Tag Archives: Fredric March

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.

Seven Days in May (1964)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Seven Days in May</strong> (1964)

(On Cable TV, May 2018) In between Seven Days in May, Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe, 1964 was a big, big year for black-and-white techno-thrillers in Hollywood. Dr. Strangelove distinguished itself through black comedy and Fail-Safe made few compromises in showing a nightmare scenario, leaving Seven Days in May as the more average film, although this is a relative term when discussing a film in which the United States government discovers an impending military coup and tries to defuse it before it’s too late. The black-and-white cinematography highlights the non-nonsense atmosphere that the film is going for, trying to make the unthinkable at least plausible. There is something admirable to the way the film builds not to an explosive guns-and-explosion confrontation, but to a quiet climax in which the would-be traitors are sent scurrying, and the country avoids a dramatic confrontation that would have had terrible consequences. The film works hard at instilling a basic credibility to its plotting, even with some then-near-future technological touches such as video screens. The tension is there, and being able to rely on capable actors such as Kirk Douglas, Fredric March (at the close of a long career), Ava Gardner or Burt Lancaster. Director John Frankenheimer made his reputation on thriller much like Seven Days in May, and is still effective today. Compared to its two other 1964 techno-thrillers, the film has aged very well—it may be hard to imagine nuclear war today, but overthrowing a president is still within the realm of possibility…

The Best Years of our Lives (1946)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Best Years of our Lives</strong> (1946)

(On Cable TV, March 2018) There have been a lot of World War II movies, but comparatively fewer post-WW2 films. Released in 1946 and taking a look at the struggles of servicemen coming back home after a long time abroad, The Best Years of our Lives surely qualified as a “social issues” movie when it came out. Fortunately, it does capture the dynamics of the moment well enough to be worth a look even seventy years later. Of our three protagonists, one is an older man coming back home to adult kids and a senior banking job; another is an ex-soda jerk struggling to go back to lower-class jobs after a rewarding tour as a bombing navigator; a third (played by a real-life amputee) sees his disability as a disqualifying factor in his relationship. All three interact in various ways, break established patterns and reveal themselves to have been changed by their experience. Of note here is Harold Russell, an amputated non-actor delivering a performance so impressive it won no fewer than two Oscars. (Nominated in the Supporting Actor category but expected to lose, the Academy gave an honorary Oscar to Russell … only to see him win the competitive category as well.)  Fredric March is also quite likable as the visibly older man reintegrating a comfortable position. It does have the quirks of a mid-forties film, but the drama is solid, generally palatable to a modern audience (including a daring-for-the-time subplot of a married man justifiably leaving his wife) and still well-observed even today. The ripped-from-headlines nature of The Best Years of our Lives has aged very well in a credible depiction of an overlooked facet of history and the result is surprisingly good even today.