Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (12/31/1931) After seeing Design for Living, I developed a mad passion for Fred March and hunted up a LOT of his films. He was always terrific and deserved all his accolades. This was the youngest and prettiest I had ever seen him. The ridiculously good hypocrite Henry Jekyll who makes the lame walk and farts sunbeams -seriously his ‘love sceen’ in reel one is so saccharine I wanted to vomit, is really just another scientist who uses his obsession to indulge his inner desire to be naughty, lucky for us this is precode gives us the delicious tumble Miriam Hopkins for him to be naughty with. He just needs to brew up an excuse to absolve him of all the sins he wants to commit. Stevenson may have wanted to explore the duality of man, and expose some Victorian hypocrisies, but personally I have always considered it an allegorical story that most people who live with a substance abuser know all too well, you never know who is gonna come through the door.
Mamoulian likes his toys, we have lots of lovely camera work and transformations to admire. Personlly I think Westmore’s makeup is pushed too far into neanderthal territory, cause unless Hyde is wearing a suit made of money, I can’t imagine him being taken seriously as a rich guy wen he looks like a sideshow act who rolled a rich guy for his clothes. (BTW In the movies, anytime you meet a fella in a top hat and cape RUN for your life.) It is a reverse Beauty and the Beast, where the more he is indulged the worse of an abomination he becomes; literally saying “forgive me my dear, I hurt you because I love you.” Miriam may be a cheap trollop, but doesn’t deserve this, cause everyone knows he’s GOING TO KILL HER, even she knows it. He could easily be saying “don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”
Personally I think the film is 20 minutes too long. In Universals hands this film would have been a tight 90 minutes and Miriam’s death would have been closer to the end, making it his ultimate act of debauchery. Cutting out some of Fred’s self mortification and at least one of the transformations probably wouldn’t have affected much, and snipping a lot of the ‘what’s to be done with Henry?’ moments would have improved it greatly. The last reel of the film is straight out of the Universal playbook, coppers chasing around a homicidal villain in formal wear before he comes to a sticky end. Whenever I watch it, I just watch the transformations and Miriam Hopkins…but that’s cause I don’t need an excuse to be naughty.