Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Kino Classics Blu-ray) - John Barrymore

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been adapted for the screen any number of times, and on each outing one can find something particular unhorrible about it. That is to say, that none are altogether terrifying. None except the John S. Robertson adaptation where John Barrymore highlights a particularly dastardly character with his tremendous ability to enrich the gate and facial expression of the monstrous dark side of an otherwise good individual. Say what you want about Frederic March, he's delicious and there's a rather memorable makeup job that keeps him in the running for strongest performance as the diabolic duo, but there's something in the performance of March that yields an almost camp result. Perhaps it was the state of Hollywood some twelve years later, but when Barrymore created the character for screen, there was something to gawk at. Something to be startled by and real horror to enjoy and fear.  Today we've got Kino Classics Blu-ray master under our watchful eye with Jekyll, saintly and good with Hyde lurking just on the other side of the 1920 x 1080p screen.

Synopsis from Kino:

Considered by many to be the first great American horror film, John S. Robertson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE allowed stage legend John Barrymore to deliver his first virtuoso performance on film. Blending historic charm with grim naturalism, this version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is one of the more faithful of the many screen adaptations of Stevenson's story (though greatly influenced by T.R. Sullivan's popular stage treatment), recounting a visionary scientist's ill-fated attempts to unleash the human mysteries that dwell beneath the shell of the civilized self.

This is a silent picture with appropriately haunting music and fairly true to the the original literature from what I can remember (though plenty of liberties taken with the creation of Millicent). Each scene is set and then characters introduced into that scene framing out each locale and dividing the sanctuaries for both Jekyll and Hyde almost by location. When Hyde crosses over into Jekyll's world it is abundantly obvious as is the inverse.

Hyde's look is that of a hunchbacked creature with an egg shaped, balding head, nearly oblong. His eyes our gouged out sunken pits and his smile is a toothy picket fence of daggers. He wears a bulbous hat to cover his aggrieved head. Without a vocal performance to give his words adequate edge, the grimace is enough to be heard by your mind's ear. Perhaps we gain from the lack of audio because we are forced to imagine the panic and drama of the audio solely based on the score rather than on overdramatic haughty, righteous folk unable to understand the best of intentions of Jekyll (no matter how selfish).

Now this is mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements, 1920 x 1080p, 1.33:1. The film grain has been lovingly preserved with minimal noise reduction if any. This is a silent feature from 1920 that is scratched and battered, and the restoration leaves this intact appropriately.The audio track is crisp and clear featuring a musical score compiled by Rodney Suer, performed by the Mont Alte Motion Picture Orchestra.

The extras are built for the Jekyll and Hyde fanatic. It features a 1912 version of J and H from Thanshouser starring James Cruze (only 12 minutes long), the rival 15 minute cut of the 1920 version starring Sheldon Lewis and produced by Lous B. Mayer, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride (a parody of course from 1925) and "The Transformation Scene" a rare 1909 audio recording. These works may offer basis of comparison as to what had been scene of Hyde before Barrymore and predating March.

What strikes me is that Jekyll is selfish. He ultimately undertakes his experiments in transformation to prove himself a well rounded husband for his bride to be. It is through his own vanity that he becomes the beast of Hyde and permanently mars the good name and reputation of an upstanding scientist. It's a sad story. A love lost and lives broken and yet we often overlook the psychological and animal question for the more common two-faced cliche. Jekyll always had his hand in the honey pot. He's the big bad bear. Is his concoction an excuse? Is this a tale of temperance worthy of Mary Hatchet? Or a monster movie? A simple horror picture?

Pick up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from Kino NOW!

I recommend this to fans of Universal horror who think they've seen monsters in Bela and Boris and need to see the monsters that came before (on par with the great Lon Chaney or German Expressionist horror pictures).

-Doc Terror

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