Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; silent horror-drama, 1920; D: John S. Robertson, S: John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Charles W. Lane

Dr. Jekyll is a kind doctor who spends a lot of time on healing and helping sick people, which is why his friends warn him that he is neglecting his own life and suppressing his "wild" side while he is young. Shaken by such observation, Dr. Jekyll decides to yield his desire by drinking a potion which transforms him into a savage, wild man, Mr. Hyde, who enjoys women and alcohol. However, Hyde starts taking over more and more, and even kills a man. Fearing he cannot control his dark side, Dr. Jekyll does not want to see anyone. When Mr. Hyde wants to attack Jekyll's fiance Millicent, he commits suicide.

One of the earliest film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous short horror story, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is not among the best versions of it, but it certainly has a sense for achieving a fine balancing act between a horror and a symbolic drama. While some have interpreted it as a representation of split personality or schizophrenia, the basic storyline is actually an allegory on yin and yang, on the old perspective that every person has an integral good and a bad side, thereby channelling the struggle over which side will prevail. John Barrymore is outstanding as the (double) title (anti)hero who wants to awaken his suppressed "wild" side, only realize it becomes such a burden that the dark side might completely take over. While the film is good, it lacks true suspense - except in one great, eerie and expressionistic little sequence where the hero is in his bed but has a nightmare about a giant spider in the room - and is too much bound by timid rules of that era: one can safely conclude that, ironically, the whole film could have used a little bit more of Mr. Hyde's "wild side" itself. The rushed ending and a few unnecessary scenes do not improve the impression, yet overall the film offers enough emotion and wisdom to satisfy.


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