Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) – John S. Robertson

No visit to DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book chapter on mad scientists would be complete without renewing one’s acquaintance with one of the other men of science who fell to their studies, the infamous Dr. Jekyll.

This silent film, using Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel to inspire its tale, features John Barrymore in the dual titular role, and explores the nuances of the characters and his baser self as best as one can while over emoting for the camera.

Jekyll is a smart, compassionate scientist who spends his free time running a clinic for the poor, which he foots from his own funds. He is also romancing Millicent Carewe (Martha Mansfield) and hopes to take her for a wife.

Her father, Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) is unsure of the idea, as it seems to him that Jekyll is almost too good, too nice, and this comes up in conversation one night over drinks, and then a visit to a local dance hall.

Dr-Jekyll-and-Mr-Hyde-1920-7

Encouraged to indulge his baser self, Jekyll turns it into an experiment, creating a serum that will allow his darker self to emerge, and leave his soul, he believes, untainted by his other self’s actions.

Taking the serum he transforms, mentally, emotionally and physically into the murderous Hyde, and soon the experiment spirals out of control.

The film takes its time in the telling, which is rather enjoyable in a silent film, as most of them seem to move along fairly briskly, and Barrymore brings his characters to life easily, his entire physicality changes as he switches roles, but they are still recognizably the same person, though Hyde’s appearance verges on the horrific.

It’s a classic tale brought to the screen in a very competent way, the visual effects working nicely, and no doubt fantastic for the time. It’s always interesting to watch how directors and their crew were forced to create, and find inspiration and new ways to do things even when you have to deal with static cameras, and shoddy sets.

This is one of Stevenson’s stories that I’ve never read, but it feels like it is fairly close in style and substance to the original novel. Brought to life, much like the stage versions before it, to show us that our baser nature exists in all of us, but it isn’t up to science to control it, it’s up to each of us.

This was a fun one to visit with, and I can’t wait to see what terrors lurk on the next page as I delve deeper into DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies!

Pick up a copy and find something macabre to watch tonight!

john-barrymore-jekyll-hyde-comparison

 

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