Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
has rightly become a classic of the horror movie genre, but unlike any other screen icon,
the many cinema adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale has closely followed the
evolution of cinema itself.
Mr.Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave the impression of deformity
without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the
lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a
husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice...He is not easy to describe. There is
something wrong with his appearance; something downright detestable. I never saw a man I
so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere he gives a strong
feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point. He's an extraordinary looking
man, and yet I can really name nothing out of the way. No sir, I can make no hand of it; I
can't describe him. And it's not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this
"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was penned by Robert
Louis Stevenson in a matter of days during one of his frequent bouts of ill health. Born
in Edinburgh during 1850, his interest in the duality of man had begun when he found
himself living a double life. The son of a respectable family, Stevenson became fascinated
in the "dregs of humanity", something that the social elite pretended never
existed. Tormented by his conscience, it is more likely that he drew on his own personal
experiences for the story, but in 1879 Stevenson wrote a play titled "The Double Life of Deacon Brodie" founded upon the exploits of an Edinburgh
counsellor who was hanged for burglary in 1799. After a frightful dream, Stevenson wrote
about the events surrounding Dr. Jekyll in just three days, but his wife Fanny Osbourne
described the first draft as nothing more than a "shilling shocker".
Within a matter of weeks, Stevenson's rewritten manuscript was published by Longmans who
released the novel in January of 1886. The book became an immediate success, selling over
40 thousand copies in the first six months. Only a year had passed when the story was
adapted for the stage by theatrical entrepreneur Thomas Russell Sullivan who cast thirty
year old matinee idol Richard Mansfield in the dual role. His first appearance as the
infamous Dr. Jekyll took place at the Boston Museum on May 9th.1887 to a gathered crowd of dignitaries. Mansfield
writhed and contorted himself, and with the aid of lighting would become the evil Mr. Hyde
to the gasps of astonishment from the public. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would remain in
Mansfield's repertoire until his death in 1907 after touring through most of America and
Other actors to take on the demanding dual role included Oscar Dane, Howard Pool and
Daniel E. Bandmann who was credited as portraying the most grotesque seen on the stage.
However, the greatest rival to all the actors were the all too real exploits of Jack the
Ripper, a killer who was terrorising London with a series of murders in the Whitechapel
district. So great was the public's fear that Mansfield's ten-week engagement at the
Lyceum Theatre in London was closed down when the newspapers reported that ..."there
is quite sufficient to make us shudder out of doors."
In 1897, three years after Stevenson's death, Luella Forepaugh and
George F. Fish presented their version of the tale in four acts which was performed many
times. In 1908 it was still touring America with the Thomas R. Sullivan company when
Colonel William Selig of the Polyscope Film Company attended one of the performances in
Chicago. Selig asked the troupe if they could perform the play in front of his cameras,
thereby condensing all four acts into one reel of film. It is still rumoured that an
earlier version of the novel was filmed in 1897, but there seems to be no evidence to
corroborate this claim. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also known as THE
MODERN DR. JEKYLL began with the raising of the stage curtain. Dr. Jekyll vows his
undying love for Alice, a vicar's daughter, in her spacious garden. Suddenly, seized by
his addiction to the chemical formula, Jekyll begins to convulse and distort himself into
the villainous Mr. Hyde. He savagely attacks Alice, and when her father tries to
intervene, Mr. Hyde takes great delight in slaughtering him. Later on, Jekyll transforms
again, but haunted by visions of the gallows, Mr. Hyde takes a fatal dose of poison,
killing both identities. In true theatrical tradition, the curtain then closes to an
assumably appreciative audience.
Regarded by many as a prestigious production, the critics were enthusiastic, giving the
anonymous actor in the title role special mention. "The change is displayed with a dramatic ability almost beyond
Nordisk Films Kompagni of Copenhagen was founded in November of 1906
by Ole Olsen and the company produced 560 films between the years 1907 and 1910. Amongst
these is Den Skaebnesvangre Opfindelse (1909)
written and directed by August Blom. Alwin Neuss is credited as Jekyll and Hyde with
Emilie Sannom as Maud, Jekyll's love interest. This film is more faithful to Stevenson's
novel than the popular Mansfield stageplay, but the cheat ending, popular for films at
this time, discounts the film as just a figment of Jekyll's vivid imagination. One
reviewer of the time wrote "the last scene shows Jekyll struggling with the
nightmare in his chair and, awakening in the presence of Maud, thanks God it was all a
dream. We are inclined to think that Stevenson might just as well have done the same thing
without hurting his story".
The same year saw the Wrench Company of Great Britain release their
560 foot version titled The Duality of Man. This
time Mr. Hyde is observed in a garden playing poker for high stakes when he suddenly grabs
the money and runs off to his chambers only to revert back to the kindly Dr. Jekyll. At
his home Jekyll receives his fiancÚ Hilda and her father, but Hyde again takes control
and Hilda's father is murdered in front of his daughter. Hot on Hyde's trail are the
detectives, but to avoid capture Hyde drinks a fatal dose of poison. The most widely known of the early renditions is Thanhouser's production
of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 1911 mostly
because this is the oldest version still in existence.
Filmed in New Rochelle, New York, released in 1912 and directed by Lucius Henderson, this
adaptation begins with the white-haired Dr. Jekyll secretly locked in his laboratory
administering himself with a phial of formula. He slumps into his chair with his head on
his chest. Slowly, as the drug takes effect, a dark-haired, taloned beast now appears in
the chair. After repeated use, Jekyll's evil alter ego emerges at will, causing Jekyll to
murder his sweetheart's father. The evil personality scuttles back to the laboratory only
to discover that the antidote is finished and that he will be as Mr. Hyde forever. A burly
policeman breaks down Jekyll's door to find that the kindly doctor is dead after taking
James Cruze, later to become a prominent director during the '20's, portrays Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde with his future wife Marguerite Snow as the minister's daughter. However,
fifty years later it was discovered that a stock company member named Harry Benham also
portrayed Mr. Hyde in some of the scenes. "As Cruze and I were the same size, we could wear the same clothes and wig, but
not the same set of false teeth! We had separate sets, which we kept attached with the
same powdered mastic that denture wearers use today. What I remember most about the making
of the picture is that we were constantly changing clothes after almost every scene. In
those days pictures were turned out like a butcher grinds out sausage. Sometimes it took
only three days to turn out a one-reeler, but this one was slower because of the delays in
changing the characters, so it lasted over a week of filming, much to Thanhouser's
Carl Laemmle, the
son of a poor Jewish estate agent, was born in Laupheim, Germany in 1867. By 1884, he had
emigrated to America and in 1905 he invested his savings into a nickelodeon chain and his
fortunes were made. By 1909 he entered into film production as the Independent Motion
Picture Co. as a slight against the new Motion Picture Patents Co. that planned to take
control over the whole film industry. Out of the ensuing battle emerged Universal, an
amalgamation of IMP, Bison, Eclair, Nestor and several other small film companies. Amongst
their early productions was a successful string of films based on classic literature. One of these is Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde (1913) starring Universal's biggest box office draw of the day, King Baggott who
had been lured to the studio by Laemmle in 1910 at the end of a stage tour. Praised for his acting abilities, the series of one reel films brought him world-wide attention after
which Universal cast him in Shadows (1914)
portraying no fewer than ten separate roles.
Like so many other performers of this period, it was standard prctice for the actors to
apply their own make-up, and while assuming the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde, King
Baggott employed a variety of different greasepaints and a tangled mass of crepe hair.
Through a series of camera dissolves Baggott was able to achieve an effective
transformation that astounded audiences. This is the only version in which Jekyll almost
discovers an antidote. The film was written and directed by Irishman Herbert Brenon who
would later direct Lon Chaney in MGM's LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH in 1928.
In 1913 Vitaskop of Germany released Der Andere (The Other), starring Albert Basserman as Dr. Hallers and
directed by Max Mack from a stageplay by Paul Lindau. Basserman had gone against the
present restrictions implemented by theatres who were fighting a film medium that was
poaching most of their best actors. His appearance in the film completely undermined the
theatre owners and DER ANDERE became one of the first German films to be
seriously regarded by the press. The same year also saw Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde produced by Charles Urban's Kinemacolor Company. This is now recognised
as Britain's first all-colour horror film, but unfortunately for theatre owners to show
the film a system of two double-speed projectors fitted with revolving green and red
filters was required. Ultimately the distribution of the film was so limited that even the
trade papers were unable to review it.
With a story so popular, it would only be a matter of time before the parodies would be
made, and in 1914 Warner Brothers released DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, DONE TO A
FRAZZLE followed by another comic adaptation by The Starlight Motion Picture Co. The
Lubin Studios in Jacksonville, Florida also released Horrible Hyde directed and starring Jerold T. Hevener as Mr. Hyde
who takes great delight in frightening people. In the meantime 1914 also saw Vitascope's 5 reel
release of Ein Seltsamer Fall, an unofficial
adaptation of the story from Germany starring Alwin Neuss who became popular with his
performances of Sherlock Holmes in the Der Hund von
Baskerville series that began the same year. For Germany, however, the idea of split
personalities, or "doppelgangers" was an old one and used in many stories
before Stevenson's novel. Vitagraph released Miss Jekyll
and Madame Hyde in 1915, but this was a Faustian tale starring Paul Scardon as Satan
attempting to claim an evil-doer's soul with a title hoping to cash-in on the story's
Another source also mentions that DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE and another film simply
titled DR. JEKYLL were released in 1917.
It is without doubt that the finest year for the story's screen
adaptations was 1920. The first of these was Adolph Zukor's production titled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Paramount studios and
starring John Barrymore. Before Lon Chaney
had established himself as the Master of the Macabre, John Barrymore (1882-1942), famed for his striking profile, revelled in portraying
an array of bizarre characters on stage and screen. The film was shot at Paramount's
studio on Long Island, New York while Barrymore was also appearing on stage in the
evenings as Richard III. Reportedly Barrymore collapsed from nervous exhaustion resulting
in a time spent at White Plains sanatorium.
John Stuart Robertson directed the story and at the time claimed the distinction of
putting the most title cards into a film. Set in Victorian London, the script introduced
elements to the story that were to become standard for future film adaptations, such as
the addition of two leading ladies, in this instance Martha Mansfield appears as
Jekyll's angelic sweetheart Millicent Carew and Nita Naldi is Gina the curvaceous dancing
temptress of London's Soho. Also contrary to the original novel, Hyde's appearance
steadily worsened with each transformation, displaying the alter ego's continuing control
This was the first adaptation to include Jekyll's amoral mentor, here named Sir George
Carewe played by Brandon Hurst, in a thinly
disguised plot device taken from Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
Barrymore's transformation scenes were played with obvious relish as
the actor writhed and twisted himself in grand fashion owing much more to stage
conventions than to the cinema. Such was his performance that during one scene, one of his
false finger nails flies off. Having been a close friend of Richard Mansfield's father
Maurice, it is possible that Barrymore was influenced by Richard's acclaimed stage
The only camera dissolve used during the transformation was a shot of Barrymore's fingers
changing into long, sharp talons and then cutting back to show the actor in full Hyde
make-up. He managed to depict a misshapen creature with an unusual walk and tousled
spidery hair, resembling not so much a man as an insect.
Even on repeating viewing, Barrymore's portrayal is no less than astonishing. So pleased
was the actor with the performance that he virtually repeated the role for DON JUAN
in 1926, and copied the make-up for his appearance in THE SEA BEAST, a Moby Dick
adaptation made the same year.
The film is filled with striking images including Hyde's incessant beating of George
Carewe; Hyde's shrivelled skin stroking the smooth flesh of a prostitute and of particular
interest the emergence of a spider that settles on a sleeping Jekyll and melts into his
body. To depict this infection of Jekyll's soul, Barrymore had to wear the cumbersome
giant spider costume and full Hyde makeup on his face. Also of note is the depiction of
Gina, once a thing of beauty reduced to a shallow eyed lifeless shell by Hyde's boundless
evil. It was, however, Barrymore's portrayal that made this film the definitive version of
the silent era.
Only a matter of weeks had passed since Paramount's film premiered at
the Rivoli Theatre in New York City when Pioneer Films released their own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made solely to profit from
Paramount's superior film. Pioneer's producer Louis B. Mayer, soon to become the head of
MGM Studios, set this poverty-row dud
in contemporary New York, firstly to avoid lawsuits from Paramount, and secondly to save
on the expense of period costumes. The film starred Sheldon Lewis who had been associated with serials after appearing as
The Clutching Hand in the Pearl White cliffhanger The
Exploits of Elaine (1914). Lewis virtually reprised his role from the serials for
Louis B. Mayer while his transformation scene was provided by a cheap cutaway shot to his
butler exclaiming that Jekyll is now "the apostle from Hell!". Hyde,
complete with fangs and scraggy hair skulks through the city committing such heinous acts
as stealing a woman's purse. The police eventually catch up with Hyde, interrogate him,
put him in gaol and strap him to the electric chair. Sitting in his chair at home, Jekyll
awakes from his nightmare to declare "I believe in God! I have a soul..."
and decides not to create the chemical potion.
This five reeler deservedly fell into obscurity, while no one ever referred to it again.
The director removed his name from the credits and Louis B. Mayer disowned it.
Interestingly Sheldon Lewis reprised the role again for a short 1929 sound film.
November of 1920 saw the release of Der Januskopf: Eine Tragodie am Rand der Wirklichkeit
(Janus-Faced: A Tragedy on the Border of Reality). This German variation was directed by F.W. Murnau and photographed by Karl Freund during a time when Germany was
completely isolated after World War I, so isolated that Murnau never bothered to pay for
the adaptation rights to the story. Screenwriter Hans Janowitz, also responsible for the
script for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, altered
the names of the title characters to Dr. Warren and Mr. O'Connor with the mighty Conrad Veidt cast in the dual role.
Dr. Warren browses through a London antique shop and becomes mesmerised by a statuette of
the Roman god Janus. The bust has two faces, one god-like, the other diabolical and it
exerts a strange influence on Dr. Warrren, who through his obsession with the statue
begins to transform into the evil Mr. O'Connor. Warren's new personality begins a series
of viscious crimes including the murder of a young child. Warren offers the statue to his
sweetheart Jane Lanyon, (Margarete Schlegel), but when she refuses and expresses her
horror, she later finds herself kidnapped and taken to a Whitechapel whorehouse where she
sees the statue again. The bust is sent to auction, but under the influence of Mr.
O'Connor, Dr. Warren purchases the statue and returns it to his laboratory. Unable to
escape his inevitable capture, Mr. O'Connor takes poison and dies clutching the cursed
Unlike Murnau's later work Nosferatu (1922), DER
JANUSKOPF unfortunately remains lost. Reportedly all prints were destroyed after a
civil lawsuit was brought against the producers by the Stevenson estate. The loss is made
more poignant by the fact that a young Bela
Lugosi appears in the film as Dr. Warren's butler and that Murnau would later be
regarded as one of Germany's finest directors until his tragic death in March 1931. All
that remains is the script and a few stills that were discovered in the possession of the
Swedish Film Archives.
For the remainder of the Twenties, the idea of any studio trying to compete with John
Barrymore's established performance seemed a pointless task, but the parodies still
continued. Comedian Stan Laurel, before his association with Oliver
Hardy, had already appeared in over seventy, one and two reelers including Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde produced by comedian Joe
Rock for the Standard Cinema Corp. in 1925. They rented space at the Universal Studio lot
on the understanding that they could use any of the standing sets, therefore this
two-reeler was filmed on the exterior sets of The
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). Laurel utilised his celebrated
"scissors-jump" in his portrayal of Mr Pryde, a mischievous prankster who dashes
through the streets kicking people in the seat of the pants and generally making a
nuisance of himself.
In 1931 Paramount saw fit
to remake the story utilising the new sound medium.
The premier of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on New
Years Eve 1931 in New York could not have been better timed. The recent success of
Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein had already renewed a public interest in the horror
genre. Rouben Mamoulian, a Russian-born stage director, had been involved with motion
pictures at the end of the Twenties, and now directed what is rightly considered the
classic rendition of Stevenson's famous novel. Equipped with a handsome budget, studio
heads had insisted on casting Irving Pichel, the then rival to Boris Karloff, in the lead
role. Earlier that year Pichel had successfully chilled the marrow of audiences in Murder by the Clock. Mamoulian intervened, and while he agreed that Pichel would be
fine as Mr. Hyde, he did not think him suitable as Dr. Jekyll. The director suggested the
young comedian and romantic leading man Frederic
March, much to the objection of the studio executives even though the actor slightly
resembled a young John Barrymore. Mamoulian's decision was vindicated when March was one
of the first to receive an Academy Award for a horror picture, sharing the Best Actor
category with Wallace Beery for his role in THE CHAMP.
Mamoulian possessed a strong visual style and was always keen to experiment. For DR.
JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE he employed a lot of subjective camerawork, diagonal split
screens, voice overs for what he called "audible thoughts" and an ingenious
series of wipes to segue from one scene to the next. With his obvious ingenuity and an
appreciation of Richard Mansfield's performances on stage, Mamoulian employed the
available technology to the transformation scenes. March's features were gradually
darkened with layer after layer of make up as a series of red filters were removed from
the studio lights to reveal each layer of make-up and transform his character in one fluid
take. This technique had originally been developed by cameraman Karl Struss for the film BEN-HUR
(1925) during the healing of the lepers sequence.
Frederic March would later recall, "For six weeks, I had to arrive at the studio
each morning at 6 a.m. so that Wally Westmore could spend hours building pieces on my nose
and cheeks, sticking fangs in my mouth and pushing cotton wool up my nostrils."
Mamoulian was not afraid of camera movement and during one scene he presented a
spinning laboratory set by tying cameraman Karl Struss to the top of his camera and
revolving him to secure his 360 degree pan. For the same scene Mamoulian recorded his own
heartbeats after running up and down some stairs to accompany the shot.
Mamoulian believed that "Mr. Hyde is the exact replica of the Neanderthal Man, so
he's our ancestor. We were that once. The struggle or dilemma is not between evil and
good, it's between the sophisticated, spiritual self in man and his animal, primeval instincts."
This is never more obvious than when Hyde enters the rain and lifts his face to the
downpour in exhilaration, almost as if to cleanse his corrupted soul, then he ventures
into the Soho district of London to attend a music hall where Champagne Ivy Pierson,
(Miriam Hopkins), becomes the victim of his attentions.
Mamoulian also manages to add a heady sexuality to the story,
especially in scenes with Hyde and Hopkins as the fiend aggressively establishes his
dominance in their relationship. Initially these scenes brought trouble from the British
censors who demanded several cuts when it was felt Hyde was excessively pawing Hopkins.
Interestingly Robert Louis Stevenson's nephew appears in a small uncredited role.
Not to be outdone, Universal Studios released another parody titled DR. JEKYLL'S
HIDE (1932) in an attempt to capitalise on Paramount's feature. This short film was
written, produced and directed by Albert de Mond and utilised footage from IMP's previous
Jekyll and Hyde adaptation of 1913.
It was in 1941 that Mamoulian's superb film almost disappeared
for good after the decision was made at MGM to remake the story. To ensure that no
competition or comparison could be made, MGM bought the rights to the 1932 production and
hid it away in their vaults never to be screened again. It wasn't until 1967 that the film
resurfaced for a tribute to Robert Mamoulian held at the Gallery of Modern Art. Even then
the film had been butchered by seventeen minutes, omitting a pivotal scene of Jekyll on a
bench watching a bird singing in a tree. When a cat attacks the bird Jekyll experiences
another transformation, but this time without the use of his drug, depicting Jekyll's loss
of control over his soul. Another cut showed Jekyll helping a young girl to walk as he
sits playing his pipe organ.
Although repeatedly denied by MGM, their 1941 Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a carbon copy of Mamoulian's
film, but places an emphasis on the psychological aspects of the tale in a vain attempt to
set it apart from all other versions. The studio had initially earmarked Robert Donat in
the dual role, but settled on Spencer Tracy even though some felt he was unsuitable.
Unfortunately Tracy's performance was considered only adequate.
When Somerset Maugham visited the set he asked "Which one is he now, Jekyll or
Lana Turner was originally cast to portray the singing prostitute opposite Ingrid Bergman
as Jekyll's fiance, but both actresses believed thay had been miscast and swapped roles.
Bergman's performance is one of the film's saving graces.
Unfortunately producer and director Victor Fleming, fresh from his success with GONE
WITH THE WIND, offered little in the way of imagination with the story causing it to
lack the energy and vitality of Paramount's release. Despite several striking scenes and
Franz Waxman's rousing score, the production plods along without atmosphere.
Although Tracy's performance is closer to Stevenson's original conception, the film
provided him with the only bad reviews of his entire career. Fleming relied solely on
Tracy's facial contortions as Mr. Hyde rather than the traditional make-up, detracting
from the film and the audiences expectations. In light of this, MGM refused to
publish any stills of Tracy as Mr. Hyde before the film's release.
The nineteen fifties began and saw all manner of liberties taken with Stevenson's
story. Such a tale dealing with the seperation of good and evil in man is relevant to any
era, therefore Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will continue to be seen in many many forms, but
judging by some of the recent releases, I will continue to savour the classic
interpretations of the early cinema.