Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920) This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

For those of you that know me very well, you'll know that for the longest time I was obsessed with Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Though I don't like it as much as I used to, Jekyll & Hyde remains as one of my favorite characters of all-time in gothic horror literature. As for this film, Dr. Jekyll & Hyde, it's actually the first feature film adaptation of the classic story. Though two pictures were made of Jekyll and Hyde before, in 1912 and 1910, these two were very short, being only 10 -12 minutes long.

Starring John Barrymore as Jekyll/Hyde, the story should quite familiar to those with a knowledge of literature. Henry Jekyll - doctor, philanthropist, and idealist - is a scientist in Victorian England, who is currently studying and working on a strange, even paranormal, experiment. The goal of this scientific study is to house man's impulses - good and evil - into separate identities. With this, life would be revealed of all that is unbearable for the soul, yet man could stay in touch with his darker nature if he pleases. After creating a concoction of chemicals, Jekyll uses himself as the first test subject. Thus is born Mr. Edward Hyde, Jekyll's evil alter-ego. At first, Jekyll merely uses Hyde to go about giving in to fleshly desires. However, things begin to get out of hand as Hyde becomes less of an alter-ego, and more of an individual entity.

Sadly, this film really doesn't strike as much emotion or terror as other contemporary horrors of its time, such as the earlier The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919 or the later 1922 Nosferatu. It's hard to exactly pinpoint where this adaptation goes astray, but it doesn't take too long for it to go such a way.

The music of the film, unlike the haunting scores of the films I've mentioned, just seem present to keep the film fro being completely silent. There are, indeed, VERY few scenes where the score matches the ambiance of the scene. While the visuals will usually be dark, the music will have this nature of being poppy and cheery, completely contrasting the mood. Speaking of visuals, this version of Jekyll & Hyde doesn't necessarily push the envelope in its visuals. Sure, it can be dark but it doesn't pack the gothic punch other horrors at the time did.

Also, the film seems to too hard to adapt both elements of the novella, as well as the 1887 play along with some elements from The Picture of Dorian Gray. These mixture of elements are just so tightly packed together that it makes the film feel more like an abridge version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We see people and events on-screen, but it's hard to really feel for them with the limited amount of time we're given with them. Add in an obnoxious narration, or rather paragraphs explaining characters and situations, and things don't get much better. I'd rather have had the situations explained via DIALOGUE, which would have made this adaptation so much better.

John Barrymore's performance, though, may be this film's saving grace. he is to this film as Daniel-Day Lewis was to There Will Be Blood, though the comparison is a bit stretchy due to the huge time gap. Regardless, what i mean to say is that Barrymore gives an amazing performance, also pulling off both the look of Jekyll and Hyde. Seriously, this may be the best-looking Hyde I've ever seen, since so many adaptations prefer to have Hyde look simian - which is really rather silly. Stevenson may have said that Hyde wasn't totally man, but he also didn't say he looked akin to an ape.

Another compliment to give is that this film, remarkably, has a rather intelligent script. I say this because most silent films had rather simple dialogue, sometimes even making it to the point of cheesiness. Yet this film, while no Shakespeare, has very carefully-crafted dialogue. It's a shame we don't get too much.

The 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is no horror masterpiece. It feels short, its pace is dreadfully uneven, and its music is just off-putting. However, Barrymore's performance is perhaps one of the finest I've ever seen and the script is certainly well-written (for a 1920's film). The film may be worth checking out, but you'd be much better off reading the book if you're unfamiliar with the story.

5/10 - Average





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

zman1 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm
Zach, what are your favorite short stories, by HP Lovecraft. I as well am a very big fan of Poe, my favorite story is The Black Cat and I am a big fan of Shakespeare, especially his tragedies. I generally write poetry, movie reviews, and fiction and I am working on a psychological horror story in the style of the Twilight Zone. Any very good reviews. If you have a chance, please comment on my work. I would most appreciate it.
 
TheGothicGunslinger This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm
That's cool, man. Sounds like we're into some similar stuff - I'll check out your work, once I get some spare time. As for my favorite H.P Lovecraft story, I'll have to go with either The Rats In The Walls or The Call of Cthulhu.
 
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