DR. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1931

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Production: Paramount Pictures; black and white, 35mm; running time: 82 minutes, some sources list 90 minutes. Released 1931. Filmed in Paramount studios.

Producer: Rouben Mamoulian; screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath, from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson; photography: Karl Struss; editor: William Shea; sound: the Paramount sound department; production designer: Hans Dreier.

Cast: Frederic March ( Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde ); Miriam Hopkins ( Ivy Pearson ); Rose Hobart ( Muriel Carew ); Halliwell Hobbes ( Brigadier General Carew ); Holmes Herbert ( Dr. Lanyan ); Edgar Norton ( Poole ).

Awards: Venice Film Festival citations for Most Original Film and Favourite Actor (March), 1932, note: there were not official awards that year, but acknowledgements were by public referendum; Oscar for Best Actor (March), 1932.



Hoffenstein, Samuel, and Percy Heath, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , edited by Richard Anobile, New York, 1976.


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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps the most stylish and technically innovative of any of the several versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, for Mamoulian integrated both the new and established film technologies into his individual filmmaking style. Dissolves, superimpositions, camera movements, and expressionistic lighting are synthesized into his vision of the struggle within man, which is the heart of Stevenson's tale.

While other directors seemed shackled by the then infant sound technology, Mamoulian freely moved the camera within the frame. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in fact opens with an extensive tracking shot that the viewer quickly realizes represents the subjective point of view of Dr. Jekyll. The effect of characters directly addressing the camera (as Dr. Jekyll) is disarming. Not only is such a shot a masterful technical innovation, in light of the obstacle posed by sound recording, but it is a striking narrative device as well. Mamoulian's subjective camera foreshadows the use, some 50 years later, of the same device to similar ends by John Carpenter in Halloween. Since Halloween , it has become a characteristic element of those kinds of films which indeed bear resemblance to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No less striking is the 360-degree pan which accompanies Dr. Jekyll's initial transformation to Hyde. The shot underscores the duration of the transformation, solidly placing it in time and space. Mamoulian claims that the pan was the first of its kind in Hollywood film. The shot not only presented the obvious challenge of lighting, but also posed unique problems for recording sound. Mamoulian overcame this by mixing a sound effects track. The track is dominated rhythmically by a heartbeat (Mamoulian's own) and serves as an early example of a complex sound mix in a Hollywood film. In addition, as he had done earlier in City Streets and particularly in Applause , Mamoulian utilized multiple microphones for recording live sound. He even pioneered a mobile microphone used in situations such as the opening shot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is ahead of its time in Mamoulian's exploitation of the potential eroticism of Stevenson's novel. Miriam Hopkin's streetwalker, Ivy, is at once sympathetic and highly sensual. Unlike Stevenson's gnarled, diminutive Hyde, Mamoulian's representation of Hyde is that of an enlarged, powerful, bestial man. Both characterizations heighten the intensity of their moments together on screen. Jekyll first meets Ivy in her room where he has gone to return a discarded garter. He finds her nearly undressed as she slips beneath the bedcovers and taunts him coquettishly. The scene closes with Ivy's legs dangling from beneath the covers deliciously—superimposed on the image of Jekyll and his friend Lanyon departing below.

Superimpositions and dissolves were not new to the cinema in 1932. However, Mamoulian's use of them to heighten aesthetically the impact of various scenes was not characteristic of Hollywood in the 1930s. For example, the superimpositions used in the scene where Jekyll meets Ivy suggest that the image of Ivy's leg lingers in Jekyll's mind. Mamoulian's use of dissolves may be somewhat more traditional in that they are the primary means for showing Jekyll's transformations into Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde represents the strengths of Mamoulian's style. Perhaps as an extension of his experience directing theater and opera, where the proscenium limits space, Mamoulian's style emphasizes lighting and framing. In the film, when Hyde's passion for Ivy becomes rage, he begins to strangle her. The two figures fall, struggling below the frame. Only when Hyde returns to frame does the viewer understand Ivy's fate. Similarly, when Jekyll undergoes his first transformation, he falls, writhing out of frame. Mamoulian combines this technique with lighting in a later scene to create an enormous shadow—Hyde. The shadow is formed as Hyde runs from the frame, his departure signalled by his ever increasing shadow on the wall. This shot echoes a similar shot in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu where Count Dracula's shadow gradually engulfs the cowering figure of Jonathan Harker.

Several nuances of Mamoulian's style are also reinforced with this film. Split-screen is used, for example, to suggest a symbolic proximity between otherwise distant spaces and events. Another characteristic is the use of counterpoint to heighten dramatic effect. When Jekyll arrives to tell his fiancée, Muriel, that they must separate it is accompanied not by a dirge, but by the waltz to which they had danced earlier. Counterpoints such as this create a dynamism between the visuals and the sound. The waltz serves as a powerful reminder of Jekyll's price for tampering with nature. Perhaps the strongest example of Mamoulian's individuality as a filmmaker is the final shot, where Lanyon and the authorities stand over the body of the fallen Jekyll. Shot from inside and behind the flames of the fireplace, it is a complete synthesis of the medium's potential for narrative discourse.

—Robert Winning

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