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Film / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1931 movie based on the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, it stars Fredric March in the dual title role, for which he won the only tied Academy Award for Best Actor to date (Wallace Beery also won that year, for The Champ). This is notably one of the few screen adaptations to use the correct pronunciation of "Jekyll" (Jee-kyll). The film was remade in 1941 starring Spencer Tracy in the title role.

Henry Jekyll is a well-meaning doctor who believes that man is not one, but two, with good and evil fighting for supremacy. Frustrated emotionally and sexually by a postponement of his marriage to Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), his colleague Dr. John Lanyon's (Holmes Herbert) skepticism of his theories, and barmaid Ivy Pierson's (Miriam Hopkins) temptations, he ingests a formula that transforms him into the devious Mr. Hyde. Now without any sense of moral restraint, Hyde meets and terrorizes Ivy as he awaits Muriel's return, threatening to kill her if she doesn't do as he commands.

Jekyll attempts to make amends by giving Ivy money to escape, but on the night of Muriel's return party, he finds he's turned into Hyde without the potion. Hyde attacks and kills Ivy, evading the police by ordering Lanyon to get the chemicals necessary to turn back into Jekyll. A distraught Jekyll breaks off his engagement to Muriel for her own safety and out of remorse. Hyde emerges once more and attacks Muriel, kills her father, and escapes to the lab to transform back. Jekyll lies to the police that Hyde has escaped—but Lanyon betrays him, and when Hyde attacks him he's shot dead, turning into Jekyll as he passes on.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: In the novel Lanyon was so horrified at Jekyll's transformation he died weeks later out of shock. In the movie, he keeps it together and is the one who helps the police go after Hyde when he recognizes Jekyll's cane.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: In the novel, Mr. Hyde's appearance was not necessarily unusual but fell into the Uncanny Valley; something was unnerving about him, but nobody could put their finger on what. Here, he is overtly monstrous, setting the tone for most subsequent adaptations.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the novel, Lanyon's first name was Hastie. Here it's John.
  • Betty and Veronica: Muriel Carew, Jekyll's fiancée, and Ivy Pierson, a singer Jekyll rescues from an attack.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Jekyll breaks up with Muriel for her own good and for her safety, as he doesn't want Hyde to hurt her and feels unworthy of her.
  • Cane Fu: Hyde beats Danvers to death with Jekyll's cane; finding its owner is a big part of the climax.
  • Canon Foreigner: Muriel and Ivy. Specifically, neither Jekyll nor Hyde have girlfriends in the Stevenson story, although there's a subtle implication that part of Jekyll's motivation for becoming Hyde is to get laid. The whole idea of Jekyll having a virginal fiancée and Hyde having a slutty barmaid girlfriend is one that started with a 19th century theatrical adaptation of the story, and has been included in virtually every adaptation since.
  • Composite Character: Lanyon takes Utterson's role as Jekyll's friend who helps investigate Hyde and Lanyon's role as a skeptical doctor who first sees him transform.
  • Demoted to Extra: Utterson was the central character of the novel, attempting to uncover the riddle of Mr. Hyde. By the time this movie was made, the answer was widely known, so the film openly follows Jekyll/Hyde, with Utterson reduced to a much smaller role.
  • Dramatic Irony: Ivy goes to Jekyll for help and begs him for protection from Hyde, unaware that he is Hyde.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The movie begins with a three-minute continuous shot which moves between two interiors across a large set—both technically and aesthetically daring for the time. Even more impressively, this shot is from Jekyll's point of view. After a cut while Jekyll is riding in a carriage, a second shot follows Jekyll through the streets, out of his cab, and into a lecture hall.
  • Evil Feels Good: Jekyll uses Hyde to indulge his frustrated sexual desires. He finally makes the decision to let Hyde loose after Muriel's domineering father demands they wait eight months to be married (until the anniversary of his marriage to Muriel's mother).
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Although Mr. Hyde looks simian and unattractive in first appearance, as his evil acts continue, his appearance grows more monstrous.
  • Fanservice: This film predates The Hays Code, and has some racy moments with Ivy, particularly where she offers Jekyll sexual favors and is completely naked under bedsheets. When the film was re-released in 1936, eight minutes had to be cut to meet stricter censorship standards.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Granted, they're on screen a bit longer than a freeze frame, but we can work out that champagne is not a common order at the Variety when Hyde requests it - it comes with beer glasses.
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Jekyll's lab features a long table of curly, curvy flasks, beakers and retorts, none of which he does anything with, focusing exclusively on the stuff on his desk at the opposite end of the room. As a bonus, there's a boiling cauldron heating over a fire for some reason.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Muriel says that she does not believe Dr Jekyll loves her seriously. He responds with "Oh, I love you better than that. I love you gayly!"
  • Happy Rain: On his first experience outside, Mr. Hyde happily removes his top hat and feels the rain on his face, even drinking it. This is his first taste of liberation from Jekyll and his rigid world.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: This film uses diagonal wipes, where a wipe starts on either the left-hand side and pivots in a clockwise motion across the scene, or a wipe starts on the bottom of the frame and pivots in a counter-clockwise direction. To make it more idiosyncratic, the wipe usually stops in the middle for a little bit, resulting in a diagonal Split Screen where action is going on in both corners, before restarting and finishing the transition to the new scene.
  • In-Camera Effects: After Jekyll takes the potion, the camera holds on his face in an unbroken take for several seconds, during which his face visibly begins to change, before he staggers out of shot (and over to the makeup table to get his fangs and wig applied). The effect was done using colored makeup and matching camera filters/lighting which rendered the Hyde makeup invisible but could be dialed down as the camera was running, resulting in Hyde's facial features gradually gaining prominence.
  • Lecture as Exposition: Jekyll gives a long lecture to a group of medical students which explains his theory behind the dual nature of man.
  • Left Hanging: The movie ends immediately after Jekyll's death, leaving how Muriel and the police take the news unresolved.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Jekyll's is a perfect example, with lots of big beakers, test tubes, distilling columns, and flasks of smoking liquid that would probably be Technicolor Science if the film hadn't been shot in black and white.
  • Match Cut: Several Match Cuts, quite sophisticated for 1931, are used to demonstrate Jekyll's transformation into Hyde.
  • Mirror Scare: Done without even moving the mirror. Ivy, having just (so she thinks) escaped Hyde's grasp, sits in front of her mirror and toasts herself. Just as she finishes raising the glass, the door opens.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jekyll is horrified when Ivy reveals how terrified she is of his other self, vowing to never let Hyde near her again. He loses it even more when Hyde kills Ivy.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ivy's landlady breaks things when she suggests she visit Jekyll and ask him for help, inadvertently giving Hyde even more leverage over her and preventing her from escaping right away.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: Jekyll has rescued Ivy and bridal carried her into her room. He attempts to leave, but she stops him, convincing him to stay until she's sure she's alright, but her actual goal is to seduce him. She asks him to turn around while she undresses to bed and provocatively throws each article of clothing towards him as she strips. Once she's fully undressed in bed, she lures him closer and gives him a Forceful Kiss, but Lanyon ends up arriving just at that moment, ruining her plans as Jekyll takes the chance to flee.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: While it can be a little jarring to hear March not affecting a British accent when Hopkins, for one, very much is, it didn't stop him from winning an Oscar.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ivy's reaction when Hyde walks in on her after her visit with Jekyll.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Hyde describes Jekyll as "The man I hate more than any other." Jekyll himself doesn't hate Hyde until he murders Ivy.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Used several times from Jekyll's point of view, including the two Epic Tracking Shots that open the film, as well as the scene where Jekyll downs the potion for the first time. Twice—in the opening scene and when Jekyll downs the potion—the film includes a shot of Jekyll-as-camera looking at a mirror. This was done by putting March on the other side of a mirror that was actually just a hole in the wall, with a reversed portion of the set behind him.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Jekyll wasn't the central character of the original story—the story is told from the POV of Mr. Utterson, Jekyll's old friend and lawyer who investigates the mystery. Most of the original story depicts Hyde's actions as being told about instead of shown. The twist ending was revealed in a letter where everything is again told instead of shown. The film instead focuses on depicting Jekyll's dramatic struggle between his two selves and his eventual downfall, since everybody already knew the ending by the time the movie was made.
  • Reveling in the New Form: When Hyde leaves the laboratory for the first time, it's pouring rain. Hyde spreads his arms and turns his face to the rain in obvious joy.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Just before turning into Hyde unwillingly and going to kill Ivy, Jekyll sees a cat stalking and killing a bird. It's even worse because Hyde's pet names for Ivy were bird-related.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the novel, Dr. Lanyon dies after learning the truth about Hyde. In this film, he survives, and plays an important role in the final confrontation.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Ivy's last name is spelled Pierson in the credits and Pearson in an in-universe news article.
  • This Was His True Form: After Hyde is killed, his body transforms back into Jekyll.
  • Visual Innuendo: As Jekyll's obvious sexual frustration reaches its peak after receiving a letter from Muriel stating she'll be gone for a month, a kettle in his fireplace boils over.
  • Wham Line: An in-universe one for Ivy, courtesy of Hyde:
    "I'm going to tell you a secret: a secret so horrible that those who share it with me cannot live. I am Jekyll!"
  • Whip Pan: Used during the first transformation sequence, as the world spins around Jekyll.