Friday, October 28, 2011
31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie
I'm a bit embarrassed to say that until today, I'd never gotten around to viewing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) starring John Barrymore. I don't need to go into plot details, if you're reading this then you're probably familiar with the story of the doctor who creates a potion which allows him to divide himself into his good nature that the world already knows as well as a separate persona composed of all of his darker yearnings and behaviors.
While no cinematic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's short novel compares with the excellent 1931 version starring Fredric March, this version does a good job with the material. Barrymore does an excellent job creating distinct personas and physical aspects between the Jekyll and Hyde characters he portrays, and the movie is really all his with the rest of the cast in literal supporting roles, there to bolster his performance which carries the movie. Except for the beginning, Jekyll doesn't get to do much to distinguish himself except spend a lot of time with his brow furrowed looking annoyed or impatient, which is in contrast to the saintly doctor persona which establishes him. As would be expected, Hyde is a more colorful, memorable character, whom Barrymore portrays as hunched over with long, thing greasy hair cascading down from a domed skull, and with long thin fingers ending in ragged nails. While, except in one scene where he beats a man to death with his came, there isn't really anything terribly threatening about him. He doesn't really embody caged rage straining to burst free, but he does definitely come across as skeevy and debased.
Director John S. Robertson divides all aspects of the movie into two sides as well, with the clean, rich, well to do with their big neat homes and immaculate, healthy looking characters on one side and the filth and squalor of the poor parts of town with their wretched, diseased looking populace and environments. When Hyde enters a combination brothel and opium den, everything about it makes you want to scrub down with Lysol just from looking at it. To make things more interesting, it's the morally questionable behavior of Jekyll's wealthy friends that leads him on his road to ruin, but even though Jekyll attends to the poor as a physician, there's no one from the side of squalor, no prostitute with a heart of gold to elevate Hyde.