|Roy F. Overbaugh|
John Barrymore-The Definitive Hyde
29 September 2002
This silent-era classic stars the one and only John Barrymore in the lead role. Barrymore’s performance is clearly the one since most imitated by others. It is likely his performance as Hyde here that influenced later cartoon versions and what have you. The menacing stare, those creepy large hands held high ready to strike, the crouched over position, the evil intent in the eyes and the brow. Barrymore is simply fantastic and he pulls this off with much less make-up than many others. It’s amazing how he can also pull off playing the tormented Dr. Jekyll-the complete opposite of Hyde perfectly and shows his tremendous range as an actor.
John Barrymore’s Double Feature or The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Author: lugonian from Kissimmee, Florida
4 November 2003
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (Paramount, 1920), directed by John S. Robertson, ranks the best known silent screen adaptations from the famous 1886 story by Robert Louis Stevenson and the 1897 stage play starring Richard Mansfield. Featuring the then unlikely John Barrymore, a matinée idol better known as “The Great Profile,” this early horror film features the young actor to good advantage in portraying two entirely different characters in one motion picture. Those familiar with the Stevenson story, especially with its latter remakes during the sound era, whether starring Fredric March in 1931 (for which he won an Academy Award as best actor) or Spencer Tracy in 1941 (a very good film but often dismissed due to its miscasting) the story itself has its alterations.
Set in 19th century England, Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore), “an idealist and philanthropist, by profession a doctor of medicine,” spending his time not only conducting experiments in his laboratory attached to his home, but treatinghis patients at a free clinic for the poor at his own expense. He’s engaged to Millicent Carewe (Martha Mansfield), but their relationship appears to be mainly platonic. Arriving late at a dinner gathering at the Carewe home, Sir George Carewe, (Brandon Hurst), Millicent’s father and Jekyll’s mentor, soon becomes Jekyll’s evil influence when he suggests the possibilities of man living by his instincts, yet having another side to his nature. Carewe later accompanies Jekyll to a London music hall where they are not only surrounded by a class of patrons beneath their status, but watch a flirtatious young dancer named Gina (Nita Naldi) perform. “For the first time in his life, Jekyll had awakened to the sense of his baser nature.” Spending days and nights in his lab with his experiments, Jekyll, after drinking down his invented formula, soon transforms into his evil self. Becoming the uncontrollable person he names Edward Hyde, Jekyll’s evil self begins a relationship with the sultry Gina, eventually making her life miserable. Hyde goes on a murderous rampage, taking control over Jekyll’s immortal soul. Jekyll’s experiment gets the better of him when he keeps changing into the evil Hyde against his will, returning to his gentler self through an antidote, becoming a recluse and spending more time away from Millicent. When Jekyll’s antidote supply runs dry, he tries to fight the urge of evil. After murdering a child of the streets in the poor district of town, and later Sir George who witnessed the evil change in his future son-in-law, Jekyll realizes that he’s unable to undo his evil deeds, and suffers more as he tries to prevent himself from making Millicent his next victim.
Supporting Barrymore in the cast are Charles Lane as Doctor Richard Lanyon; Cecil Clovelly as Edward Enfield; Louis Wolheim as the music hall proprietor; and George Stevens as Poole, Jekyll’s butler.
Produced shortly before what future star Lon Chaney would have achieved in a role such as this, Barrymore’s performs his most memorable moments during his transformation scenes. Every transformation captured on film shows the viewer a more hideous manifestation of Jekyll’s other self. Quite theatrical to say the least, but what’s amazing is Barrymore’s constant jerking of his body with his hair flopping about before the closeup of that hideous facial expression, which must have been quite intense for 1920 audiences. It’s been reported that Barrymore changed into the evil Mr. Hyde without the use of makeup, unlike Chaney, who would have done his transformation similar to Fredric March’s 1931 sound version, looking more like a hideous animal than a grotesque human creature. For Spencer Tracy’s 1941 performance, like Barrymore, he’s still in human form but his facial gestures appear inhuman. More added touches of evil include Jekyll’s somewhat pointed head as well as close up of Jekyll’s hand becoming a withered claw. Something worth noting is one where Jekyll sleeps in his bed and imagines a ghostly giant spider crawling upon him. Because of Barrymore’s “great profile” image and matinée idol reputation, the camera takes full advantage in his numerous profiled closeups, yet this was the film that firmly establish Barrymore’s movie career.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE became one of the final thirteen movies aired on public television’s THE SILENT YEARS (1971) as hosted by Orson Welles. Accompanied by an organ score by Gaylord Carter, the film runs at length to about 62 minutes. In later years, the silent version to DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE was distributed on video cassette, with the print shown on THE SILENT YEARS released through Blackhawk Video in the 1980s. At present, the length of the movie varies. It could be as long as 75 minutes or more, depending on the projection speed. Shorter prints could be the possibility of a deleted sequence or two taken from reissue copies. For the Blackhawk edition, a sudden cut is noticeable as Millicent (Martha Mansfield) is seen sitting sadly alone, longing for her fiancé, followed by an immediate cut showing Millicent, surrounded by some people, running happily up the stairs with a letter clasped in her hand. Besides JEKYLL AND HYDE’s availability on video, it’s also been recently distributed on DVD.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE consisted of several earlier American-made versions (1912, 1913, and another in 1920 to compete with the Barrymore film), but for whatever copy is available for viewing, this 1920 production featuring Barrymore is the only easy access for viewing. Out of circulation on the TV markets since the 1970s, it finally resurfaced on Turner Classic Movies October 24, 2004, as part of its annual Halloween fright feast. The print with the Gaylord Carter organ score has circulated on TCM until its March 6, 2011 presentation consisting a new orchestral score composed by Al Kryszak that’s one I would not recommend after listening better scores in the past. (***)