Saturday, October 09, 2010


Very interesting adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story. Dr. Jekyll is an anti-social scientist (at left, with an unkempt beard and bushy eyebrows, looking more like the traditional Mr. Hyde in movies than like a respectable doctor) who is dabbling in experiments to go "beyond good and evil," to free "the creature within," to separate the higher "man as he could be" from the lower "man as he would be"--superego vs. id, perhaps. In his strange quest, he has alienated his peers, who have kicked him out of academia, and his wife Kitty, who is having an affair with playboy gambler Paul Allen. After showing his only friend, an older professor named Ernst, an experiment in which he injects a monkey with a serum that turns it into a raging little beast, he decides to inject himself. The result is that he transforms into a handsome, clean-shaven, confident guy, calling himself Mr. Hyde (see below). In this persona, he goes out on the town and sees Kitty with Paul, neither of whom recognize him, at a nightclub. Hyde exhibits a violent streak, almost killing a bouncer, and becomes friends with Kitty and Paul. Soon he begins an affair with an exotic snake dancer named Maria, tries to seduce Kitty, then enlists Paul as his guide through the decadent underground London, culminating in a visit to an opium den. Eventually, he finds he cannot control the transformations and, deciding he wants to remain Hyde, he murders Paul and Maria, drives Kitty to suicide, and tries to frame Jekyll for the crimes--while burning an innocent man to death to have his corpse taken for that of Jekyll’s so Hyde can remain free. Things don’t quite work out, however.

This is the lushest and most elaborately filmed Hammer horror film I’ve seen, filled with rich colors and detailed period costumes and sets, and the look alone is reason for watching. The plot prefigures Jerry Lewis’s comic take on the story in The Nutty Professor (in which a geeky scientist turns into an oily but good looking nightclub singer) and adds elements of The Picture of Dorian Gray, as Paul tutors Hyde in the ways of debauchery. Canadian actor Paul Massie is problematic in the lead role. As Jekyll, he is burdened with artificial make-up and uses a theatrically deep voice; as Hyde, he’s quite good looking, but always has an artificially manic look in his eyes, like a character in REEFER MADNESS. He does a decent job given these constraints, but he’s always "acting." Christopher Lee gives a surprisingly desultory performance as Paul, though Dawn Addams is fine as Kitty. For a Production Code-era movie, there is quite a bit of sensuality, with some near-nudity here and there, and a startling moment when the exotic dancer puts the head of a live snake in her mouth--startling both because it's a real snake and because it looks remarkably like a sex act. Available in the Hammer Icons of Horror collection [DVD]

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