Thursday, 7 June 2012

Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Director: John S. Robertson, 1920
IMDb listing

Pros: good Jekyll and Hyde swtiches, interesting reason for Jekyll's experiment

Cons: music, much longer than it needed to be

This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is nothing remarkable.  The acting is similar to that of other silent films - over done with grand gestures and expressions.  The story is well told, if longer than necessary.  John Barrymore does a great performance in the titular roles.

The music track (which may differ from version to version since it would have been played live in the theatre) was surprisingly bad.  It consisted of mostly organ music, with little care for what was happening in the film.  So, for example, cheery music played while Hyde beat up on people.  At no point was the music employed to create fear or tension.

I found the inclusion of a reason for Hyde's creation interesting.  Jekyll is portrayed as a too perfect man.  A man with no vices.  So his perspective father in law suggests that he live a little, taste temptation and takes him to a bar.  Intrigued, Jekyll wonders if there's a way to split himself, so he can wallow in depravity while leaving his soul intact.  And creates the potion that destroys his life.

As with the 1913 version (directed by Herbert Brenon), the film includes a love story, though here it is more advanced.  And the subsequent irony and horror of Hyde's existence becomes apparent to the man who temped Jekyll in the first place.  

All told, if you're going to see a silent version of this film, stick to the 1913.  It's shorter and contains all the important elements of the story.  

In retrospect I should have skipped this version and seen the 1931 version instead.

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