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JEKYLL & HYDE (1990) (TV)

"He’s a part of me. He’s like a huge viper living inside of me. I keep him drugged, but he’s very strong. It worked at first, but he’s so strong...."

Director: David Wickes
Starring: Michael Caine, Cheryl Ladd, Joss Ackland, Ronald Pickup, David Schofield, Kim Thomson, Kevin McNally
Screenplay: David Wickes, based upon the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Synopsis: A man being chased by the police knocks a child under the hoofs of a horse. Jeffrey Utterson (Ronald Pickup), who witnesses the incident, carries the child to Dr Henry Jekyll (Michael Caine), who successfully operates on her. Afterwards, Jekyll goes to the house of his former father-in-law, Dr Lanyon (Joss Ackland), and his sister-in-law, Sara Crawford (Cheryl Ladd) for a ball. Although Sara is delighted to see him, Lanyon is furious and refuses Jekyll admittance to the house. The two men are bitter enemies because of Lanyon’s disapproval of Jekyll’s medical practices, and because he blames Jekyll for the death of his other daughter, Louise. The man responsible for the child’s injuries goes to a brothel in Limehouse where he keeps a room, and drags a terrified prostitute, Lucy Fletcher (Kim Thomson), upstairs with him. A sailor who tries to intervene is beaten and thrown downstairs. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Utterson is at Scotland Yard trying to identify the man in question. There he learns that the man is wanted for a string of crimes including a brutal attack on a policeman. Jekyll lectures his medical students on the ways drugs can be used to alter the human mind and body. Sara approaches Jekyll to apologise for her father and agrees to have lunch with him. Lanyon hears about the meeting and accuses Sara of being Jekyll’s mistress. Jekyll locks himself into his laboratory and takes a mixture of drugs that transform him into the hunted maniac. Lucy Fletcher goes to the police, telling them that the maniac’s name is Hyde, and that a "posh friend" pays his rent at the brothel. The police search Hyde’s room and find a strange drug. Jekyll is interviewed by a reporter concerning an accusatory letter that Lanyon has sent to the papers about him. During the interview, Jekyll begins to experience spontaneous transformation. Lanyon throws Sara out of his house. Desperate, she goes to Jekyll’s house and he agrees to let her stay. But during the night, Sara wakes to find Hyde at her bedside....

Comments: After the successful collaboration between David Wickes and Michael Caine that produced 1988's Jack The Ripper, this version of "Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde" is a distinct let-down. As screenwriter-director, Wickes has tried to find a few new wrinkles in Stevenson’s venerable tale, but has failed partly because the changes made to the story are illogical, and partly because this made-for-TV version allows itself to get bogged down in soap-opera melodramatics. More time is spent on Jekyll’s affair with Sara, his feud with Lanyon, and a nasty reporter’s attempts to stir up trouble, than on the whys and hows of Hyde. Unusually, the film starts as the novel does, with Hyde already in existence. Unlike most of the other versions, we do not follow Jekyll on his journey into the unknown. How it all happened is not revealed until Jekyll tells his story to Sara, and it proves to be unsatisfactory in the extreme. Again unlike his predecessors, Jekyll is not exploring the nature of good and evil; his field is the chemical induction of change in the human body, avowedly to help treat insanity. Wanting to prove that drugs can alter the human form is one thing, but transforming yourself into an arsonist, murderer and sex maniac to make your point seems a little extreme, and what this has to do with treating illness of any kind is anyone’s guess. Moreover, Jekyll keeps on turning himself into Hyde, when one would have thought that doing it once would have been sufficient to prove his point. That’s always assuming that there was a point, because the script lays no groundwork for this, nor makes any attempt to explore Jekyll’s psycho-sexual makeup, so that his behaviour comes across as both stupid and unconvincing. The film’s main problem, as is the case with numerous horror films (including Branagh’s Frankenstein (1994), a notable recent example), is that it falls into the trap of demonstrating an experiment taken to a dangerous extreme, then reacting to that by apparently advocating not "careful-science", but "no-science". Thus, Jekyll makes an utterly ridiculous speech that extrapolates from using drugs to treat illness to using drugs to produce different "breeds" of human being, then repudiates all of his work and his previous beliefs. (The mentally ill, presumably, can just bloody well stay mentally ill.) The upshot of all this is that Dr Lanyon, who is a narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, chauvinistic egomaniac, is vindicated, both professionally and personally, as indeed is one of Jekyll’s students, who objects to the treatment of madness with drugs on the grounds that it is "against the laws of nature". Michael Caine is not particularly effective as either Jekyll or Hyde. His Jekyll was certainly conceived as some kind of tragic, romantic figure, but little of this survives the plot flaws discussed above, while his Hyde (assuming it was him under the make-up - the two are physically quite distinct) is a bald, bulgy-headed fellow, all air bladders and putty. He projects a certain physical repugnancy, but no real evil. Cheryl Ladd (whose American accent is never explained) has a tough job as Sara, because the character is both stupid and, ultimately, insulting. Having been banished from her father’s house (during a pouring rainstorm, of course: no-one ever gets banished on a sunny afternoon), she goes, not to a relative or a girlfriend, but to the man she’s been accused of having an affair with. When Jekyll confesses to her that it was he in the guise of Hyde who beat and raped her, she immediately tells Jekyll that she loves him and agrees to become his mistress (yeah, right.) This leads into the low point of the film, a mawkish series of Hallmark-greeting-card-vignettes showing how blissfully happy the two are together, culminating in an extraordinary (and extraordinarily irrelevant) episode in which the adulterous couple are upheld by the Prince of Wales. Fortunately, Jekyll’s spontaneous transformations take over almost immediately afterwards, and rescue us from terminal nausea. The film climaxes with a scene that could have made a valid point about the dangers of drug abuse, but which instead is used as a silly scare tactic, and thus pretty well sums up the shortcomings of this film.

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB