November 11, 2018
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Grade: 77/100

Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Stars: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart

What it's about. The first talkie adaptation of the celebrated Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Set in 1880s London. Young, handsome, and gentle Jekyll (Fredric March) is an upper-class doctor engaged to beautiful Muriel (Rose Hobart), the daughter of retired military officer Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), who seeks to put off Jekyll indefinitely.

Frustrated, Jekyll concocts a potion that will turn him into Hyde, an ugly, malicious, and athletic personality who will satisfy Jekyll's suppressed lust, at no expense to Jekyll's reputation. Hyde's focus is on Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), a gregarious club performer who gives into all of Hyde's oppressive demands to prevent her physical harm.

Jekyll must drink another potion to become Jekyll again. But after several back and forth transformations, Jekyll can no longer control his Hyde half, who takes over at inopportune times.

How others will see it. This movie was a contemporary commercial smash, and critics loved it as well. March won an Oscar for Best Actor, and Kaul Struss' cinematography was nominated, along with the adapted screenplay by Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein.

Especially praised was the Jekyll to Hyde transformation, no easy trick in an era decades away from Terminator 2-style morphing. But of course we are most concerned with March's performance, which is undeniably engrossing.

At, the movie has 11K user votes, impressive for such an early talkie. The user ratings are high at 7.7 out of 10, and if men like the movie a little more than do women, it is likely because Mr. Hyde uncomfortably reminds them of that creep who wouldn't take "No" for an answer.

How I felt about it. Many cinemaphiles believe that the present version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel is the best. At least, if you don't count the Warner Bros. cartoon short Hyde and Go Tweet (1960).

Of course, nobody has seen all of the versions. Others of interest to the classic film fan include John Barrymore's 1920 and Spencer Tracy's 1941 turns as the split personality. We can safely say that among those three candidates, Fredric March does it best.

Psychiatrists have long enjoyed plumbing the significance behind the split Jekyll/Hyde personas. In the 1931 movie, it's all about sex. Dr. Jekyll pines for his perfect woman, Muriel. But since her humbug father invariably postpones their marriage (and who can blame him?), Jekyll is forced to turn (in)to Hyde in order to get what he wants.

Certainly not Muriel, whom he saves for Jekyll in case the mettlesome father ever lets her go (as if). But she is not the beauty in London; there's also bad girl Ivy whom, like Hyde, belongs to the lower class.

But Hyde isn't content just to turn Ivy into his sex slave, he must terrify her as well, with both physical and verbal abuse. He knows that she detests him, but it is not her heart he is interested in. What he wants, he can get solely through threats.

Comes a time when the party is over, and Jekyll wishes to dispense with Hyde. But he can't shut down his dark side, which takes over whenever it pleases. After all, the dark side is much better at obtaining sex, because it does not care what maintaining societal norms.

And as it turns out, many of us don't care either: rascals like Donald Trump can cheat on their third wife with a porn actress and a nude model, and at least 45% of the public is okay with that, even if the mistresses are secretly paid off to the tune of 250K, weeks before the election.