Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde</strong> (1920)

(On Cable TV, April 2018) According to my notes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the oldest movie I’ve ever watched to date. While I wonder at the idea of a movie that has travelled in time nearly a hundred years to be watched today, I’m also tempted to put Science Fiction fan beanie on my head to point out that, of course, a genre film is more durable and memorable than then-contemporary drama. Genre is fun, genre is interesting and genre, all things considered, travels pretty well through time. The basic Jekyll/Hyde story, after all, is a pumped-up illustration of the duality within all of us, torn between our basest instincts and our better natures. Here we have John Barrymore (grandfather to Drew Barrymore, if you want another link between then and now) playing both lead roles: an upstanding citizen who, thanks to scientific experiments and hilariously ill-advised nudging by his future father-in-law, sees his inner beast unchained and free to act badly. One aspect of watching a 1920 film trying to tackle debauchery is the curiously tame nature of the excesses (ooh, an ankle) and yet the film does manage to make its point come across clearly. The hideous transformation of Jekyll into Hyde is well handled through prosthetics and makeup, and the rest of the film is decent enough. I’m not that charmed by the entire film—as with other silent movies, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to last forever, exhibits only a rudimentary understanding of modern cinematographic grammar and is simply too foreign to be watched transparently when the title cards brutally remind you that there’s an entire audio dimension missing. Still, I’m still impressed that this nearly hundred-year-old artifact can still be watched and make us care about the story it has to tell.

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