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Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) review


Paul Massie (Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde), Dawn Addams (Kitty Jekyll), Christopher Lee (Paul Allen), Oliver Reed

"...For what civilizes us but other than these moral restrictions of which you make so little...this higher man you speak the weaker element in us. Our lust and our violence feed the weaker man. That is why there are so few saints and so many sinners. Will you cut evil out of man with a scalpel, Henry?"

Dr. Henry Jekyll concocts a personality altering serum in an effort to study first hand man's savage side. To test its potency, he injects himself with the drug. The ambitious and determined Dr. Jekyll transforms himself from a frigid, lonely man into Mr. Edward Hyde, a sadistic and lustful playboy. The handsome, yet vicious Mr. Hyde soon takes over and is driven to kill leaving Jekyll trapped within his own body to fight for his life and his soul.

Hyde shows his dark side after nearly breaking a woman's arm after spying greener pastures with which to graze his sexual palette

Terence Fisher directs this fascinating character study about human nature; the good and evil within us all. Unfortunately, there's nothing good about any of the main characters. Virtually everyone is either arrogant, callous, self absorbed or a hooligan. It's a surprisingly effective feature filled with contemptible individuals and a strikingly high amount of sexuality for a film of this vintage.

Yes, she puts that thing in her mouth...

One shocking sequence showcases a female dancer deep throating the head of a large python! Prior to this, the dancer writhes around in a provocative manner as the large snake slithers between her legs caressing her inner thighs. As already mentioned, there's nary a likable character in sight, but this being a Fisher film, he manages to weave a lot of tragedy into the movie. Furthermore, Fisher had a passion for incorporating a love story of some sort into a number of his films, but there's none of that here unless you count the doomed love affair of the two adulterers.

Jekyll wants some lovin' but the lady is tired after a previous round with tall, dark and gruesome himself, Chris Lee

Henry Jekyll is a sad and scorned man. His wife has a secret affair going on with his supposed friend, Paul Allen. While Jekyll works fastidiously in his lab, his wife is enjoying the wiles of a man who bleeds the doctor of his finances to pay for his gambling debts. Once Jekyll has become Mr. Hyde, he transforms into that which he longs to be; a man with no reservations and an ability to cut loose his sexual inhibitions. As Jekyll, he longs for his wife's touch, but lacks the confidence or the masculinity to maintain her attentions. Jekyll is cold and taciturn whereas Hyde, a sexual predator, is also cold, but brutish and unafraid to speak his mind uncaring of those he destroys emotionally, and later, physically.

Hyde nearly bashes Oliver Reed's brains out while Lee stands by and has a giggle at the whole thing

During the scene where Hyde first patronizes the nightclub, he has his first encounter with inflicting violence on others. What's most striking about this scene is that Hyde befriends Paul Allen, the man who has been sleeping with Jekyll's wife and sucking his finances dry. Once Hyde bashes a young Oliver Reed three times over the head with a blunt instrument, a great smile appears on his face and if not for Allen's interference, Hyde would have lovingly killed the young man. Soon after, Hyde becomes enamored with the act of murder. But when the bodies pile up, Hyde has nearly taken over and attempts to lay blame on his alter ego, Henry Jekyll!

Hyde "introduces himself" to Paul Allen and Kitty Jekyll, the adulterous lovers

Virtually everyone meets a bad end and the performances are strong as usual in a Hammer movie from this time period. Christopher Lee is especially lively as the adulterer Paul Allen. The violence is minimal, but is overpowered by a preponderance of overt debauchery. It's really amazing at how strong the sexual overtones are in this picture. Lust and sex are the main themes of this production with the act of murder rearing its ugly head during the last half.

Hyde propositions Mrs. Kitty

One incredible scene has Hyde attempting to have his way with Jekyll's wife by offering to clear all of Paul's debts so long as she sleeps with him. He says to her, "Come Mrs. Jekyll...why not sell what you have so often given away." Kitty retorts that she would likely take Hyde up on his offer if she didn't find him so repulsive. So the sex maddened Mr. Edward Hyde has struck out with Mrs. Jekyll just as his alter ego, her husband, had also done. Eventually, Hyde takes it upon himself to rape the female philanderer.

Paul Massie plays Hyde in a most frightening fashion. He always has a wild look about his face, yet his voice is uniformly calm despite his frequent incendiary dialog. One such instance that shows Hyde to be a bit on the unstable side takes place in the aforementioned nightclub scene wherein Hyde spurns a prostitute's affection and nearly breaks her arm to get away from her. She then gets Oliver Reed to restore what little honor she possesses by trying to start a fight with the hideous, but handsome Hyde. The ignominious Hyde tells the man to "Go to Hell." The young upstart refuses to budge resulting in Hyde stating with amazing composure, "I told you to go to Hell and take that trollop with you." It's right scary and humorous at the same time to witness a character who has this incredibly feral look about his face, but remains relaxed until a single moment where he erupts in an instant of explosive violence.

The typical fiery Hammer conclusion

The original ending was to have been more dramatic seeing Hyde executed by hanging reverting back to Jekyll at the moment of death. The ending that's on the film now is a slight bit anti climatic, but it isn't enough to ruin this fantastic psychological thriller. About the only negative is the poor make up applied to Paul Massie. When he is playing Jekyll, his beard, mustache and bushy eyebrows are obviously fake. Other than that, there's really nothing to complain about unless you want to nitpick about all the less than honorable characters.

Jekyll confronts his evil self; I couldn't help but be reminded of the Stephen King segment of CREEPSHOW during this scene.

Despite the relatively mannered presentation (as most British horror pictures were at this time), there's no escaping a dominating streak of tastelessness that permeates this film which makes it all the more shocking that it was made in 1959. However, some fans may be put off by the lack of any serious horror trappings (this isn't really a horror movie per se), but more open minded viewers will be rewarded with a provocative script brought to life by some dedicated performers and one of Hammer's and Britain's greatest directors.

This review is representative of the Sony 2 disc Icons of Horror set which includes CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, THE GORGON and TASTE OF FEAR.


J. Astro said...

I DID just recently pick up this HAMMER two-disc, and even forgot I had it, when you last mentioned this film to me! ha - I'll be bumpin' this up on the viewing agenda real soon.

venoms5 said...

Cool! I'm anxious to hear what you think of it, J.

Carl (ILHM) said...

An interesting concept for sure, I have only seen the silent Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, havent had a chance to see any of the other incarnations, but this one sounds more than interesting. I dont mind a lack of horror so long as the film brings something new and interesting to the table, so count me in on this one

venoms5 said...

Cool, Carl. I look forward to what you and J. think of this one as I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I was going to. Amicus did there own version of the story called I, MONSTER (1971) starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I have it, but haven't got around to viewing it yet.

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