Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie–it could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like–and we’ll tell you where to find it online.
Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde often gets mentioned alongside the classic Universal monster movies. It’s not one of those, of course. Firstly, it was made by Paramount and, beyond that, it had an air of prestige about it (earning three Academy Award nominations, including a well-deserved win for Fredric March in the title role/s) and carrying a much larger budget. But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk about these films in the same breath. For one thing, Universal movies like Frankenstein are great too and, for another, Dr. Jekyll has its share of lurid, lowbrow thrills as well, like the spectacular transformation make-up effects.
Dr. Jekyll‘s most base element, in fact, is also its most potent. This pre-Code masterpiece is loaded with sexuality. Jekyll is going mad over the delayed marriage to his fiancee (Rose Hobart) and his experiment to separate out the worst parts of a person finds success at the same time that his head is turned by a beautiful, young dancer named Ivy (Miriam Hopkins). Shockingly and sadly relevant today is the interpretation that Hyde is Jekyll’s rage at having been denied the sex he feels he deserves and directing it at Ivy, first by harassing her and then much, much worse.
There’s a cynicism, perhaps, to Mamoulian’s film, should you choose to see it that way. Jekyll insists that each person has a good and an evil soul inside them. But when he creates Hyde out of the worst of himself, the Jekyll part doesn’t suddenly become solely good. He’s still subject to the same pettiness and selfishness as he was before. So maybe there is no good version of a human being. On the other hand, perhaps Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is more pragmatic than cynical, suggesting that balance and choice are the only ways to keep us from acting on our own worst impulses.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is available to rent on Amazon.