Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) movie poster

(1941) dir. Victor Fleming
viewed: 08/10/09

On the DVD of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) included was the 1941 version, also titled exactly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, directed by Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) and starring Spencer Tracy in the lead, with Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman as the love interests.  I’d always heard that this was a disappointing version of the story, one that reflected back positively on the Rouben Mamoulian/Fredric March version.  And it is, especially in stark comparison with the earlier film.

Denuded of the racy qualities and perversion of the pre-code film, Tracy’s Mr. Hyde is a bit more naturalistic, not the caveman/troglodyte as March was, but more human.  But less frightening, less powerful, less everything.  The sexuality of Miriam Hopkins’ Ivy, the prostitute, created a true energy with Jekyll/Hyde.  Bergman’s Ivy is a barmaid, and while very striking, she lacks the pure sexuality that the other film used so effectively.  This is no doubt in reflection of the changes in the Hollywood Production Code, limiting sex, drugs, and transgression, which fueled the power of the earlier film.

This opinion seems to have been held by many from the get-go, from the film’s initial release and historical perspective.  Frankly, taken on its own, it’s not bad, but so weak in comparison that it’s pretty pathetic.

Director Victor Fleming was discussed in a recent article in The New Yorker, attempting to help recognize him as a director of note while he is so often swept under the rug, despite working on the two aforementioned most well-known films of all time.  I don’t know that this film does a lot to or against his credit.  Again, compared to Mamoulian’s inventiveness and spry approach, it is just as limited as Tracy’s declawed villain and Bergman’s de-sexualized tart.

Still, a good point to compare.  It would be interesting to see other earlier silent versions.  It’s a rich vein, indeed.

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