Monday, March 15, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941

Because I love doing everything backwards, I watched the 1941 Victor Fleming directed version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde before I watched the 1931 allegedly superior version. This version stars Spencer Tracy as Dr. Jekyll, the London Doctor who believes he has found a formula to separate good and evil in the human soul. Lana Turner plays his fiancee Beatrix, a cultured, high born woman who represents goodness and light. Ingrid Bergman plays Ivy, a "barmaid" (it is hinted that this is not her only occupation) whom Dr. Jekyll chances upon one night. Ivy represents lust and danger. She herself is not evil, but the feelings she provokes in the good Doctor would be frowned upon in decent society...

When Beatrix and her Father leave for the Continent, Dr. Jekyll takes the opportunity to test his formula. He transforms into the evil Mr. Hyde. The transformation sequence is lifted right out of The Wolfman, which was made the same year (I am not sure which chicken or egg came first.) Mr Hyde looks like an underfed, cracked out hippie version of Dr. Jekyll. No one, including the poor doomed Ivy, realizes they are the same person.

Mr. Hyde indulges all of the evil impulses that Dr. Jekyll tried to keep buried (we glimpse this during Dr. Jekyll's first meeting with Ivy.) He imprisons Ivy, torturing and raping her until she is half mad. You read that right. There is no doubt that this is what is going on. Quite horrific for a film from 1941.
When Beatrix returns Jekyll tries to "lock" Mr. Hyde away. He even goes as far as telling Ivy that Hyde will never bother her again. The only problem is, once you unleash the beast, it is mighty difficult to keep him chained.

Honestly, this film freaked me out a lot more than I thought it would. I had always heard that Tracy was terribly miscast as Jekyll, and the performance was "bland." I don't agree. I think you can see Hyde bubbling under the surface in his performance as the Doctor. And during his scenes with Bergman he is so horrifying that you believe her terror. Plus, there are scenes in this movie that are totally bizarro, like the one pictured above, where Hyde visualizes the two women in his life as horses he is riding. I think Mr. Fleming might have spent too much time in Oz.
Tonight I watch the Fredric March version, which many claim is the best. But I am glad I was able to judge Tracy's performance on its own. I am not the only one who liked it... Check out Bug's opinion...

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