Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde</strong> (1931)

(On Cable TV, June 2018) I never thought I’d reach a point in my cinephilia where I could talk knowledgeably about the 1920, 1931 and 1940 versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but here we are. The 1920 version has John Barrymore wearing prosthetics, exposed ankles (i.e.: charmingly quaint ideas about morality) and first-mover advantage, while the 1940 version has Spencer Tracy managing Mr. Hyde without prosthetics or (much) makeup beyond messed-up hair, and much-improved technical credentials. But I’m increasingly partial to the 1931 version for Fredric March’s unchained take on the character, and numerous directorial flourishes including a spectacular subjective opening shot that incorporates still-impressive special effects trickery. Given that the 1931 version is a pre-Code film, it features notably more risqué content than both the 1921 and 1940 version, making it more honest to the themes of the original work. Hyde feels more dangerous because he’s not as restrained as in the other versions. Otherwise, the story is the story … but as a comparative viewing of all three version will show, the 1931 is the best execution of it. Amazingly enough, this 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film is said to have completely disappeared between 1940 (when the owner of the Spencer Tracy version bought back all the copies they could find and denied rental requests by keeping the film in their vaults) and the early seventies, at which point it started being shown again. Count your blessings in being able to see it and compare it with the other versions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *