Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
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Miriam Hopkins (so hot) gets the pre-code treatment with cleveage and leg shots galore. I wouldn't want it any other way.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems like the perfect story for pre-Code Hollywood to make, and in 1931, they did, not omitting its darkly sexual elements. It's even shocking at times. Miriam Hopkins really sells the terror as she becomes the target of Hyde's mental, physical, and yes, sexual abuse. Along with a number of interesting camera work and editing - though I don't think the long POV shots really works - the film uses make-up and lighting to create the transformations (looks amazing) before going full caveman on Fredric March. But March doesn't just let the make-up do the work, he gives Hyde tics and mannerisms all his own. I'm used to werewolf movies trying to allegorize themselves into this space, but this is much more effective and troubling. Hyde is still a man, and Jekyll remembers what he did as his darker self. Remove the pseudo-science element, and you have a man who abuses a common mistress even as he courts an angelic socialite, with the abuser's self-serving remorse that comes with it, but doesn't change the man (as per his failed promise to Hopkins' character). Dark, dark stuff.
1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps the most recognized adaptation of R.L.S.'s classic novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (And, no, I don't mean R.L. Stine.) This film is often compared to the 1941 adaptation, which gets a lot of things right that this version does not, and vice versa. When putting aside the source material and other adaptations, this rendition is a fairly good one. It has its ups and downs, and the complete package is one I would say succeeds where it matters most.
This movie likely owes its reputation, by and large, to Frederic March. The underappreciated actor delivers a deft portrayal of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a man conflicted by his dedication to science and to the woman he loves (and common decency). He rarely overacts, and as a result the performance is a winner by the standards of any era. The trouble is that he's just not that good a Hyde. March really cheeses up the joint, which wouldn't be such an issue if it wasn't at such a sharp contrast with his measured and carefully crafted Jekyll. It doesn't help that the makeup is goofy as all hell (which is an issue I have with a lot of Jekyll-Hyde adaptations). He looks like an albino chimp with slightly worse teeth than your typical chimp. All of these factors render the Hyde scenes ultimately ineffectual, which is such a shame when Jekyll's scenes are so powerful.
The cinematography in this film is immaculate. It features such sharp and memorable angles and shadows, and the lack of recognition given to the film for some very interesting techniques is appalling. I found that, given my sensibilities, the cinematography really became the star of the show. Even when Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was dull, it looked good, which is something many films cannot boast. Granted, those dull spells were frequent, but you win some, you lose some.
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In 6 official lists
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This movie ranks #50 in IMDb's Horror Top 50
This movie ranks #72 in They Shoot Zombies, Don't They?
This movie ranks #106 in Have You Seen? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films
This movie ranks #169 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown
This movie ranks #239 in The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
This movie ranks #255 in TimeOut's 1000 Films to Change Your Life