For Reel

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
July 7, 2012, 6:44 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Among the best of the early-thirties horror films was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a genuinely disturbing adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic in which Fredric March gives a remarkable dual performance (winning him his first of two Oscars). Having been made in the pre-Code era, director Rouben Mamoulian had fewer restrictions in exploring the darkest elements of the source material, and as such the relationship between Hyde and a bar singer played by Miriam Hopkins remains shocking today. His harassment of her culminates in a murder and rape, dealt with relatively explicitly and rendered all the more horrific due to Hopkins’ brilliant, enormously sympathetic performance as the helpless woman. Mamoulian was a significant innovator in the early days of sound, credited with being among the first to use a “blimp”, which enclosed the camera in a noiseless box and allowed better movement, and, in 1929’s Applause, using two-channel recording that helped create a sense of three-dimensional space. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shows no less visual ambition with his clever tricks involving lighting and production design, such as Hyde’s transformation sequences or a long point-of-view tracking shot wherein March looks directly into the mirror. Few directors in the early days of sound produced works as visually and aurally dynamic as Mamoulian, making his pictures age better than all but the very best of his contemporaries.

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