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Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde


Fredric March - Jekyll / Hyde
Miriam Hopkins - Ivy Pearson
Rose Hobart - Muriel Carew
Holmes Herbert - Dr. Lanyon
Halliwell Hobbes - Danvers Carew
Edgar Norton - Poole
Rouben Mamoulian - Director
Rouben Mamoulian - Producer
Samuel Hoffenstein - Screenwriter
Karl Struss - Cinematographer
Herman Hand - Film Score
R.L. Stevenson - Original Novel

March as Dr. Jekyll Unlike John Barrymore's Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920), Rouben Mamoulian's version stoutly defends the healthy normality of sex. Taken by his jeeringly lecherous future father-in-law to the depravity of Soho (where the lower orders are doing a bit of mild drinking while Nita Naldi does a Spanish-style dance), Barrymore's Jekyll shrinks in disgust as Naldi offers to kiss him. The equivalent scene in Mamoulian's version has Jekyll (Fredric March) responding cheerfully but circumspectly to flirtatious provocation from the sluttish Ivy (Miriam Hopkins): obviously sexually attracted and not ashamed of it, he disengages himself simply because he is already in love (with Rose Hobart).

Contrary to his usual impressionistic practice, Mamoulian opens the film with a lengthy subjective sequence, uninterruptedly adopting Jekyll's point-of-view as he carols his joy at his coming marriage by pounding out Bach at the organ, is reminded by his manservant that he has a lecture to deliver, and makes his way to the university amphitheatre. So little thought of at the time that it was excised from some prints, this subjective sequence fills several functions. Firstly, it obviously establishes Jekyll's nature as one of introspection, a moody self-absorption to which his future father-in-law's indignant insistence that the date of the wedding cannot be brought forward (and the dialogue makes it amply clear that Jekyll's sexual need is paramount in motivating the request) soon adds the dimensions of mania.

Secondly, the ostentatious flourish with which the sequence ends--the camera panning full circle round the amphitheatre and cutting to the first objective view of Jekyll as he utters the first word of his lecture on the possibility of separating good from evil in the human mind--indicates the arrogance of the man who sees himself as the centre of the universe and is about to usurp God's role as creator. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it establishes Jekyll as a basis not only for the series of diagonal wipes which associate Hopkins and Hobart within the frame, but for the system of cuts and dissolves which link Hyde's ecstasies and Jekyll's shame to the same root cause.

Mr. Hyde The film, in other words, openly traces the cause of Jekyll's troubles to the frustration by social convention of his perfectly natural sexual desires. And one of its most remarkable features is the consistency with which Jekyll and Hyde are viewed as two halves of a schizophrenic personality. Far from representing a liberation of Jekyll's sexuality, Hyde is the product of its ruthless suppression: where Jekyll's initial encounter with Hopkins was suffused with a heady eroticism, Hyde's dealings with her are pointedly asexual, dominated instead by a cold, murderous sadism.

Still by far the best film of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with superb performances from March and Hopkins, it also has the incomparable Karl Struss behind the camera, producing a marvellous chiaroscuro vision of Stevenson's London as a fog-laden, gaslit warren of glistening streets, towering stairways and shabby dens, haunted by the shadow of Mr Hyde, alternately bestially small or towering like a giant, as he prowls with black cloak swirling like a matador's cape.

In 1941 MGM bought the rights to the Mamoulian film and remade Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde themselves, starring Spencer Tracy. Reflecting the more bourgeois sensibilites of MGM, the film is a bowdlerized version of the 1931 classic. The character of Ivy is also toned down. As played by Ingrid Bergman she is much less aggressive and lewd in her initial meeting with Jekyll. The only unique sequences in the film are the Freudian montages during Jekyll's transformations to Hyde.

--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films
, 1986

A selection of Jekyll & Hyde films.

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A selection of Jekyll & Hyde in books.

A History of Horror

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