DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE – The Dungeon Review!

dr jekyll and mr hyde“The world’s greatest actor in a tremendous story of man at his best and worst!”

Yesterday I reviewed ‘Nosferatu’, and today I review the second horror film in my silent era duo, ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. I am really surprised at how much I enjoyed both of these films. I figured I would be able to appreciate them on some level, at very least for their contributions to cinematic history. But I am amazed at how richly a story can be told without the use of dialog. I officially dig the silent era horror. You will definitely be seeing more reviews from this era of film posted in the future.

Adapted from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson. John Barrymore plays the humanitarian Dr. Henry Jekyll, who becomes obsessed with the notion of separating the good and evil impulses within every man. To this end, he develops a potion, which unleashes his own darker side: the demonic Mr. Hyde. (Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide)

Jekyll is engaged to Millicent, the daughter of his friend and mentor, Sir George Carewe. It is Carewe who initially suggested the idea of man having a darker side to his nature. The two go to a lounge in London where a young dancer awakes something in Jekyll he has never before experienced. He becomes obsessed with the idea of good and evil, working in his lab day and night. He eventually concocts a formula that works. The experiment appears to be a success, but it’s not long before his bad self gets the better of him. Appropriate lodgings are purchased for Hyde to dwell in after evenings of trolling the local bars. Jekyll’s absence begins to raise questions and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to control Hyde.

still from dr jekyll and mr hyde

Barrymore plays both Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. As Henry Jekyll he is the handsome and dedicated doctor who runs a free clinic for the poor. He is also an idealist who enjoys experimenting in his laboratory whenever afforded some spare time. When Jekyll transforms into Edward Hyde he become a hideous creature who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to quench his lust for all things immoral. Barrymore contorts his face to the point of hideous without the aid of makeup, and to great effect. He jerks and twists while hair flops about his face. There is also a very impressive looking close-up shot of his hand becoming claw-like. The moments where he transforms are the films best. I’m not at all familiar with John Barrymore’s acting abilities, but the tagline for the film states he is the world’s greatest actor. I must admit, he does one hell of a job. He really summons his inner ghoul and creates an amazingly effective menace.

There are a few moments in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ that must have shocked audiences in the early 1920’s. Even I was surprised by the death of one of the characters. Obviously special effects are minimal, but they do throw a few in that work. The aforementioned hand to claw transformation and a giant ghostly spider Jekyll dreams is crawling on him. Even though I quite liked the ghost-spider sequence it felt a bit odd like it didn’t exactly belong. It also made me wonder what exactly was in that potion Jekyll cooked up. The film quality seemed good for a film of its age. The copy was considerably cleaner than the version of ‘Nosferatu’ we watched the same night. An outstanding performance by Barrymore and his transformation scenes alone, are worth the price of admission. There are numerous versions of the Jekyll and Hyde story on film, but few top this 1920 classic. Highly recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 4/5

Directed By: John S. Robertson

Starring: John Barrymore, Charles Lane, Brandon Hurst, Cecil Clovelly, Nita Naldi, Martha Mansfield, George Stevens

5 Responses to “DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I love silent horror movies so there is no excuse for why I haven’t seen this movie. I will have to watch it very soon. Netflix seems to have it on Instant Watch so I will hopefully get to it pretty soon.

  2. Also, if you haven’t seen it already I highly recommend The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). It is amazing.

  3. Why old horror movies with few and bad special effects keep goods with the time?
    I didn’t know why I like them.

  4. Where a lot newer horror movies have lots of great special effects, older horror movies have a something called story. That is why people still like them. 😉

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