Tuesday 19 March 2019

Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)

A suspense fantasy drama, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde delves into the darkest recesses of the soul, where vile tendencies await an awakening.

In London of the late 1800s, Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) is a respected physician, engaged to be married to Bea Emery (Lana Turner), although her father Sir Charles (Donald Crisp) has so far refused to set a wedding date. Jekyll is interested in the duality of the soul, and is conducting animal experiments to develop a drug that can separate good from evil.

Jekyll and his colleague Dr. Lanyon (Ian Hunter) rescue barmaid Ivy Pearson (Ingrid Bergman) from an assault, and she triggers his lustful impulses. He completes his research, tests the drug on himself, and is physically and emotionally transformed into Mr. Hyde, an immoral, selfish and violent man. He proceeds to kidnap and assault Ivy. Initially Jekyll is able to control his transformations back and forth into Mr. Hyde, but soon loses control, with his evil side making unwelcome appearances at inopportune moments.

An adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story, the 1941 film version features a superlative and understated Spencer Tracy performance to help bring out the complex shadings of the internal human struggle between good and evil. With a deliberate one hour build-up, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde invests in its characters and builds to a second half filled with disconcerting behaviour.

In this version Jekyll's virulent tendencies are unleashed by sexual repression. Director Vincent Fleming hints at the burning desire between Jekyll and Bea as they sneak passionate kisses at every opportunity behind Sir Charles' back. Maybe because of Jekyll's audacious nature Charles refuses to set a wedding date, only worsening Jekyll's frustration.

With Ingrid Bergman in full-on seductress mode, the sultry advances of Ivy are the final push. She is available and incessantly flirtatious; he perfects his concoction, drinks the potion and embraces his evil Hyde self. What starts as a mode that can be switched on and off quickly progresses to a powerful and uncontrollable condition, Jekyll unable to determine when and where Hyde appears, evil proving remarkably resilient once given room to breathe and thrive.

Fleming excels in making best use out of brooding sets to recreate 19th century London. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde comes to life in a foreboding gas lit environment filled with cobbled streets, alleys and isolated park paths. Frequent fog and plenty of shadows complete the aesthetic.

On a couple of occasions Tracy's transformation is handled in real time with superimposed imagery and some shifty frame waviness, the effects basic but nevertheless achieving the objective. The actor does the rest, Tracy disappearing into Hyde's dark pool of soullessness with ferocious venom. The film is more unsettling than scary, the emphasis firmly fixed on revealing the ease with which human malevolence can dominate. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde reside in every person, their eternal conflict often decided by thin margins.

All Ace Black Movie Blog Reviews are here.

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