Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

October’s over, but wait! We still have one more centennial to add to our history of horror. This is my contribution to the “Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon,” hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please check back there in the coming week for more of the entries.

This version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale stars John Barrymore, whose reputation as an actor was already well-established, both on the stage and screen at this point, though some of his greatest triumphs in cinema were yet to come. This movie begins by introducing Dr. Henry Jekyll hard at work over his microscope, boasting to a skeptical colleague (Charles Lane as Dr. Lanyon) that science can conquer any mystery. The insert shots of micro-organisms may have been the first that many 1920s audiences had seen. Dr. Lanyon accuses him of meddling with the supernatural, and his butler Poole (George Stevens) comes in to remind him of his shift at the clinic and a later dinner date. We see the “human repair shop” which the charitable Jekyll runs to treat the poor of London. Interestingly, his home and the clinic appear to be on the same crowded London street, suggesting that a sumptuous home could be shouldered up against poverty in that time and place (the movie appears to be set, as the story is, in the late 19th Century).

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)

This one-reel version of the oft-filmed story from Thanhouser represents an early effort to bring horror and special effects to the service of a sophisticated narrative, but uncertain history swirls around the movie nonetheless. Florence LaBadie and James Cruze star in this version of a man who separates the good and evil of his own nature with tragic results.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde MPWThe movie opens with a shot of what seems to be a medical journal, citing a doctor who claims that drugs can be used to “separate man into two beings,” one good and the other evil. Then an intertitle tells us that Dr. Jekyll plans to confirm this before we’ve been introduced to any of the characters. Finally, we see Jekyll at work in his laboratory, mixing chemicals. When he’s finished, he tries the brew and (no surprise to us) a dissolve replaces the kindly old doctor with a monstrous brute. Hyde, however, doesn’t seem to want to hang around and celebrate his success. He just takes a drink from another beaker and turns back into Jekyll. The next intertitle sets up his betrothal to Florence LaBadie, “the minister’s daughter,” and, indeed, we see the two of them out for a stroll on a lovely Spring day. Read the rest of this entry »