Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Title: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Genre: Horror, Drama
Starring: John Barrymore
Date Released: 1920
It's always been my belief that to understand a present artistic scene, then you have to at some point visit the past in order to see how things have changed, and where things derived from. Being quite possibly the first Hollywood Horror film to have ever been made, this seemed like the perfect candidate for which to study for not only is it an important turning point in the history of film, but it's a fascinating tale in its own right. The well known concept more than just a simple “man turning into beast” but a far more detailed tale of man's inner struggle; the demon on one shoulder and the angel on the other, fighting against each other for domination of the self. And it is of course the brilliant and kind Dr. Henry Jekyll that begins to dabble in this darker side of science, concocting a potion that is capable of releasing his darkest self, Mr. Hyde, free from the inhibitions of his conscience, and it's only when it's too late that he realises that he may not have full control over his alter ego.
I'd love to say it hasn't aged a day in the more than 90 years since it was made but that would be a lie of epic proportions. It's a silent film, it's in black and white, and the technology used to film the black and white also looks pretty damn dated. It's comparatively slow pace and lack of action by today's standards make this one for the real film fans as opposed to those merely passing by, the editing of the scenes are disjointed with characters making very jolting transitions in location, and all in all it makes you appreciate just how far things have come along since this time. With the lack of speech the backing score takes on an even more important role, and with the first half consisting entirely of organs, and the second entirely of a classical score, I can't help but wish the two had been more varied throughout; much of the music bearing little relation to the events on screen bar a few pivotal scenes.
The acting, too, is often melodramatic but it has to be in order to convey what information is required; short of a huge amount of dialogue screens, speech is kept to an absolute minimum and most speech that does occur is left without direct translation, making the emphasis on the characters physicality all the more important. It is here that the film really shines with John Barrymore in particular breathing life into a film that remains as fascinating to watch now as it must have done when it was first released. The contrast between his angelic normal self and the devious Hyde; grotesque in appearance, hunched, violent and deviant with his long fingers sliding over the bodies of young women, it's this performance that justifies its status as a timeless classic. There can be no denying its influence on cinema but that's not what this review is about. Influence cast aside, whilst horrifically dated in appearance, this is a film that's still well worth your time if only for a glimpse at Hyde's cheesy grin.