Victor Fleming directed this 1941 film, two years after his double barrel directing triumph. Two giant films(though I guess they weren’t giants just yet) in 1939, THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND. Less a new version of the Robert Stevenson tale than a remake of the 1931 film starring Fredric March in the title roles, for which he won his first Academy Award. That film traced back to a stage play written by Thomas Russell Sullivan for Richard Mansfield in 1887. Mansfield played the role for twenty years in a touring production.
The film has little to do with Stevenson’s story other than the basics. Spencer Tracy plays the title roles and his two female co-stars were two of the most beautiful ladies of the time. Lana Turner, a very young woman, plays Jekyll’s fiancee, Beatrix Emery, a genteel young woman of the upper British class.Her father claimed to be an open-minded man, but abhorred any sign of public affection between the couple. He also set the date for their wedding and was inflexible on moving it up.
Ingrid Bergman played the saucy barmaid, Ivy Peterson, that Edward Hyde gets involved with. Interestingly, in the early stages of pre-production, she was immediately cast as Beatrix. But as she studied the script, she lobbied for the Ivy Peterson role, wanting to get away from the good girl image she’d played in her last few films.
The makeup for Tracy gave him a bigger nose, higher cheekbones, a messy mane of hair, and the coloring all combined to give him a brutish appearance. While Hyde, he always had a leering smile showing a lot of teeth, a nervous manner, hands constantly in motion, washing themselves often. Critics weren’t thrilled with his performance.
You know the tale, a doctor obsessed with separating the good and evil in man. At the beginning, during a church service, a man begins raving and shouting. Jekyll is in attendance with Beatrix. As the man is about to be arrested for drunkenness, Jekyll notices something and uses his prominence to get the man sent to the hospital. He’d been a normal, god-fearing man until caught up in an explosion at work a few months before. Jekyll wanted to use his chemicals he’d been developing on the man. But his friend Dr. John Lanyon(Ian Hunter) makes him see reason. Experimenting on animals is one thing, but humans…
That’s when Jekyll starts using himself as a guinea pig.
The first night out as Hyde, he starts a fight in the bar where Ivy worked, keeping it going until the whole place is breaking chairs. Then he claims it was all Ivy’s fault, pays the bar owner to fire her, then picks her up outside. That begins their relationship, such as it is. Beatrix had been taken out of the country for an extended period by her father to get her away from Jekyll, the old man noticing the burgeoning love between them ans wanting to hold off that wedding until his future son-in-law got away from that nonsense and became a respectable physician.
It’s all downhill from there. Brutalizing Ivy at every turn, the inevitable happens and Jekyll decides to never become Hyde again. Fate doesn’t work that way though. He starts spontaneously turning into Hyde. He can concoct the formula that snaps him back, but it never lasts long. Soon, he’s wanted for murder and is pursued all over London.
There was one scene from Stevson’s tale that was used. His friend Lanyon gets to watch him mix the chemicals and trun back to Jekyll, though he doesn’t go to pieces as in the story.
Not a bad film, though not Tracy at his best. When MGM was beginning to work on this film, they bought the rights to the 1931 version and recalled all prints they could find. It was thought lost for decades. Since this version was not well thought of, March jokingly sent Tracy a telegram thanking him for the great boost to his reputation. Don’t know how Tracy reacted to that. Forty-five years later, when Turner bought MGM, the rights passed to him and it’s now available of DVD.
The script for this one was by John Lee Mahin and, although it was based on the 1931 version, following it pretty closely, the authors of that script, Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein, received no screen credit.
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