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THE CLASH OF THE TITANS:

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1931) vs DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1941)

For this conversation, both the participants and the lead actors in each version of the film will be referred to by their initials: 

CD:  Chad Denton of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
ZH: 
Zack Handlen of The Duck Speaks
LK:  
Liz Kingsley of And You Call Yourself A Scientist!


FM:
Fredric March (1931)
ST:
  Spencer Tracy (1941)



LK:  We thrashed out the novel and the stage versions of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde the last time we did this, so there's no need to talk about all that again here, but of course we do need to look at these two films as adaptations.

ZH:  I've been thinking about this, and there's something about all the adaptations we've seen that seem to miss a fundamental point of the book. But sticking with the March/Tracy versions, one of the biggest changes is in making Jekyll the nominal hero of the story. In the novella, the closest thing we get to a hero is Utterson; while the last (and probably most memorable) bit of the story is from Jekyll's perspective, we're still getting his story after having initially become attached to the person Stevenson seems to be putting up as the point of identification. We have a certain distance from Jekyll's narrative, and that's a distance that both movies completely discard.

LK:  Yes, the cinematic reconstruction of the story from the mystery structure of the book to Jekyll as central character, even as hero, or at least anti-hero; from subject to object. Is there any version of J&H that either of you know of that tries to keep the structure of the book? (Talk about them never filming "Dracula" properly!) Anyway, certainly none of the six versions that we have examined did so, which is interesting in itself. Is it simply that the book, and the plays based on it, were so popular and successful that there was no point in trying to make a mystery of the story; or is it rather that Jekyll/Hyde became such a prize role for an actor that the story had to be re-worked to allow the "star" to be front and centre at all times? Or both?

It's fascinating how each version builds upon the ones before, while the first ones built on the stage adaptations....I don't think the bloodlines of any story have ever been more evident. Now we've entered that weird phase where you don't really feel that any of the screenwriters prepared for their assignment by reading the book, but by watching the other films. So we have all of that stuff that's not in the novel, but which has pretty much become "canon" for J&H: saintly Dr Jekyll and his charity work (from King Baggott, carried over into Barrymore), and Jekyll caught between the good girl and the bad girl, from Barrymore, which becomes the main character-defining tool in both later versions.

ZH:  I'd say the best way to describe it is as the Frankenstein-ing of Jekyll's experiments. Instead of an older man struggling through  experimentation to, let's say, refine his essential hypocrisy, we have the young (or in Tracy's case, supposedly young) Prometheus throwing off the shackles of society in an attempt to better mankind. Both March and Tracy's Jekylls are given the opportunity to expound at great length on the philosophies that drive them. They're romantic heroes, striving to reach the heavens to better mankind. Speaking of which, I thought it was worth mentioning that one of the scenes in March's clinic has him making a cripple walk. Talk about your God complex...

LK:  They do rather take "saintly Dr Jekyll" to the next level in that one, don't they?? (Apropos, I find it very amusing that they used the same technique to turn Jekyll into Hyde here as they did to have Jesus cure the lepers in Ben-Hur!) And speaking of Frankenstein - that's exactly the stunt that Kenneth Branagh pulled in his version: refiguring the bad guy as the romantic hero.

ZH:  But then it gets weird. Because for both guys, despite their lofty goals, indulge in Hyde because of their own base desires--and even more interestingly, both have people they know directly affected by their actions. Novel-Jekyll was a hypocrite, but when he starts  gadding about town in his evil suit, there's no fiancée living at home to suffer if the science goes crazy. And then there's Ivy; novel-Hyde is pure malevolence, but we never see him indulging in any long-term psychological and sexual torture. In the March and Tracy movies, we have a Hyde with a hostage, a hostage that Jekyll knows about enough to send money to the apartment where Hyde keeps her. The more I think about it, the more I actually feel pity for the novel-Hyde; as selfish and short-sighted as he is, his meanness seems more like an addict indulging than a tormenter. Plus, when he kills the old man on the street, it's an act of impulse--and he tries to quit being Hyde afterwards.

Y'know, the more I think about it, the more ST had the potential of being the most faithful adaptation yet, simply from casting an older man; were it not for his fiancée, Tracy's Jekyll is a lot like the book version, a middle-aged guy with no dependents, a certain detachment from life, a calm arrogance about his own abilities, and the appearance of good deeds but with no real passion behind them. But then that damn Beatrix wanders in, and it all goes pear-shaped.

LK:  Now, we do need to talk about what is probably the single greatest influence on these two versions, the fact that they were produced on either side of the belated enforcement of the Production Code in 1934.

ZH:  Well, the relative sexual frankness of the FM version seems like a good place to start. How familiar are you guys with the Hays Code? I've only heard a bit on it (much of that from Lyz's site, I think); Chad, if you've got some background there, feel free to start us off. I can always ramble on about naked ladies and the Whipping of Ingrid Bergman.

CD:  I recognized the influence of the Hays Code in these ways: no eroticism unless absolutely necessary (which caused changes that are probably too numerous to count), no explicit depiction of any criminal activity (which I think is why in FM it's suggested that Ivy is a prostitute, at least on the side, while in ST the film really tries to convince us that she's just a barmaid), no "indecent" dances (so you never really see the stage performance in ST even though there's a lengthy scene at a burlesque), all criminals must be plainly punished without any sympathy (so we have Lanyon's rather ruthless treatment of Jekyll/Hyde in the end), and "correct standards of life" must be promoted where possible (hence the hammering in of Christianity in the beginning, the banquet scene, and the ending).

The violence in Tracy has also been reduced, although only somewhat (I expected that in March the beating of Muriel's father would be longer and more explicit, but it wasn't, although the struggle leading up to it seemed to be).

I should add that many films in the decade following the time the Code was introduced tried to subvert it - and I think Tracy falls into that category, but we can debate about that later.

LK:  Just to be pedantic (who, me?), the Hays Code was in effect when FM was made, but no-one was taking any notice. What is now called the MPAA, then the MPPDA, brought in a self-regulating - moral code? censorship code? - under public (i.e. media and church) pressure to clean up Da Movies. Right from the start of the motion picture industry there were accusations of movies as a corrupting influence: glorifying crime and illicit sex, and so on.

In any case, after a string of very public scandals over the late twenties - oddly, scandals off-screen were taken as evidence of a corrupting influence on-screen, I suppose because movies were self-evidently made by bad people - the MPPDA finally brought in a code of conduct, intended to be self-regulating, which was done in order to ward of the threat of government censorship. So they made a big production out of "cleaning up the movies" and came up with a code under which movies were supposed to be made in future; and Will Hays, who was a lawyer who had worked for Warren G. Harding and had been Postmaster General, and who became the first head of the MPPDA, drafted out the code, "the Hays Code", which was a long, long document full of shall not-s and be careful-s - and whose opening line was, "No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it" (which brought on as many arguments as trying to decide the definition of "pornographic").
 
And having done this with a loud flourish, the film-makers promptly ignored it and went back to work.
 
Sound film then came along and brought a whole new bunch of concerns, but nothing of significance changed until the pro-censorship lobby recruited the Catholic church, and ended up creating the Catholic Legion of Decency, which had the power to get films banned (and to threaten excommunication for seeing certain films!), and which staged some very public protests and boycotting of particular films. Their threats had teeth, so the MPPDA caved and added the clause to the Code stating that all films had to receive a seal of approval before they could be released; and that came into effect in 1934, and was when what we call "the Hays Code" really began to shape the films that were made, and how they were made.
 
So when we say "pre-Code films", we mean "pre-seal films" - and "the Hays Code" is more accurately called "the Breen Code", because it was Will Hays' assistant, Joseph Breen, who supposedly had brought in the church in the first place, who was the head-kicker at that time.

CD:  Thanks for the recap, Liz.  I should have remembered the Catholic influence (which is odd to consider now as an American, considering how for some time now in the US the religious social conservative agenda has been driven almost entirely by evangelical Protestantism and the Church of LDS).

LK:  Anyway - the upshot of this for our purposes was that FM was made at a time when it was possible to deal honestly, if not entirely explicitly, with adult material including sexuality and sexual mis/conduct; and that ST had to try and deal with the same themes in an era (and at a studio) where a similar frankness was out of the question. To my mind this gives the FM version an unbeatable advantage.


ZH:
  And you do get big differences at the level of explicitness. ST requires a lot of reading between the lines--when March's Jekyll rescues his Ivy, she strips down and you even get a bit of skin. Plus you get that great double exposure sequence when Jekyll keeps remembering Ivy's come-on line. Both movies are about sexual frustration, but it's only in FM that you get a clear sense of the intensity of it; even the scenes between him and his fiancée play like a couple of horny teenagers desperate for a back seat, while in the Tracy version, Jekyll's love life is far more paternal. His relationship with Ingrid Bergman's Ivy at least has the possibility of sex in it, but while FM has Hyde and Ivy end up in a bed at the end of one of their scenes together (or at least in a bedroom), Tracy and Bergman spend all their time in the parlour.

LK:  Ah, exactly! The word I keep coming back to with FM is just that, intensity. It isn't just a matter of having more license, and being able to be sexually frank; it's what they did with that permission. There's nothing vulgar or exploitative about it, but an honest examination of social mores impacting upon normal instinct. Jekyll's own sexuality is, or should be, a positive force; it's the thwarting of those natural, healthy impulses by the Victorian code that turns him wrong (chiefly because he will not just go and get a bit on the side; cruel that his good choices end up forcing him into bad acts). He's already at the end of his tether as Jekyll, so when Hyde emerges, it's in an extreme way.

One of the major flaws for me of ST is that you don't get the same sense of passion from his Jekyll as you do from March's. Fredric March is infinitely more the "reckless young fella" - he was thirty-four when he made his version, but I think comes across much younger. Spence was forty-one, and completely mature; I just don't get the same feeling of emotion barely under control, or things about to explode any moment. Tracy's Jekyll is annoyed and frustrated by Beatrix going away, but without any of the desperation attached to to March's interpretation of Jekyll's loss of Muriel. There's less sense with Tracy of something already having to be kept on a short leash; March's Hyde to me is more of a natural progression, however scary a thought that is.


ZH:  As we've noted, March's Jekyll is a passionate fellow--dare we say impetuous? (We dare, we dare!) If I'm not going a bit over the top here, I think you could make the case that he's manic depressive, because his passion is a little too intense. He's respected and admired, but watching those early scenes--especially the ones with Muriel--you get the sense of a man running at full steam without any regard, or even concept, of the consequences. Which is why his use of the potion makes so much sense. The letter he leaves for Muriel before making the initial experiment is the gesture of someone so enraptured by his work that he can only take time to do the bare minimum's decency for the people who love him; a more sensible man might think that putting his life at risk with an untested formula for uncertain results is more a life-long bachelor's game. (Although I suppose if you're going to do it, you do it before the wedding.)

The transformation scene itself is interesting, especially when you contrast it with Tracy's. After rescuing Ivy from her attacker, March continues his walk home with the fuddy-duddy Lanyon; Lanyon reproves him for his conduct, and March says something like, "Oh, the names you give such things," frustrated by Lanyon's utter priggishness. He goes on to give a speech about wanting to be pure in mind and deed, etc, but it's that frustration with the restrictions of the time that stands out to me, because his transformation fantasy is almost entirely given over to lectures from the people who stand in his way. Ivy pops in at the end, but Muriel is hardly to be found. Instead, it's Carew and Lanyon yelling at him; the change to Hyde becomes a kind of inevitable release.

LK:  Yes, Jekyll is led to the first one by the Ivy incident, but mostly by Lanyon's reaction to it. He says that he wants to be clean in his innermost thoughts as well as his actions, and that the only way to achieve that is to rid himself of his base side. Then we get SCIENCE!!, and then he tests it on himself.
 
And then the transformation - WOW!! The imagery is amazing, but the language, the reiteration of indecent, disgusting, it isn't done, against Jekyll's own words, his own expressions of sexual frustration and anger. And naturally this leads to Hyde.

CD:  The transformations in both versions were fascinating, especially Tracy's, which were more explicit than what I'd expect from the era (I suppose the scene with Jekyll whipping the horses who turn into Ivy and Beatrix was a reference to both Plato's metaphor of the charioteer and the two horses *and* to the sadism repressed by Jekyll).

I did wonder why March's physical transformation is so much more dramatic than Tracy's. I guess it's possible the filmmakers wanted a more "realistic" Hyde, one that didn't quite look so obviously inhuman, although I wonder if the influence of the Code was felt there too.

LK:  I have to say that to me, the Tracy transformations are not as well prepared for, or as explicable, as the March ones. He's been scolded by Sir Charles and told to get his act together, but there's no real problem, if I can put it that way: there's no threat to Jeyll's relationship with Beatrix. It is after, or simultaneous with, the first transformation, that Sir Charles decides to take Beatrix away, based upon her behaviour (which presumably he blames on Jekyll's bad influence, but still). There's none of the anger and frustration of March's Jekyll, when he undertakes his transformation; both men have confronted their temptation by then, of course.

ZH:  With Tracy's transformation, there's much more focus on the two women in his life, Ivy and Beatrix. While March's change is like a teenager hitting college for the first time, Tracy's is a bit closer to the original novel; he's an older man, and his fantasies and lusts have had time to, shall we say, develop more extensively. Is it just my imagination, or is the sadism more prevalent in the Tracy version? Because he's got the "I'm riding two naked women and whipping them!" moment, and the most I can remember from the March version is a lot of lounging and languorous looks. Instead of him railing against authority figures, we have the shots of Ivy and Beatrix in pin-up poses, gradually getting darker, until we reach an apex with Tracy driving both women on like a pair of horses. The look on Bergman's face is especially telling; it has that "You're tormenting me, but I'm nearly enjoying it in spite of myself" that you'd expect to see in a rape fantasy. His second transformation vision is much tamer, just a lot of panting, ending on the wonderful "uncorking Ivy" bit. But the groundwork is definitely laid for for some creepy, creepy stuff. Either way, that whipping business is unsettling. Tracy's Jekyll is never given enough personality to connect the fantasy to--with March, we see his springiness from the get go, but with Tracy, he's just puttering about and then BAM out comes the whip.

LK:  Absolutely! Really, I don't see any lead-up to what we get from Tracy's Jekyll. I think the March version really wins out here, because it lays the groundwork for Hyde much more thoroughly. We see Jekyll being tender and passionate with Muriel; we see him angry and frustrated with the General - and suppressing it - and then indulging in violent fantasies about strangling him; we see him with Ivy, frankly enjoying the show and the kiss, but dismissing it as "an impulse"; so we are much better prepared for the explosion and the form it takes. I don't think there's any real preparation in the Tracy version for what emerges: no hint of real anger or violence or even frustration. Yes, he's frustrated by the time of the second transformation; but that initial visual comes out of the blue.

CD:  When I was looking for a poster to go with my review, I noticed that most of the posters promoting the film play up the film as having some kind of "love triangle" (and with Ingrid Bergman as playing the 'bad girl', which I guess comes from her character being poor and sexually aggressive and which is a very creepy way of looking at it, as if audiences are expected to believe that she deserves what happens...). Anyway, it's fairly safe to say that the Hyde persona does not indeed "love" Ivy, and what comes out instead is a need to dominate and possess a woman, making the connection between Hyde's treatment of Ivy and Jekyll's frustration with the spinelessness of Muriel/Beatrix and the self-righteousness of Sir Charles all the more noticeable. (It would have been an interesting take if the advertisers for Tracy were correct and it was Jekyll and Hyde as a love story; talk about your four-sided triangles!).


LK:  The other issue is that Tracy wouldn't have done what he did at all, if his test subject hadn't died. Conversely, the egocentric March was always planning to experiment on himself; he wants to "save mankind", but it's himself he's thinking of, first and foremost.
 
The other thing that struck me is that Tracy doesn't really fit the "saintly Dr Jekyll" role. He's a scientist, an experimenter; he's working where he is because it suits him and his theories, not because he's devoted to helping the poor, etc. He doesn't flinch from the idea of experimenting on people, even if it's dangerous. It's a very different conception of the character, one more in line with the standard movie "mad scientist".
 
With March we have a step up again from the Barrymore Jekyll, on who his Jekyll was obviously based. But with Barrymore, didn't we have the point made that he was only saintly because he'd never been tempted? This Jekyll is saintly even though he fully understands temptation, even before he experiences a healthy serving of it. His tragic arc is the most tragic, to me; his fall is the greatest because he has the farthest to fall.
 
However - the bottom line is, both Jekylls go into their second transformations with their eyes open, to cheat on their fiancées. I would say that March's Jekyll is more understandable in this respect, but less forgivable: he's the one aware of his impulses, he's the one who wants to be "clean". Well, hey, Harry, try NOT CHEATING ON MURIEL.

ZH:  Even worse, his relationship with Muriel is more of a real romance than Tracy/Jekyll's and Bea's. I have no doubt that Tracy has some affection for his fiancée, but the passion isn't really there; you could argue he's more responsible for Bea's well-being, seeing as how she's younger and (I'm guessing) less experienced, but there isn't the connection we see that March's Jekyll had with Muriel. With March, we have someone making fervent, entirely believable declarations of love, and then immediately looking for the best way to cheat. It's a jerk move either way, but I kind of like March's Jekyll more, which makes his betrayal sting worse.

LK:  By the way, you can certainly see the tighter censorship of the day in the emphasis that ST puts on the response of Ivy when Jekyll rejects her advances: she gets all tearful because it really did mean something and wasn't just "all in fun"; as opposed to Miriam Hopkins' Ivy taking her rejection as [ahem] all in a day's work , and no feelings hurt or even involved. But then, of course - as she is obliged to assure us - Ingrid Bergman's Ivy, "Ain't no....ain't no...."

Still, I find Tracy's kiss more, um, what word do I want? - participatory? Which is interesting, given everything else. He certainly gets more warning from his Ivy that it's coming.

CD:  I'm probably biased because Spencer Tracy is one of my favourite actors but I thought he did exceptionally well. I became convinced that the limitations of content helped force him into perfecting a Hyde that was more psychological and more low-key than March's and any of the previous Hydes we've seen.  I do agree that several of his scenes drag a bit, but I do think Tracy's Hyde is the most complex - and most genuinely terrifying (while both versions share that scene that ends with Tracy forcing Ivy to sing for him and then raping her, the Tracy version has an....authenticity....that's just completely unnerving.

LK:  Actually one of my favourite film quotes - which I can't remember the source of, grr! - is the person who said, "Bad directors always ask Spencer Tracy to speak up." The perverse thing about the Tracy version is that his quietness actually serves him better as Hyde than as Jekyll, that softly ominous sense of something waiting to pounce. However, Tracy was famously hesitant about doing this film at all, at least as finally written, and I think that uncertainty shows over the early scenes, where he is a little too passionless for anyone's good, even if he is meant to be "a scientist"; he's much better once he gets his teeth into Hyde.

ZH:  There were moments I liked Tracy's more low-key approach, and his scenes with Ivy were definitely the most effective in the film. But there needs to be more of a sense of release about Hyde; Tracy's Jekyll is never particularly repressed, and his Hyde is less the distillation of decades of repression than a true representation of self. Which I guess moves it into an even creepier direction--while Tracy-Jekyll gets a little more human at the movie progresses (I wasn't much impressed with his performance initially, but in the later scenes he seems more engaged), it's almost as if his Hyde is more than his Jekyll. (Lyz, I think that doesn't dispute your point about March's "short leash"; it's just that the energy March shows in both performances makes them more distinct, if that follows.)

It's just a small thing, but was anyone else disappointed in Tracy's Hyde attack on the waiter? March trips the guy with gusto, but with Tracy, it just seemed sort of flat. He definitely doesn't have March's physicality; which is fine, but that one occasion, the remake tries to replicate the scene from the original and it just doesn't work.

LK:  My problem with the barroom brawl scene is that it's staged just as that: it looks like it was lifted from a Warners western, that is, an essentially comic scene where no-one gets hurt. Obviously they didn't want Hyde doing serious damage too early, but - he breaks a bottle over someone's head. If you're going to put something like that in a film like this, it has to be done seriously!

ZH:  Although it does lead to the main differences between the two Hyde. March is a beast, Tracy is a sadist--while March has certain sadistic tendencies, his actions seem largely based on impulse, whereas with Tracy, there's this horrible sense of planning to everything. Given Tracy's more low-key approach to Jekyll, it's uncomfortable just how close the two characters seem by the end, as though his Hyde had been pushing him towards the formula for years. (March's "Free!" notwithstanding.) With March's Hyde, you get a sense of horrible delight in everything he does, but with Tracy, it's just a self-loathing bastard who hates everything. He's older, and his Hyde is the culmination of decades of contempt and bitterness. I don't know if it's just the different make-up, but the line between Tracy's Jekyll and Hyde seems a lot thinner than the one between March's.

(Which goes back to the book, in a way. It's a shame that neither movie tried to deal with Stevenson's Jekyll's ultimate fate--to be trapped in Hyde's body but to still have Jekyll's mind. It'd be hard to do that onscreen, maybe, but it's such a perfect comeuppance....)

CD:  The problem with March's Hyde is that, while it's far more distinctive than Tracy's, it's also too inhuman. It required suspension of disbelief on my part to see March's Hyde walking around and not causing stronger reactions than mild disgust. I also think it undercut what ended up making Tracy's Hyde work: the more inhuman Hyde looks, it takes away a bit of the punch to his actions. So I have to come out in favour of a "normal" looking Hyde (or the handsome, suave Hyde several film versions have used to great effect).

LK:  Although doing that gives you a suspension of disbelief problem in the other direction. It could be said that the March version took a softer option with its bestial Hyde, as opposed to the psychological Hyde of the Tracy version; but I think that introduces some dramatic problems that are never quite resolved. That sense they were going for with Tracy, the "instinctive revulsion" of the book, is impossible to do on film, though it was a courageous attempt. But you never get past thinking that all these people could not not recognise him; Ivy and Lanyon and particularly Poole (who would recognise his clothing if nothing else!); his voice is never distorted past recognition, either. It doesn't play in context for me. So there's a sense in which March's Hyde simply bites that bullet and goes with a frankly unrecognisable Hyde. And in terms of the book, it's not really a cheaty or an invalid choice, because it is made clear there that Jekyll and Hyde are quite physically distinct. Of course, this is an animal Hyde, a Neanderthal (which is kind of interesting in itself, in light of the film's religious content), rather that inference of a lesser individual that you get from the book. Ultimately, the two films made quite the opposite decision but came up against the same problem.

ZH:  Agreed. I think both the March and the Tracy Hydes are conceptually interesting but effectually flawed. I appreciated that March actually looked different; like you say, Lyz, the fact that Tracy's Hyde looks so much like Jekyll makes one of the central justifications for the transformation harder to, ahem, swallow. Jekyll becomes Hyde so he can be naughty--partly to get rid of the only morals that he believes restricts his baser impulses, but mostly so he can do whatever he wants and not get caught. Both movies are about responsibility on some level, and while it's clear in the Tracy version that we're not supposed to think Ivy recognizes Hyde, it does muddy the waters a little too much. (Although it gives the moment when Hyde confronts Beatrix at the end a nasty edge.)

But while March's Hyde is certainly unrecognisable, the "ape-man" look didn't work for me at all. I can respect the thoroughness of the performance--not only is Hyde's appearance simian, he also moves like an animal, with an animal's physical aptitude--but the end result just doesn't satisfy. Hyde is supposed to be evil; animals aren't evil. Or to put it better, the psychological cruelty and sadism March seems capable of in his Hyde-suit doesn't jive with the goofy monkey face. (And like you say, what an odd choice, considering the religious context; is this anti-Darwin, or pro?)

LK:  I find the scenes between Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins nearly unbearable. The frank sadism of them is extraordinary, the fact that he deliberately drives her to screaming hysterical collapse - in the bedroom, as Zack pointed out; that's definitely a Code difference - and then takes her, is just skin-crawling.
 
And the cheerful sexual frankness of Miriam's performance is wonderful. (Most of those scenes were cut for decades.) And even when she finds Jekyll and, ahem, goes down on her knees to him, as she's begging for his help, and offering herself to him, she's stroking his thigh. (Ingrid only gets to clutch an arm!) When you've watched decades' worth of post-Code films, going back and looking at what they could do beforehand is just staggering. Miriam just blows me away every time I watch that film. Again, she does have the unfair advantage of the time her film was made and the material she was given, but holy guacamole!! The eroticism of her strip scene is just unbelievable.
 
But this is is no way to downplay Ingrid Bergman's work; actually, I think both Miriam and Ingrid are remarkable. But Ingrid had the tougher job, because she had to convey all the horrors of her Ivy's situation without the screenplay being allowed to spell any of it out. I think *she* carries the Hyde/Ivy scenes of her version, whereas the March/Hopkins scenes are more equal.

ZH:  I thought the Ivy scenes were the best parts of both movies, even if it does change the nature of the story. Depictions of serial abuse always get under my skin, and I was impressed by the intensity in both movies; even the Tracy version got surprisingly nasty. (Although I was a little amused at how terrified both Ivys were when a knock came at the door--did they really think Hyde would ever bother to knock first? And indeed, he never does.) There's less sense of danger about Tracy's Hyde than March's, though. The most unsettling stuff between him and Ivy is due entirely to Ingrid Bergman's performance.

CD:  To me, there was a genuine psychological brutality in that scene, one that I thought Tracy carried. Honestly, I'd maintain that Tracy's suave, subtly menacing interpretation of Hyde is the most effective Hyde I've ever seen.

ZH:  The Tracy-Bergman scenes are easily the best in the film. I just feel like he under-played some moments a little too much--the overall choices he made with the character were on the right track, but there were definitely moments when I wanted him to be more threatening and less subtle. Which, I guess, would be a criticism of the movie as a whole.
 
LK:  Tracy's Hyde certainly is more subtle - because he has to be, censorship-wise. I'm a bit ambivalent about that: I keep thinking that if at that point, Ivy could still believe that maybe they were really going out, that maybe Hyde was really going away, that things hadn't progressed as far as they should have, or that they were pulling back on the issue of how far, on what we were supposed to be thinking. I don't get the same sense there, as I do with Hopkins, of a woman terrified and tormented to the point of being incapable of taking a step on her own. And the fact that they are reasonably blunt about Hopkins' Ivy being a tart makes it worse: given what she's probably already encountered in the course of her professional life, just what is Hyde doing, to reduce her to that state?

CD:  One thing that surprised me is that, at least in my view, they didn't go the obvious moralistic route and put the blame for Hyde on Ivy's attempted seduction of Jekyll. There is a connection, in the transformation in Tracy particularly, but more responsibility is put on Jekyll's separation from Miriam/Beatrix. Of course, you could still view her as the "Bad Girl" in either version, but the film is surprisingly sympathetic toward their perspective, especially once they become Hyde's victim in every sense of the word. And it's worth noting that in neither version does Jekyll seem to even consider telling her that he's engaged!

LK:  Ah, but that's because a gentleman does not discuss a lady, least of all the lady he is engaged to, with a non-lady. (Which is one of the period details they get right, along with a bunch in ST that they get wrong: Spence's wardrobe, Bea's lack of gloves in church - they want us to see her engagement ring - a Victorian gentleman who keeps a revolver in his desk drawer....) You are right that there is an unusual amount of sympathy for both Ivys, and no real attempt to "blame" them for the temptation of their Jekylls, which is unusual; but all of that plays out in the shadow of our knowledge that they are surely doomed; the screenplays can afford to be a little more generous than normally.

What do you two make of our "good girls"? I think overall Rose Hobart was given more to work with, and gives the better performance; but I blame the script for Beatrix's failings, not Lana Turner. BUT--- The one thing the Tracy version has, and really, when you think about it, this is most peculiar, is that it makes it quite clear that Beatrix is experiencing sexual desire; it is harder to tell what Muriel is feeling, although the fact that she's willing to slip away to the garden and neck is encouraging, as are her repeated, "Oh, you know I do"-s. Just the same, I'm not quite sure that Muriel entirely understands that J. needs her physically as much as he does emotionally; or maybe we need to put this in a more "Victorian" context and accept that she wouldn't let on even if she did understand him.
 
This, too, is what separates the two girls. Muriel is put in a more convincing Victorian situation; she is trying to be a good Victorian daughter, obedient as well as affectionate. Good Victorian girls didn't defy their fathers, still less elope. Muriel's refusal to go along with Jekylly is tragic, as it turns out, but certainly realistic. Beatrix's situation is a very "Hollywood" one: her going to Jekyll in the middle of the night and offering to stay with him in front of her father is ridiculous. She's otherwise a more conventional conception of "the good girl"; Muriel strikes me as tougher, more backboned. Not that she really has the chance to show it, except when dealing with Jekyll's breakdown. Oh - and confronted by Hyde, Beatrix faints; Muriel doesn't.

ZH:  Lana Turner's definitely not bad in the film; she's just given nothing to work with, and compared to Ingrid Bergman, she doesn't have much presence in the film.

CD:  For me one of the film's interesting and subtle moments was how Muriel comes close to rebelling against her father, at least "between the lines."  Overall Muriel always came across as a more autonomous character than Beatrix.  I don't know if that was one of the changes made to the script or an interpretation of the character based on the level of the actresses.

LK:  I think the subtle way that Muriel changes is one of the film's more significant touches, not least because it's hinted that she is just as frustrated as Jekyll: when she gets back from Bath she's the one initiating the kissing and is suddenly willing to stand up to her father. Of course by the time her outright rebellion occurs, it's too late. But the film does seem to make a point about female sexual frustration - and given that Jekyll's frustration is his only excuse for what he does, perhaps it does so to be critical of him?

CD:  I can't help but keep going back to the apparent fact that both versions viewed the Victorian backdrop as more than just a way to stay true to the source, but as having thematic importance.  So maybe it isn't so much that all "civilized men have a very sadistic side" but that "men in an emotionally oppressive society have their sadistic sides."  Maybe I'm just looking too hard for subversion (again), but to me it's too much of a coincidence that both films would utilise their Victorian backgrounds the way they do in a time that just happened to be one of growing social and cultural conservatism.

One small thing that seemed to be significant is that Poole weeps a little over Jekyll's body, while in Tracy he just says a solemn prayer.  I agree that neither film exactly pushed the idea that Jekyll was a victim too, to say the least, but for me this small element was designed to make Jekyll seem even less deserving of sympathy.

It does raise the question what would have happened if Stevenson had changed his plot just enough that Jekyll didn't choose to drink the potion, but rather was the victim of an accident (albeit one that resulted from his own experiments). Would these film adaptations provide any more moral leeway for Jekyll, or would he still be treated as culpable?

ZH:  It's worth noting that the Tracy version makes at least some attempt to put Jekyll in the "forced" position--he's got a theory, he's got a test subject, and then, oops, the test subject dies. In the March version, even the first transformation is motivated largely by sexual frustration.

LK:  The experimenting is rather interesting. I like that March's Jekyll never gives a thought to experimenting on anyone but himself - it's reassuring given how many later horror films have supposedly saintly doctors devoting themselves to charity cases in order to have access to, ahem, raw material. Tracy's Jekyll would have experimented on another human being, but I guess only in extremis. However, it is very hard to know what we are supposed to conclude from his work. (By the way, may I say how much I love the fact that in researching the soul, Tracy's Jekyll is working on animals!!?? I guess all dogs do go to heaven....) My feeling is that the outcome of March's experiment was more of a surprise to him; Tracy, with his "Is this the face of evil?", seems to have expected what he got.

One of the things that really struck me this time around was the sudden re-emergence of religion towards the end of FM. ST is couched up-front in an explicitly Christian framework, which was one of the main tactics used under the Code to get questionable material through: you included a character, in this case C. Aubrey Smith's Bishop, whose job was to spell out THE RIGHT WAY in words of one syllable; the wrong way was then played out against that background.

CD:  I do wonder, though, if that opening scene in ST was intended to be a little bit subversive. It just struck me as interesting that we begin with a sermon praising Victorian values, followed by scenes that push the idea that Jekyll is not an immoral person for desiring Beatrix (if not the possibility that Jekyll has so little control over Hyde because he represses so much, something that seems to be in FM as well, if the first transformation is any indication).
 
LK:  In FM, it looks like the old science vs religion battle, but it really isn't: it becomes apparent that when Jekyll talks about "the soul" at the beginning, he means it in the most literal sense; his prayers aren't an unbeliever coming to belief, or a lapsed believer coming back to God; the belief was still there all along. I find it very interesting that you could have that, without the need to spell it out; for instance without an early film scene of Jekyll saying, "Oh, Lanyon, of course I still believe in God...."
 
And I think the later scenes of March have to be interpreted on that basis: when he is saying he is damned, he is in hell, he means it literally; it isn't just verbal flourish (of which, admittedly, he tends to be guilty!). This go around, to refer to one of our earlier ventures, this struck me like the late scenes in the novel "Dracula": if you don't take them at full value, if you don't accept that a soul is literally at stake, they lose a lot of their impact.

ZH:  In both films (although it's less true in ST), there is some sympathy for Jekyll, at least initially. It might just be my modern eyes, but for the first half, when March and Tracy are trumpeting progress and innovation over hidebound ethics, and struggling with the Puritanical fathers of their prospective brides, there's at least something understandable in their actions.

CD:  I saw that too, and it was interesting how it's even more explicit in the Tracy version, which even goes so far as to imply that Beatrix's father's overreaction to their displays of affection and his decision to drag Beatrix off to Europe is what causes Jekyll to start losing control of Hyde. (I suppose the implication is in FM too, but I think it's definitely hammered in more in ST.) I couldn't help but think that it can't be a coincidence that the makers of ST decided to further develop that particular theme in the aftermath of the Code. For me what's most telling is Beatrix's line, that their desire for physical contact "can't be evil." Beatrix's father does turn into a more sympathetic character halfway through (a little too abruptly, I think) but in FM he just seemed more opposed to the idea of his daughter marrying too soon while in the Tracy version it's made very clear that he's worried about Beatrix getting some premarital action.

LK:  I think as far as unreasonable fathers go, they were closer to the mark with Muriel's; not that he is any less reasonable, but Sir Charles' sudden change of mind is just a plot contrivance - and even more so, his sudden "approval" of Jekyll and Beatrix kissing in public, after his overt displays of disgust at Jekyll's PDAs for Bea at the start of the film. I wonder whether Muriel's father was made ex-military on purpose? - Victorian gentlemen of that persuasion being fairly notorious as domestic tyrants! Not that he is tyrannical in the violent sense, but rather in the sense that he expects his whims, no matter how ridiculous, to be instantly obeyed. He and March's Jekyll are a fairly combustible combination, since he is the last man to tolerate that kind of petty grandstanding.

Actually, that raises one interesting difference between the two films: in ST, Sir Charles disapproves of Jekyll's theories; in FM, General Carew disapproves of Jekyll himself (including his charity work). In a sense the latter is more credible for NOT taking a dinner party into his confidence, only discussing (or lecturing on) his theories to a medical audience. Heaven knows what Carew would say to it!

I think there is a difference between the killings of the fathers and that FM is nastier (or more honest): ST puts more effort into trying to make us like Sir Charles, whereas the arbitrary caving-in of General Carew is almost as annoying as everything else he does. I would also say that given Beatrix's behaviour, Sir Charles taking her away is to an extent justified. He thinks Jekyll is leading her astray. In FM, it's simply the fact of Jekyll's impatience that makes Carew take Muriel away, which is pretty unreasonable. There is more the sense in the March murder that Jekyll is blaming Carew for everything that has happened.

CD:  It also raises the question of if Hyde's torture of Ivy is fuelled by redirected rage at Muriel (after all, while she only goes away reluctantly, she does turn down Jekyll's suggestion of elopement). This, I think, gets to the heart of both films' message: Jekyll doesn't become saintly, because the sort of division of good and evil he wants is fundamentally impossible since, as we've touched on and as I think the scripts of both films want us to realise, Hyde is the culmination of Jekyll's desires and frustrations. To coin a phrase, Hyde is what Jekyll feels.

ZH:  I think one of the things both Jekylls share, along with pretty much every version of the character we've seen (even, gasp, the novel's), is a shocking inability to foresee the consequences of their actions. While I believe there's a certain selfishness inherent in what they do, I don't think either ever really believes it's going to hurt anybody. The idea that his evil inner-self might end up beating the bejeezus out of the man who stands the most in his way seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, but he still goes to visit Muriel/ Beatrix without a second thought.

You know, I think that by trying to give Jekyll more of a traditional narrative arc--love interest, noble intentions--the movies increase the difficulty of justifying his actions exponentially. With book-Jekyll, like I said before, there's no family to put at risk; his only real concern is maintaining his social position. Movie-Jekyll has to be both a loving fiancée and a cheating bastard. Hell, even the act of drinking the potion at all, regardless of the consequences, is supremely selfish; if something were to happen to him, Muriel or Bea would suffer as much, if not more, than he would. You can't have a truly good Jekyll, and by trying to compromise between narrative needs and convention, the story gets muddled.

It's a weird position, since FM does really expect us to admire and like Jekyll initially; in the book, we don't really meet him until after all the bad stuff goes down, and he's not exactly heroic. But March's motives are a lot more difficult to understand; does he really think that by turning into someone else, he won't be held accountable for his actions--not just in a "I won't get arrested" kind of way, but that he'll remain morally pure? It's a mindset that only works if you can invest in the Victorian trappings, and given both March and Tracy's forward-thinking characters, I think those trappings get lost. It's not enough to give us street-lamps and grungy basement labs; we need to understand that, for his time, Jekyll's idea of splitting the good from the evil wasn't all that astonishingly naive.

LK:  I think perhaps we need to accept Jekyll as both a forward-thinking reformer AND as the product of his time: so while he can be scandalously rebellious, he is still thinking in terms of conventional Judeo-Christian "good" and "evil" and "the soul" and "temptation". His experiments are certainly couched in Victorian terms. FM perhaps doesn't get into that as much as it should, but these things might have been clearer (or more taken for granted) in 1931 than they are now.

Of course, the question of what we are "supposed" to think brings us to the Lanyons....

ZH:  It really is fascinating the differences between the two Lanyons; Lanyon-1 is essentially a prig, and even when his rhetoric is proven correct (or at least surface-level correct), you don't actually like him. Lanyon-2, though, is a supportive and decent friend. It means the remake is less ambiguous, in its way, because that Lanyon's calm, moral approach is harder to ignore, even if he's still saying the same things the preachy, arrogant version was; it's the same old God's-domain bolagna that's infested sci-fi pictures beyond measure since the beginning of film. It always strikes me as a bit of a narrative cop-out. I mean, we see in both movies why Hyde's creation is wrong--why can't it simply be a matter of "a man without a conscience does some horrible things"? Why does hubris have to enter into it? Or if you have to go the hubris route, we need more than a couple of shouted lines. Jekyll's sin is putting his own wants about the health and safety of the people around him; and I'd argue in the movie versions, there's a complicit sense of ego that he'll be able to control his "evil" side, if necessary. After all, while both Jekylls are looking for escape, neither seem particularly concerned about the horrors they could visit upon others.

CD:  T
he more I think about it the more I think both versions imply that a confusion between "good" and "civilized", and "evil" and "uncivilized" is at the heart of the problem that overwhelms Jekyll.  Another way of looking at it is that he's right about the formula, but wrong about the nature of the "evil" within his soul and how inexorable it truly is.

Lanyon-2 is definitely the sterner of the two.  I'm not sure if it was in the script or if it was the interpretation of the actors, but he, more so than March's Tracy, seems to take some sort of grim pleasure from ratting out Jekyll.

Lanyon is much more aggressive in FM. There's never that sense of mutual respect you get in ST--Lanyon is a priggish stick-in-the-mud, and intentionally or not, his condemnation at the end feels as much like a betrayal as it does a fully justified act of moral responsibility. Perhaps that goes back to the sympathy question; you don't empathise with Jekyll at the end of the March film, but it at least allows you to pity him a little.

ZH:  I actually prefer Lanyon in ST because he has such a lighter touch. In FM, his moralising and prudery is there to put the audience on Jekyll's side; arrogant and rash as Jekyll may be, he's at least forward-thinking and generally approving of life. Lanyon, on the other hand, is a judgemental ass, of part and parcel with Muriel's dad.

My only problem with this is that it makes Lanyon largely redundant--we've already got the repressive pop--and he also doesn't particularly interest me as a character. It's not a drastic failure of writing or anything, and I do like the way the movie subtly suggests that March's Jekyll is essentially peerless, without anyone trustworthy to dissuade him from his rashness. But in ST, Lanyon seems much more human. You can understand the two men willingly spending time together.

LK:  The main point of ALL Lanyons is to give Jekyll someone to transform in front of. To me, in the March Jekyll and Lanyon don't really seem friends, more like colleagues and people who happen to move in the same social circle. There's much more of an overt relationship between Tracy's Jekyll and his Lanyon, a closeness in age (they may have gone to medical school together), as well as a similar social situation; but there's also the inference that this Lanyon has a thing for Beatrix, which certainly gives a nasty edge to the fact that it is Lanyon who finally shoots Hyde.

Which brings us to--- This is more a drama/novel issue, so I'd like to hear your thoughts, Zack: doesn't Jekyll have any friends? That's a very tiny circle he's operating in. It's a wonder he ever met Muriel in the first place. You'd think (March rather than Tracy) that he's be seeking out a few more like-minded compadres. This, I think, is a side-effect of the alterations from novel to book, the shift to a young(ish) rebel from a middle-aged buffer who ought to be part of the tsk-tsk generation himself. In the book it's his friends that Jekyll is hiding from!

ZH:  I kind of got the implication that March doesn't really have any peers; there's a feeling to the first half of the movie that he's rebelling against the establishment, and that the only person he can really talk to at all is Muriel. And even with her, he can't actually
talk about important stuff. (He's open-minded, but she is a woman after all, ha-ha, enjoy your brandy, let's go leer at the maid.) It makes his reckless choices a little more reasonable, in that he goes on his own because he can't imagine anyone else supporting his experiments, experiments which he considers vital to the future of humanity. This aspect goes away in the second half of the picture, largely because Hyde is such a selfish creation that it's insupportable to think that Jekyll continues to make use of him for any real noble reasons. That's one of the reasons the ending felt so flat to me; are we really supposed to suddenly think Lanyon had the right idea all along?

'Course, in the Tracy version, he doesn't have many friends because he comes off as a cold fish. Or maybe it's just that we don't see many of his friends; he really is closer to the novel version, so I can almost imagine him being part of a social network that we just never get to witness.

LK:  There is one point about ST: Lanyon invites him back to their club for whist. That's a darn sight more socialisation that we ever get a look at in FM. There's also the dinner party; there's no equivalent of that in FM. Also, when March's Jekyll shows up at the Carews', he ONLY talks to the Carews; when the marriage is to be announced, he says that the guests will be "General Carew's cronies".

ZH:  Well, Tracy certainly fits better into his world than March does his. Again, we're almost back in the world of the novella here; it's just the motivation that does us in. And the fiancée. Dangit.

LK:  Well, since we are there, what do you make of the two spontaneous transformations?

ZH:  The former is conceptually interesting, but the latter is creepier and, well, feels more right. If you want to motivate a natural Hyde transition, I think you're better off tempting Jekyll, not having him see an animal get whacked.

LK:  I think Tracy's transformation, that whistling that will not come out as he wants, is the best moment in the film: brilliantly conceived and executed.

Of course, both men move on to spontaneously transforming in the presence of their fiancées....brrr!

In FM, I'm very torn on the point on whether Jekyll is Hyde all along while Muriel is away or whether he's shifting back and forth. Is there any clear evidence in Tracy? March has Poole saying, "I haven't seen him for days", while not making it clear whether he has seen him *at all*; then there's a reference to him [ahem] using the back door. I was assuming he was coming back to re-dose himself - if not, why was he? Then I started vacillating on that point. If he allowed Hyde to exist all along, it's easier to believe that Hyde would gain the upper hand; but if he is Hyde all along, then what is he coming back for? On the other hand, if he feels Hyde "fading" and comes back to artificially extend him, there must be a degree of consciousness involved.

ZH:  Y'know, until you asked this, I never even considered he would've been Hyde all the time. He was probably Hyde more regularly (hey, it takes time to break down someone's spirit through abuse and ritualistic sexual humiliation), but I think even Hyde would be canny  enough to realize he had to keep up appearances as Jekyll every now and again. Again, the drug metaphor, with an emphasis on the  "functional" part of "functioning alcoholic." Evidence-wise, do we ever get a reason as to why he's Jekyll when he get Bea's last letter? Because if no reason is given, I think it's safer to assume it's not an entirely irregular occurrence.

LK:  Is he Jekyll then? [Re-checking] Ah, ha! - so in ST we definitely see Hyde using the back door, and definitely see Jekyll reading Beatrix's letter. (And it is immediately upon reading the letter that he sends money to Ivy. Ick!) There is nothing so unequivocal in FM - we don't see him as Jekyll during that time, and it is Hyde who learns from the paper that Muriel is back.

ZH:  I've been thinking on the "How much does Jekyll know" question. It's something that's puzzled me from the very first time I read the book. Jekyll has to know some of it; again, he knows to send Ivy the money, at the very least. But neither Jekyll seems like a particularly evil man pre-potion; Tracy is a aloof, and March is, well, enthusiastic, but the worst you could accuse them is not looking before they leap. Yet poor Ivy is tortured and tormented, and all the while Jekyll keeps downing potions. If Jekyll is aware of what's going on, he's loathsome to an almost unsupportable degree. Neither movie makes much effort in justifying Jekyll's continued use of Hyde; we understand roughly why he does it the first time, we understand why he quits and then the transformations start happening on their own. But once Hyde enters the scene, he dominates a good, what, half hour of screen time? Which means we have no real idea why Jekyll keeps bringing him back, apart from being lonely and horny and generally ill at ease.

CD:  I don't think either Jekyll or Hyde has complete knowledge of what the other is doing. The most interesting proof is that Hyde can fully remember Jekyll's meeting with Ivy, but he doesn't know that Jekyll destroyed the key to the back door. I wonder if the scripts to both films are implying that there are times when, even though the audience sees Jekyll, he isn't completely Jekyll? When Jekyll meets Ivy in both films, is he overwhelmed by any memories he has of Hyde's interactions with Ivy or is he wrestling to hold Hyde back?  Likewise when the key is destroyed, is Jekyll completely in control and Hyde totally held back?

LK:  FM is very ambiguous during the Jekyll/Ivy scene - there is that odd moment when he asks her why she didn't go to the police, as if he's talking about someone else; also the fact that he can be tempted by her after seeing the whip marks--- You'd have to think he was reacting like "a separate person", not like the person who knows he did that. I hope! (I must say, I do love the utter inadequacy of, "I'll get you a lotion for that.")


ZH:  I think the question of what Hyde knows is easier to deal with, since Hyde is basically just a part of Jekyll, not the whole. Jekyll claims to want to separate the good from evil, but really all he manages to do is bring out the evil side; so I can buy that Hyde doesn't have the full resources of Jekyll's memory or intellect. He operates on base cunning--very effective for tormenting tarts and barmaids, not so much for foreseeing locked doors. But again, that brings back the problem of Jekyll's responsibility; Hyde is a monster, but there's no real choice involved. Jekyll was always the one who made decisions. The only way I can accept Ivy's captivity in either film is to believe that he only has a vague idea of what's going on, enough to know about Ivy's involvement, but with enough wiggle-room to let him convince himself that he's not really hurting anyone. I can accept an unsympathetic Jekyll, but having him be full complicit in Hyde's actions would mean contradicting his character from earlier in the film.

LK:  Concluding remarks? Well, to start with, both films suffer from precisely the same deadly flaw, namely, their entire inability to reconcile Jekyll the romantic hero with Hyde the marauding sadist. It's worse in FM, because they really go the country mile with their saintly Dr Jekyll, although they do have the grace to temper that with Jekyll's struggles to control himself even on his good days. Now, it's not surprising that ST suffers from the same problem, since it is a re-dressed re-make rather than an independent entity. Actually, scratch that, it is surprising, inasmuch as no attempt whatsoever has been made to tackle this very obvious thematic contradiction. So both films founder on the same rock, and we have to look elsewhere for our pros and cons.

Well, I went into this with a preference for FM and I've come out the same way, although I'd say I do have a greater appreciation of ST and Tracy's efforts in particular. (Not Bergman's: I always did them justice!) I also have to give it great credit for the transformation sequences, which go much further than you would ever expect of a film of this era, and from this studio. But the film in total I find too - how shall I put this? - too MGM; too glossy and studied. I prefer the bluntness and the passion, the audacity, of FM; I think it's heroine is stronger, and Miriam Hopkins is marvellous. I also think it more successfully conjures up the Victorian milieu (oh - and Jekyll's lab! - love it!!), and given the time of its production, I find Mamoulian's mastery of sound and visuals extraordinary. To me there's a feeling of excitement in this movie, as if everyone connected with it was giving it everything that they had. It's that feeling that really catches me whenever I re-watch it.

ZH:  Well, as always when we do these things I find my opinions of the films developing in ways that surprise me. I enjoyed both versions, but I found them severely flawed; talking it over, though, I appreciate the March version more than I thought I would. The  ape-make-up still doesn't work for me. It's a bold choice, but it allows us a distance from Hyde that makes him less frightening. People (especially Victorians) often make the assumption that man is at his worst when he's most a beast, but I think that's a mistake--beasts are violent, greedy, and driven to survive above everything, but they aren't cruel. That's pretty much all Hyde is.

Still, I can respect the boldness; it's some that characterises the  March version as a whole, and it's something lacking from the Tracy version except in fits and starts. Tracy's Hyde doesn't look much different from Jekyll--no simian brow, no protruding overbite. And while you could try and justify it thematically as to why the choice was made, it really seems more like there was no choice at all. Tracy is closer to the novel conception of the character, but in order for the story to work, Hyde has to look different from Jekyll. It's simple logic; boil away the philosophy, and what you really have is a man who wants to be somebody else so he vitiates his own responsibilities. Having the potion just give him a bad haircut and a raspy voice makes the whole thing absurd.

But there are parts of the Tracy film I like. The whistling, some of Tracy's more intense moments, and of course, Ingrid Bergman. The whole thing is just too damn demure, unfortunately. J&H has never been a subtle story, and if you're going to tell it, you need to tear into it, not just nibble around the edges. FM takes a great deal more bites, and if not everything goes down easy, at least they tried.

CD:  Right now I'm half-reading/half-using for research Michael Mason's "The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes", so let me start to conclude with some (more!) thoughts on the cultural contexts. I think it goes without saying that both films are using the Victorian
backdrop to comment on their own times, but Jekyll is problematic as both a victim and a rebel. Neither Hyde represents a rejection of a puritanical, regulatory society; merely its dark and brutal side. After all, Hyde's treatment of Ivy as property, a source of entertainment, and a sex object while giving her only a nice place to live in return looks like a nightmarish distortion of Victorian (and, of course, mid-20th-century American) ideals of domesticity and wifely duties.

We have to add on to that the sympathetic portrayals of the Ivys. Even Ivy's attempted seduction of Jekyll was injected with a certain type of innocence, at least by Ingrid Bergman, although I think something similar could be said even for Miriam Hopkins' saucier yet still playful turn as the character. Neither Ivy cleanly fits the "siren" stereotype, even though from the Victorian perspective (and, indeed, for Tracy from the marketing perspective) they should have. As for Muriel and Beatrix, I have to admit that this is another weakness of Tracy. Muriel is just such a more fleshed-out (relatively speaking, of course) character, that it's easier to understand Jekyll's conflict in FM. With ST, you just wonder why Jekyll can't ditch Beatrix for Ivy after all, no matter the social barriers. I am convinced now that the weakness of Beatrix as a character is a major reason why the Tracy version usually isn't as fondly remembered as the March.

LK:  It's also worth remembering in that context - or perhaps in light of Jekyll's, "Why didn't you go to the police?", which I'm not sure isn't a anachronism - that societies that encouraged property/money-based marriages, as Victorian England certainly did amongst the upper classes, were always hardest upon female transgressions in general, but particularly upon "fallen women": it's where the line between marriage and prostitution is the thinnest that most effort goes into maintaining the artificial distance. This was also an historical period when the police not only admitted openly to not bothering to pursue rapists, but in several instances to not stopping a rape in progress. "What's the point? No woman would testify about that in court." We need to understand both Ivys in light of that, but since FM isn't afraid to make its Ivy a prostitute (or to be fair, could do so), it has the edge in nasty realism. Hopkins' Ivy really is trapped. There'd be no help for a woman like her. Bergman's Ivy you can imagine going to the police, if her emotional state allowed it.

CD:  I'll just wrap up by saying that both films have much to say about why "split personalities" is such a popular motif in horror and thriller fiction. It's really a perfect package of anxieties: philosophical questions on the very nature of identity and its fragility, the nightmare of losing all control of your own body and mind (which sadly is a horror that can strike very close to home), the fear of seeing a loved one become an entirely different person, the possibility of someone close to you leading a double life right under your nose...March/Tracy mines right into a key element of the Jekyll and Hyde narrative: that Hyde, although not a hero by any means, is still an appealing figure, a persona one can slip into like a glove who lashes out against one's critics and the uptight people in one's life. After all, who wants to be Jekyll?


See also:

      Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1931) at And You Call Yourself A Scientist!
      Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1941) at The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
      1931, 1941 and the book at The Duck Speaks




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----10/11/2008