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  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Split Personality
Year: 1941
Director: Victor Fleming
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, Barton MacLane, C. Aubrey Smith, Peter Godfrey, Sara Allgood, Frederick Worlock, William Tannen, Frances Robinson, Denis Green, Billy Bevan, Forrester Harvey, Lumsden Hare
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Dr Henry Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) was in church this Sunday morning when one of the congregation became disruptive and started to shout down the minister (C. Aubrey Smith), who was forced to go straight into the next hymn rather than finish his sermon to drown the heckler out. Jekyll went over to the man who was being escorted from the building, and comforted his wife (Sara Allgood), his mind racing about how this unfortunate, who had never been the same since suffering shellshock, could be treated by him medically. Jekyll has a promising future, and is engaged to a glamorous socialite in Beatrix Emery (Lana Turner), but he will put all that in jeopardy...

And all because he meddled in God's domain! Yes, it's the same old story, which was growing old hat even by 1941, where the Oscar-winning 1931 horror classic was remade as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy, not the most likely Dr Jekyll, never mind a Mr Hyde, but he was adamant that he was the right man for the role, being one of those stars who gets it into their heads that what the public really wants to see is how far they can extend their dramatic range. As it turned out, nobody had much good to say about this version, not director Victor Fleming whose previous film had been the mega-successful Gone With The Wind, and not any of the critics and moviegoers, either.

The main bones of contention were that Tracy was simply the wrong man for the role, and that compared to the earlier incarnation this was too toned down to have any real impact. It's true that the star wasn't best suited to this part, but for all the misgivings it was interesting to see him attempt something outside of his usual province, and once he gets into the Hyde aspect of the misguided doctor's personality he did offer a sense of brute force, if nothing of the subtlety required elsewhere. He certainly won't have you rolling around the floor at how inappropriate he is, as he's simply too grim for that, no matter how often the wicked alter ego bares his teeth in a ferocious grin.

Eschewing the plotting of Robert Louis Stevenson's original story, here Fleming and company settled on a straight remake of the Rouben Mamoulian one of ten years before (you think there are too many remakes these days?). Only here instead of a prostitute, the censors were happier with Ivy being a barmaid, although she does seem on the flighty side, essayed by Ingrid Bergman in a role she lobbied for, swapping with Lana Turner for the fiancée role, and like Tracy living to regret her eagerness for a challenge. As Jekyll has scandalised a dinner party with his theories on the duality of mankind's nature, we can see why he wishes to separate the two sides of personalities, if not understand what good would come of it, but when he begins downing his potion he might not perceive that either.

Hyde settles on Ivy as the person he wishes to victimise, after Jekyll saved her from an attack, brought her to her home, but was too much of a gentleman to do anything about his attraction to her. In the evil guise, however, he has no such qualms, and terrorises the woman into obeying his every whim, beating her into compliance. This might not be very scary in the horror movie manner, but as an examination of domestic violence the scenes with Bergman and Tracy do have a peculiarly modern feel to them, not exactly Nil By Mouth, but in the same territory. Alas, these interesting paths are somewhat sabotaged by our old friend Sigmund Freud, as Hollywood had discovered his brand of psychology and so we get laughter-inducing visions of Jekyll's twisting mind (Bergman and Turner whipped as his horses, for example), and too much reliance on explaining away behaviour in too-basically thought out motives and observations. You can see why it has not been treated kindly over the years, yet it does have points of interest, mostly when it gets closest to authenticity. Music by Franz Waxman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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