(director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: from the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson/Samuel Hoffenstein/Percy Heath; cinematographer: Karl Struss; editor: William Shea; cast: Fredric March (Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Miriam Hopkins (Ivy Parsons), Rose Hobart (Muriel Carew), Holmes Herbert (Dr. Lanyan), Halliwell Hobbes (Brigadier General Carew), Edgar Norton (Poole), Arnold Lucy (Utterson), Colonel MacDonnell (Hobson)Tempe Pigott (Mrs. Hawkins); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rouben Mamoulian; Paramount Pictures; 1931)

It’s taken from a novel Stevenson feverishly wrote over a period of six-days while snorting cocaine, and is well-served in this film by Mamoulian’s excesses.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rouben Mamoulian (“Silk Stockings”/”Golden Boy”/”Becky Sharp”) directs easily the best of the 20+ versions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The stylish horror film is written by Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath, who employ sex repression as a motivating drive for its monster protagonist’s evil actions. This early-talkie, the first talkie version of this film, was shot in the pre-Hayes Code days, which allowed for such free use of sex. Fredric March won an Oscar for playing the kindly scientist with a dual personality, who changes into an apish monster with a splendid makeup changeover.

In Victorian England, replete with gas lamps and horse carriages in the street, renown aristocratic surgeon/scientist Dr. Jekyll (Fredric March) lectures to his colleagues about the soul being divided in two parts, with the good struggling with the bad part. His controversial belief is that one can get rid of the bad part by cutting it out from the soul. He’s depicted as a saintly and dedicated doctor who operates on charity cases and gets a girl on crutches to miraculously walk again. His aristocratic fiancée Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) believes in him with all her heart and can’t wait to marry him, but her stuffy general father (Halliwell Hobbes) wants her to wait eight more months and to marry on the same day he wed his wife. On his way home from the Carews, Jekyll rescues an impoverished cabaret singer/tart Ivy Parsons (Miriam Hopkins) from an attack by a thug. When she kisses him as a reward for his rescue, his stuffy friend Dr. Lanyon (Holmes Herbert) admonishes him. In the meantime, the General takes his daughter away on a long trip abroad and Jekyll ignores his patients and retreats to his lab to conduct an unorthodox experiment to separate the evil part of his soul from the good part. He comes up with a potion that changes him to Mr. Hyde, a primitive beast with a mean disposition. After locating Ivy in a seedy saloon, he wards off a ruffian who is after her and forces her to live with him in an apartment he gets for her. He cruelly treats her as his slave and she’s too fearful to leave him. When Muriel returns, Jekyll gets her to persuade her old man to move up the wedding date. But Jekyll’s rejoicing is short-lived, as he can’t control the monster in him he created as he turns back into the monster while in the park watching a cat kill a bird. After missing a dinner party to announce his engagement, he confronts Ivy that she went to Dr. Jekyll for help and tells her his secret as he beats her to death. When Dr. Lanyon discovers his terrible secret, he promises to break off the engagement with Muriel and never allow the monster to take charge of him again. But after meeting with Muriel, the lovesick Jekyll returns and kisses Muriel but changes into a monster while in her arms. Her shrieks bring her father into the room, but he’s beaten off by the monster’s cane. The monster flees back to his lab. There he’s confronted by the police, who kill the madman who recklessly dared to delve into secrets of nature that Man Mustn’t Know.

In this classic but underhandedly subversive morality tale, Mamoulian shows that a man without any inhibitions and restraint loses control and can turn into an evil person. It shows that Jekyll’s intellectual arrogance and contempt for his peers is to blame for his believing without question his premise to separate evil from the soul is a good thing. Instead it turns out to be a highly dangerous undertaking and one would be better served to let the struggle between the two opposite forces continue as they always have in nature without interference from such a limited use of science. It’s taken from a novel Stevenson feverishly wrote over a period of six-days while snorting cocaine, and is well-served in this film by Mamoulian’s excesses, March’s exuberant theatrical performance of opposite personalities and the stunning atmospheric camerawork of cinematographer Karl Struss.

REVIEWED ON 11/21/2007 GRADE: A-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/