And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

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"So far Helen has ruined my relationship with my fiancée, disfigured my colleague, and slept with my boss – and evidently she did that so well, that I got demoted. I’ve created a monster. I’ve got to stop her."
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Director: David Price

Starring: Tim Daly, Sean Young, Lysette Anthony, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harvey Fierstein, Jeremy Piven, Stephen Shellen, Polly Bergen

Screenplay: Oliver Butcher, William Davies, Tim John and William Osborne, suggested by the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Synopsis: Scientist Richard Jacks (Tim Daly), frustrated and unfulfilled by his job with a perfume company, works long hours in his private laboratory, neglecting his fiancée, Sarah (Lysette Anthony), in the process. Richard and Sarah attend the reading of Richard’s great-uncle’s will. Although most of the family members inherit either large sums of money or property, Richard is willed only a set of scientific notebooks that originally belonged to his great-grandfather. When Richard goes to pick the books up, he finds with them a first edition of "Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde", signed by Robert Louis Stevenson, and a photograph of a strange-looking man. Upon reading the notebooks, Richard discovers that his great-grandfather succeeded in identifying the gene responsible for all human evil. Then, to his complete astonishment, he finds the signature of "Henry Jekyll", and realises the truth of his own identity. Trying to find out the reason for the failure of his great-grandfather’s work, Richard concludes that the serum he made to counteract the evil gene lacked sufficient oestrogen. Richard makes his own serum and, sitting in front of a video camera, tests it upon himself. To his intense disappointment, it has no effect. Suddenly remembering that he has a breakfast job interview, Richard rushes from the lab in a panic. While trying to placate his irritated prospective employer, Richard begins to undergo a strange transformation: his vision blurs, and his voice changes. Then his nails and hair begin to grow. Finally, as he finds himself developing breasts, Richard flees the restaurant, heading for his lab at the perfume company, where he collapses…. Peter Walston (Jeremy Piven), a lecherous colleague of Richard’s, is delighted to find a beautiful woman in the shower in the prep room the two men share. The woman introduces herself as Helen Hyde (Sean Young), Richard’s new assistant. Helen completes the report Richard had been working on, then begins to ingratiate herself with Richard’s superiors. Finally, Helen befriends Sarah. After the two have lunch together, Helen convinces Sarah that the best way for her to make Richard realise how much he really loves her is to move out of their apartment for a few weeks. After seeing Sarah into a taxi, Helen realises that she is beginning to change…. When Richard wakes up the next morning, he has no memory of Helen’s activities. His great-grandfather’s notebooks confirm that he and his alter ego were separate entities, each with no memory of the other. Then Richard finds a note from Sarah, telling him of her decision to move out. Richard tracks her down and convinces her to have dinner with him so that they can talk. But as Sarah arrives at the apartment, Richard finds himself changing once again….

Comments: After watching Dr Jekyll And Ms Hyde, I spent some time trying to decide whether this alleged comedy was more insulting to men or to women. It’s a pretty close call, but in the end I think it’s the male of the species who comes out the worst. Whereas the thoroughly evil Helen is balanced by the loyal, level-headed Sarah, the men in this film are without exception portrayed as childish, weak-willed, cowardly beings, who do all of their thinking below the waistline.

Initially, the film looks like a riff on Tootsie, with disorganised, absent-minded scientist Richard Jacks becoming a better person through getting in touch with his feminine side. The brisk and decisive Helen’s first actions are to clean up Richard’s disaster area of an apartment, complete the report he has been unable to finish, placate his hostile secretary and patch up his relationship with his justly exasperated fiancée. But before long it is clear that these actions are performed through pure self-interest, and that the film’s true inspiration is its more obvious forbear, Hammer’s blackly comic Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde. There, as here, the "female side" released by unwise scientific experimentation is infinitely stronger than its male counterpart, and rotten to the core, to boot.

The product of an oestrogen-based serum, Helen Hyde is selfish, duplicitous, sexually manipulative and, ultimately, homicidal. These attributes are explicitly linked to Helen’s sexuality in a way that is offensive in the extreme. Helen becomes obsessed first with stealing Richard’s job, then with taking over the company in what finally seems to be another cinematic warning against "evil" career women (we never do find out what, if anything, "nice" Sarah does for a living). Not surprisingly, given this scenario, most of the film’s attempts at humour never rise above the level of a Carry On film. Apparently, Richard being caught wearing a teddy, or Helen using her feet to sexually gratify both of her bosses simultaneously, is supposed to be hilarious. Whenever the film moves away from this sniggering tackiness, it actually gets worse.

Richard’s sexually-obsessed colleague, Peter Walston, becomes the target of Helen’s monomania in a series of scenes too cruel to be funny, as when she introduces sulfuric acid into a new scent she convinces him to try. And if that isn’t enough of a rib-tickler, later on she electrocutes him! Yuck it up, fellas: that’s as good as it gets. As Helen, Sean Young is indeed beautiful and sexy, but the part is just plain demeaning. Whatever her offscreen problems, Young is a talented comedienne, and deserves better than this dreck. As Richard Jacks/Jekyll, Tim Daly stoically puts himself through every embarrassing situation devised by the film’s four (count ‘em: four!) screenwriters. The best you can say about him is that he is quite convincingly wimpy. (Perhaps he needs a new agent: the last time I saw him in a film was Spellbinder, in which he also has his life taken over by a beautiful, sexy [and, naturally, evil] woman.) Daly is much less convincingly "scientific". As a struggling, second-rate perfume designer, we can believe in him. Unfortunately, the script also asks us to believe that he "topped his year at MIT" and was "head-hunted by most of the major pharmaceutical companies". Richard’s private lab is full of impressive-looking glass equipment, as well as – yes, you guessed it! – coloured liquids in conical flasks! (There’s also a lava lamp, the presence of which I’m sure I can’t explain - unless Richard’s a secret devotee of Stomp Tokyo.)

Amongst the minor players, Stephen Shellen has a couple of nice moments as Richard’s king-sized macho jerk of a cousin, while Harvey Fierstein provides a few scenes of good-natured self-parody as a gay perfumer appalled by his sudden attraction to a woman (he is delighted when it turns out that Helen was really a man all along). The special effects in Dr Jekyll And Ms Hyde vary in quality. Some of the transformation sequences are excellent, particularly one in which Richard morphs into Helen while handcuffed to a couch. However, the climactic revelation scene, in which Helen transforms into Richard in the middle of her moment of triumph, goes too far into the realm of Drop Dead Fred. Poor direction makes this scene, clearly stolen from Dustin Hoffman’s disclosure of his true identity at the end of Tootsie, funny for all the wrong reasons: the witnesses of the physical transformation of a woman into a man barely raise an eyebrow. By this stage, that’s all the reaction the audience is likely to give, as well – unless it works itself up to some enthusiasm at the reflection that this nasty, unfunny film is nearly over.

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