pontificates on his theory that everyone has good and evil chained to their soul and when the evil gets loose it becomes dangerous. This theory upsets in particular Sir Charles, who takes him aside and lays the law down that he become a society doctor and safely serve his own kind as a regular physician and forget all that risky experimental research for the mentally ill. On the way home from the dinner party with his best friend and colleague at the hospital, Dr. John Lanyon (Hunter), the two prevent a low-class barmaid, Ivy Peterson (Bergman), from being raped by her companion in the alley. After taking her home by coach, Jekyll treats her for possible injuries inside her flat and she’s attracted to his gentle ways so much that she kisses him and gives him her garter as a memento. In a clunky way this scene is meant to show that even the perfect gentleman could be challenged by evil urges.
Jekyll returns to his lab and becomes obsessed with his research and doesn’t even come out to go to Albert Hall for a concert he usually enjoys. After he takes a few swigs of his experimental potion, he transforms mentally and physically into the dark Mr. Hyde. When Sir Charles discovers Beatrix with Jekyll at his lab in a seemingly sexual clinch, after she sought him out to calm her down from a frightening Freudian-like dream, the father becomes so aghast he takes her on a European holiday to get her out of harm’s way until Jekyll’s libido calms down. Left alone, with only his loyal butler Poole to take care of him, the scientist goes bonkers as he changes into Mr. Hyde. As Hyde, he tracks down Ivy at her bar/cabaret and gets involved in a violent relationship with her. He tempts her with money and regularly beats her and keeps her afraid to run away. She doesn’t recognize that he’s the kindly Dr. Jekyll because his appearance as Mr. Hyde has taken on the personification of evil.
Anything of intelligence has been drained out of this weak telling of the horror story. The only honest praise I can offer is for the refreshing black and white photography by cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, that artfully caught the atmosphere of that period. As for Spencer Tracy’s performance, there was nothing about it that brought out the mental pain he was undergoing. His sexual violence seems to come out of the blue without an explanation offered. Admittedly, that is more the screenwriter’s fault than Tracy’s. Still, his performance was mostly a blustery showboatHollywood one.
The entire effort was misconceived, one that offers more ham than steak. It was watchable, but not riveting or worthy of the novel.
REVIEWED ON 1/8/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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