Victor Fleming’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t a patch on Rouben Mamoulian’s faster-paced and more exciting 1931 version, but it has its own merits with excellent performances from Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman and a glossy MGM production that’s always a pleasure to watch.
The Production: 3.5/5
MGM’s 1941 remake of the classic 1931 thriller Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde offers less horror on display and more psychological examination on the nature of evil. With Spencer Tracy playing the dual-natured protagonist and antagonist and the star duo of Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner cast against type as the two primary women in the lives of Jekyll and Hyde, Victor Fleming’s production emphasizes MGM gloss and polish but leaves the viewer a little unsatisfied if memories of previous versions (particularly Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 classic) are crisp in one’s recollection.
Dr. Harry Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) believes good and evil exist in everyone and has been conducting experiments on animals to control their opposite natures with a particular thesis in mind, much to the chagrin of Sir Charles Emery (Donald Crisp) whose daughter Bea (Lana Turner) is engaged to Harry. He inevitably creates a potion that will allow his evil side, Mr. Hyde, to come to the forefront, but he believes he can control Hyde’s emergence with the proper doses of his formula. Hyde has taken a particular fancy to a loose-living barmaid Ivy Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) and sets her up in an apartment where she’s a virtual prisoner and a sex slave who’s often beaten. Eventually Jekyll realizes for Ivy’s safety and for his life with Bea to proceed that his experiment must end and takes measures to put his evil ways behind him, but he’s shocked to discover that Hyde can emerge at will despite Jekyll’s best efforts, and it now becomes a battle to see which side of his conflicting nature will win out.
Director Victor Fleming’s screenwriter of choice John Lee Mahin has based his script not on Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novella but on the screenplay for the 1931 film version written by Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath (which was based on the stage version of the story which first brought into the tale the good and bad girl playthings for the title characters). Mahin has expanded on the Ivy Petersen character to give star Ingrid Bergman more dramatic opportunities in this version, but it’s resulted in a movie that drags somewhat in the center and isn’t as racy as the earlier version due to its being a pre-Code film and this one falling directly under the ham-fisted pronouncements of the Hays Code. We hear of Hyde’s sadistic treatment of Ivy, but we see precious little of it, and, of course, a couple of beating deaths are both handled out of the sight of the camera. The transformations from Jekyll to Hyde have been somewhat modified from before also due to the less extensive make-up and less exaggerated appliances that have been fitted to Spencer Tracy to make his wild-eyed Hyde different to his doe-eyed Jekyll (Fredric March’s ferocious Hyde was a much more monstrous creation), but Victor Fleming does navigate the segues from one personality to the other nicely, and he also shoots some rather disturbing visions of Hyde’s evil to clarify for viewers the discomforts to come. He also stages and shoots a Hyde-directed uproar at a music hall with verve and abandon.
Spencer Tracy certainly delineates the split personalities of Jekyll and Hyde marvelously, and the film’s one great shock moment when he’s revealed as Hyde when we think he’s Jekyll is played with creepy perfection. Ingrid Bergman is a gifted actress who has no trouble sharing the screen with a presence as commanding as Spencer Tracy, but her attempts at Cockney in the early going are lamentable, and she wisely just forgets about it as the film progresses (after all, neither Tracy nor Turner are attempting any kind of British accent). Lana Turner is less successful as the cultured, upper crust Beatrix Emery, but Donald Crisp is a forceful father as Sir Charles Emery. Other notable performances in the film are Ian Hunter as Harry’s best friend Dr. John Lanyon, Barton MacLane as the madly wicked Sam Higgins who sets Harry’s mind to pondering the nature of good and evil, C. Aubrey Smith as the benevolent Bishop, and Peter Godfrey as Harry’s loving and faithful servant Poole.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.371 is faithfully executed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Image quality is as pristine as we have come to expect from Warner Archive, the crispness and detail of the Oscar-nominated photography great for examining the intricacies of the Hyde make-up (and making it easier to see Spencer Tracy’s stunt double taking over when action becomes fast and furious). Grayscale is exceptional with particularly striking black levels. The movie has been divided into 44 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix accurately reproduces the sound design of the period. Dialogue has been professionally recorded and has been mixed with Franz Waxman’s Oscar-nominated background score and the various sound effects with precision. There are no problems with age-related hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 1/5
Theatrical Trailer (3:43, HD)
Victor Fleming’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t a patch on Rouben Mamoulian’s faster-paced and more exciting 1931 version, but it has its own merits with excellent performances from Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman and a glossy MGM production that’s always a pleasure to watch. Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray transfer offers exemplary picture and sound quality which fans of the stars, director, and story will likely want to sample.
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