|Directed by||Victor Fleming|
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1941 horror film starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. Rather than being a new film version of the novel, it is a direct remake of the 1931 film of the same title, which differs greatly from the novel, due to both films’ heavy dependence on the Thomas Sullivan stage version. The movie was based on Robert Louis Stevenson‘s 1886 novella the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and directed by Victor Fleming, director of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz two years earlier. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where Fleming was based) acquired the rights to the 1931 film, originally released by Paramount Pictures, in order to keep the earlier film out of circulation. Every print of the 1931 film that could be located was destroyed , making it essentially a “lost film” for decades except for clips until a full version was found and was restored.
Despite having not yet met his later co-star Katharine Hepburn – they met when they made Woman of the Year (1942) – Spencer Tracy originally wanted Hepburn to play both Bergman’s and Turner’s roles as the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ woman, who would then turn out to be the same person.
Initial casting had Bergman playing the virtuous fiancée of Jekyll and Turner as ‘bad girl’ Ivy. However, Bergman, tired of playing saintly characters and fearing typecasting, pleaded with Victor Fleming that she and Turner switch roles. After a screen test, Fleming allowed Bergman to play a grittier role for the first time
The film was not the critical success that the 1931 version had been, although it eventually earned $2 million around the world. Fredric March famously sent his friend Tracy an amusing telegram thanking him for his biggest career boost, as Tracy’s performance was routinely savaged when compared with March’s version. Tracy was considered too bland as Jekyll, and not frightening as Hyde. Realizing that he was unsuited to playing an English doctor in Victorian London, Tracy had tried to back out of the film, but it was too late. As of 2015 Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 65% Certified Fresh score.
Good Cast Carries a Slow-Moving Adaptation
This version of the classic “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” story is more slow-moving and psychological than most. Rather than emphasizing the more horrific elements of the story, it relies on a good cast to bring out the ways that the characters and their relationships are affected by the doctor’s weird experiment. It’s not the version to watch if you are looking for excitement or horror, but as a more psychological approach it mostly works.
Spencer Tracy plays the dual leading role, and does pretty well at creating two distinct personalities – the transformation uses only minimal special effects, and relies on Tracy to make the characters convincing. Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman work well as Beatrix and Ivy, and the rest of the cast members are also all very good. What the film lacks in excitement it makes up for in making Dr. Jekyll’s world believable.
If you’re already familiar with the story in its more horrific versions, this would be worth a look if you’re interested in a different take on it. It’s probably not the place to start, though, if you don’t yet know the story.
Tracy is a chilling Hyde…Bergman is brilliant…
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
7 April 2002
For years I knew that Fredric March had won one of his Oscars for DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE back in the ’30s and always assumed that because of this his performance was superior to Spencer Tracy’s.
But having just seen the Tracy-Bergman-Turner version, my opinion has changed. Whereas the make-up for March makes him look like a cheap monster in a Universal thriller and almost Simian, Tracy achieves a distinctly chilling effect simply through posture and facial expressions alone with a minimum of make-up. His first encounter with the barmaid Ivy (Ingrid Bergman) is beautifully done with both of them registering emotions as they play against each other–Tracy with a wicked gleam in his eye and Bergman trying to hide her fear. She creates a really sympathetic character, especially when she realizes the extent of her degradation. Her scenes with Tracy where he is sadistically taunting her remind one of the cat-and-mouse game she played with Charles Boyer in “Gaslight”.
The B&W photography realistically captures Victorian London after dark with its swirling mists and street lamps. All of the performances are first rate except for an uncertain Lana Turner who has a pallid role and can do little with it.
The only flaws are the film’s length–it takes too long to tell the tale with its long-winded speeches–and the leisurely pace under Victor Fleming’s direction makes the horror more muted than it need be.
In the 1946 Warner Bros. cartoon Hare Remover, when Elmer Fudd is going through some bizarre side effects after drinking a potion he created, Bugs Bunny turns to the audience and remarks, “I think Spencer Tracy did it much better!”.
Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) believes good and evil exist in everyone. Experiments reveal his evil side, named Mr. Hyde. Experience teaches him how evil Hyde can be: he rapes Ivy Pearson (Ingrid Bergman), who earlier expressed interest in Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jekyll is preparing to marry Beatrix Emery (Lana Turner). Over the course of the film, Hyde abuses Ivy. Feeling remorse over the treatment inflicted on Ivy, Jekyll vows to never take the serum again, destroys the key to his lab, and sends money to Ivy anonymously. Ivy believes the money was sent by Hyde in order to trick her into believing she is now free. On the advice of a friend over her rattled nerves, she goes to Jekyll for comfort. Jekyll promises that Hyde will never hurt her again.
On the way to Emery’s house for the announcement of his marriage to Beatrix, Jekyll transforms into Hyde without taking the serum. He goes over to Ivy’s house, accuses her of meeting with Jekyll, and starts to strangle her. He escapes back to his lab, but discovers that he no longer has the key to the lab. He fails to break into the front door of his place and goes to Dr. Lanyon (Ian Hunter), a personal friend, for help. Lanyon is shocked to find out that both Jekyll and Hyde are the same person as Hyde drinks the antidote in his friend’s presence. Jekyll decides to break off the engagement to Bea in order to keep his secret. She refuses to accept, her reaction triggering Jekyll to become Hyde and frighten Bea. Her father (Donald Crisp) responds to her scream, only to be beaten to death by Hyde.
Lanyon finds a piece of Jekyll’s cane, and realizes he’s responsible. He leads police to search Hyde’s laboratory, only to find Jekyll (having strong-armed past his butler Poole (Peter Godfrey) to get to an antidote). During questioning he starts to transform into Hyde. In the ensuing struggle Lanyon mortally shoots Hyde, who reverts to Jekyll as he dies.