Victorian researcher Dr Jekyll takes a serum which unleashes the wicked side of his nature as the ape-like Mr Hyde. While Jekyll is engaged to a prim miss, Hyde gets involved with a Soho slut. Jekyll tries to quit the drug, but involuntarily becomes the murderous Hyde.
Certainly the best all-round film adaptation of the much-remade Robert Louis Stevenson novella, this offers March in Oscar-winning form as the handsome, romantic Jekyll and the neanderthal prankster Hyde.
This version suggests Dr J devises his potion to deal with the sexual frustration he feels during his long engagement, which prompts Hyde to lope lecherously after good time girl Champagne Ivy. Made before the Hays Code was in force, there are daring moments of semi-nudity and suggestiveness, plus a still-unsettling progression of violence as the degenerate Hyde becomes more depraved with each new transformation.
March’s Hyde is a daring, teasing villain, a fanged ape trussed up in an opera hat and evening clothes. Hyde enjoys a faceful of rain, and snatches the opportunity to grope a passing music hall girl or trip up a waiter with his silver-handled cane. He snarls and threatens then giving an almost-winning grin before pouncing, condemns Jekyll as a hypocrite who likes to ogle a girl’s leg but talk about her circulation, and finally scales the laboratory shelves like Kong in a temper when the police come for him.
Rouben Mamoulian, one of the least-remembered of great early Hollywood directors, uses a great deal of then-daring technical trickery-lengthy subjective camera scenes, set-piece transformations, striking symbolic images - but the film still buzzes thanks to the peppy performances of March and Hopkins. Also worth catching are the versions with John Barrymore (1920) and Spencer Tracy (1941).
Great effects for its time and some incredible performances makes this a true cinema classic