At this Californian hospital there is a doctor in residence who is looked up to as a paragon of virtue and surgical skill, one Dr Jekyll (Mark Blankfield), who today has been operating for the past two hours and still shows no sign of tiredness. Once he has completed the brain surgery, he announces to the watching junior doctors that this will be his final time in the theatre, for he is going to devote himself to research as that will contribute more to the good of humankind; when the assembled hear he will be using drugs to do this, they break out into a celebration. However, one person not celebrating is his future father-in-law and head of the hospital Dr Carew (Michael McGuire), who promised ailing millionaire Hubert Howes (Philip Brocco) that Jekyll would give him a full body transplant...
Airplane! did not arrive from a vacuum in 1980, there was a lot of that kind of irreverent American humour around that was informed by the counterculture, and while that was the biggest example in terms of success, there were plenty of also-rans about in the nineteen-seventies and eighties that have gone on to more of a cult appreciation, from the sketch comedy films of that era to the feature length spoofs. Jekyll and Hyde… Together Again was one of those, a manic but ultimately idiotic take on the Robert Louis Stevenson horror story: this was assuredly nothing to do with horror, but resembled what Jerry Lewis would have conjured up for his classic The Nutty Professor had he been a dedicated cocaine addict.
Yes, the drugs references came thick and fast here, though not so typically this was no Cheech and Chong marijuana-based humour as was so often the case, it was obsessed with the cocaine lifestyle and all the trappings that accompanied it. Therefore when Jekyll inevitably became Hyde, he didn't sup a bubbling potion, he snorted a line of the concoction he had just created in the lab, with the result his transformation was one into a sex-crazed, wild-eyed and wild-haired, hyped up coke fiend, complete with gold jewellery (plus a gold razor blade), gold tooth and jewel-encrusted ring, long pinkie fingernail, and so on. Not to say the writers were immersed in this late night world of nightclubs and easy virtue, but they did appear to have studied it to some degree of accuracy.
Indeed, the writers were director Jerry Belson and his sister Monica Johnson, veterans of the sitcom scene, along with a couple of other reliable gag men who all had been around for quite some years in the comedy arena (Johnson was making a name for herself as co-scripter of Albert Brooks' movies), who you might not have expected to get so down and dirty and frankly, druggy with their barrage of jokes. But this had been the case with plenty of humour of the day, Blankfield's sketch show Fridays, a rival to Saturday Night Live, had been notorious for its reliance on illegal stimulants as a basis for its material, which endeared it to the hipsters but alienated it from Middle America; looking back, it's almost alarming how much the use of narcotics had informed the humour in American pop culture.
You could not exactly put all this to one side with Jekyll and Hyde… Together Again since it was so integral to generating the laughs, such as they were, but if tripping wasn't the funniest thing in the world for you, there were bright spots. When our hero visits his fiancée (Bess Armstrong) at her horse riding school there's a very amusing sequence as he jumps the fences alongside her horse at an equestrian event, for instance: Blankfield demonstrated an impressive amount of energy throughout and went some distance to keeping the film moving in a forward direction when it could easily have stalled. In spite of all the near the knuckle humour, there was a conservative element to its actual staging that a more adventurous director could have made more of, but while it was no Airplane!, there was enough here to entertain those seasoned viewers of the comedy of the period and not make it a waste of time. You did hope all involved did make it to the rehab clinic as soon as possible after production had wrapped, however.