From the Vaults: 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' (1920)
April 13, 1920: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'” at the Million Dollar Theatre... Not for weaklings and mollycoddles! – with Jesse Crawford at the Organ.
Note: Since we began in 2007, the Daily Mirror has wanted to provide posts about historic films, but like the rest of the DM, we wanted to make it a unique, personal view. We found a fresh, original voice in Anne Elisabeth Dillon, who works around the corner from us on the National copy desk. Please welcome her -- lrh
At first it's just a blast to sit down and watch a movie from 1920. The lighting flickers like a lantern – I kept thinking how great it would look projected on the wall of a nightclub. The costumes are exquisite. Everyone wears fabulous eyeliner.
Dr. Jekyll's first transformation into Hyde is incredibly impressive. The camera stays on him as he convulses and gradually turns into his hideous, all-id alter ego. In his wonderful book “The Monster Show,” Hollywood historian David J. Skal writes that Barrymore applied his own makeup between convulsions, and if that is true my hat is off to the man. I can barely put on decent eyeliner in the car when it's parked.
Hyde is genuinely alarming-looking: leering, hollow-eyed, malevolent. Barrymore's full-body work is just incredible as he shifts from Jekyll's regal carriage to Hyde's spidery hunchback walk. Every gesture is deliberate – it's like watching a ballet.
There's a great bit toward the end when Hyde pounces on Jekyll's best friend, in what ultimately turns out to be a lethal attack: He's like an animal or a little kid, all gangly arms and legs, merrily waving his walking stick like it's a deadly toy. And the transformational convulsions are pretty violent – this was clearly not an easy part to play. Skal writes that Barrymore was simultaneously playing the also-hunchbacked Richard III onstage in New York, and had to go away and rest in a sanitarium after it was all over. I certainly cannot blame him.
My favorite part comes shortly after the midpoint of the movie. Hyde has seduced Gina and then thrown her over -- just because he's a jerk and can do that, I guess. He visits one of his underground haunts and begins his seduction routine on a new girl, pawing her shoulders and clavicle that's actually rather shocking considering the time period.
Gina, who's fallen on hard times, notices him in the bar and taps on his shoulder, apparently hoping to shame him. But Hyde's not a man, he's a monster!
Grinning maniacally, he grabs both ladies and hauls them over to a mirror, forcing Gina to look head-on at her own ruination. Then with his hideous long fingers, he strokes the younger girl's perfect cheekbone, and gestures toward the ruined Gina -- forcing one to contemplate her present and the other, her future. Hyde holds them like that for a moment and then, cackling, ditches them both and heads into the street, pausing in the doorway for a contemptuous lift of his hat (from his ridiculously pointy head). He knows that ruination and decay lie within us all. Hyde is a villain who is thoroughly self-aware.
I also dug Jekyll's patterned dressing-gown. Want!
--Anne Elisabeth Dillon
Images, from top: Saintly Dr. Jekyll tends to one of Edinburgh's downtrodden; one of the early title cards; Hyde forces two women to look at themselves. Courtesy Famous Players-Lasky Corp., Paramount Pictures.