Director: Victor Fleming
Writer: John Lee Mahin
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, Barton MacLane, C. Aubrey Smith, Peter Godfrey, Sara Allgood, Frederic Worlock, William Tannen, Frances Robinson, Denis Green, Billy Bevan, Forrester Harvey, Lumsden Hare, Lawrence Grant, and John Barclay
Composer: Franz Waxman
Release Date: 8/12/1941
MPAA Rating: G
Dr. Harry Jekyll (Spencer Tracy), a kind and benevolent figure, maintains that man is composed of two distinct sides: one good and the other evil. Unable to marry his fiancée Beatrix Emery (Lana Turner) due to the reservations of her father, Sir Charles Emery (Donald Crisp), Dr. Jekyll conducts an experiment to separate his malevolent half—known as Mr. Edward Hyde—from his upright self. Complications arise when Mr. Hyde, having coerced his way into a relationship with bar singer Ivy Peterson (Ingrid Bergman), continues to persist without Dr. Jekyll’s consent.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a thoughtful, well-acted remake of the 1931 film starring Fredric March. The slow-moving pace and melodramatic tone of this production may, however, receive criticism from fans of the Jekyll/Hyde tale by Robert Louis Stevenson.
As opposed to Miriam Hopkins (known for playing Ivy Pearson in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Ingrid Bergman deserves praise for conveying the pathos and sensitivity of an emotionally complex, tragically abused young woman—a performance that should allow the audience to sympathize with Ivy in spite of her uncultured manner and promiscuous behavior.
Additionally worth commending on a technical level, the physical aspects of Spencer Tracy’s Jekyll/Hyde transformations add an air of credibility to the fantastic, if not thoroughly absurd, concept of a person transitioning between good and evil states after ingesting a chemical potion. Specifically, by emphasizing torment, malice, and wicked intentions through facial expressions alone, Tracy’s portrayal of Mr. Hyde generates a haunting and formidable presence without the use of copious make-up—an accomplishment that few cinematic versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have since duplicated.
Though quite sinister in the role of Mr. Hyde, Tracy should be criticized for failing to embody the conviction that compels Dr. Jekyll—a man of tremendous faith, character, and righteousness—to tamper with forces unknown while testing his theory regarding the duality of human nature.
Also problematic is that in this film, Mr. Hyde bears more than a passing resemblance to Dr. Jekyll—much in contrast to the 1931 version of the same story, wherein Mr. Hyde is portrayed as a hirsute, apelike creature with no external features connecting him to his civilized counterpart. Viewers may therefore question why Ivy, Poole (Peter Godfrey), and Dr. Lanyon (Ian Hunter) struggle to identify Dr. Jekyll as such following his transformation into Mr. Hyde.
Ostensibly a commentary on the aforementioned duality of man, Victor Fleming’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to indicate that evil in all forms will corrupt the human soul if not cast aside completely. Note, for instance, that after providing his alter ego with an unbridled avenue of expression, Dr. Jekyll eventually finds himself unable to restrain the beast within—likely a statement on how yielding to temptation can lead to a dark and dangerous path of no return.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde provides a worthwhile and thought-provoking examination of the human condition. Thus, those of an analytical or philosophical mindset may enjoy this offering, languid pacing and lack of gothic horror tropes notwithstanding.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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