Jekyll Week

“He gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.”

Yes, September is REGGIE NALDER MONTH here at Shadowplay, as we celebrate the career, life, and charitable work of the Salem’s Lot star who —

No, wait, wait, that’s a TERRIBLE IDEA.

But it is in fact JEKYLL WEEK. Five days of schizoid ramblings.

Fiona and I have been running a range of different Jekyll & Hyde adaptations, from her favourite version (and one of her very favourite movies) the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian piece produced by Paramount, to the often-dismissed late Renoir curio, LE TESTAMENT DE DR. CORDELIER. It’s been fun!

“My devil had long been caged; he came out roaring.”

A general observation, which will hopefully be developed over the week: different versions of the story have often built upon their predecessors, whether they had the legal right to or not. Stephenson’s story has supplied the central idea, but the narrative structure of most versions owes more to the Barrymore film, which in turns appears to derive from a stage version. In a way, the novella has been treated like a myth, with successive accounts developing the story and adding new characters and elements to suit the mood of the times or the requirements of the media.

A trivial example: in Alan Moore’s comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (great fun, recommended), Moore ignores Stephenson’s description of Hyde as being significantly smaller than Jekyll, and follows the archetypal path laid down by The Incredible Hulk, making Edward Hyde a gigantic musclebound brute with inhuman strength. This suits the action-packed requirements of a comic book adventures, while also strengthening the connections between Stephenson’s story and the comic book tradition of the superhero/villain with a secret identity.

“My reason wavered, but it did not fail me utterly.”

Sean Connery’s somewhat regrettable swansong as star, very loosely based on Moore’s comic, preserves this notion and has Jason Flemying as a wiry Jekyll, transformed by a bulging special-effects muscle-suit into a he-man Hyde. Or maybe “it-man” would be more apt. LXG, as its dumb-ass producers wanted us all to call it, gets just about everything else wrong, and by bending Moore’s simple and effective comic out of shape, found itself on the sharp end of a lawsuit from filmmaker Larry Cohen (LXG ended up by using characters Cohen had already enlisted for a proposed project called Cast of Characters — a terrible title, incidentally). But the dumbed-down idea of a gigantic Hyde was a natural for an action movie blockbuster. Pitiable noise-fest VAN HELSING, which gave Fiona a migraine for the first time in her life, appropriates the same idea.

“It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.”

So I’ll be trying to trace and examine the Jekyll-Hyde meme as it evolves through some sample films, and also just mucking about with whatever ideas get thrown up by the voyage.

20 Responses to “Jekyll Week”

  1. One of the main things which makes Renoir’s ”Le Testament de Docteur Cordelier” really special is that his film makes Hyde a more moral or at least conscientous enough to feel guilt while the Jekyll character is a repressed, hypocritical freak. Which is certainly a more modernist than the traditional view of Hyde as the “dark side” and the like.

    That’s one reason why I have never bought the Mamoullian version because despite Frederic March’s superlative performance(as well as Miriam Hopkins genuinely heartbreaking work), it falls into the good-and-old moral idea that Dr. Jekyll is better than Mr. Hyde of course the film complicates it in the early bits and the last scene is just suffocating moralism.

    Another great Jekyll and Hyde adaptation is Jerry Lewis’ ”The Nutty Professor” which is a largely comic take except for the on-stage final transformation at the end which is genuinely tragic and sad.

  2. Cordelier is a fascinating weirdball of a film — much more on it in a few days. Your take on Renoir’s take strikes me as accurate and shrewd.

    The Mamoulian perhaps has more going on — as I’ll be arguing, his Hyde isn’t actually conceived as evil by the filmmaker, but as a barbaric, pre-civilized man whose contact with society corrupts him. He’s the pleasure principle run amuck, and though Jekyll speaks of him as evil, RM didn’t see him in quite those terms, at least at first.

    Unfortunately my Nutty Prof DVD is on loan to a friend who’s out of town, so I can’t regail you with screen grabs from it, but it wouldn’t be Jekyll week without some homage to the Jer monsterpiece. The FIRST transformation scene in that is pretty freaky too.

  3. Moore and O’Neil’s second series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen goes some way toward explaining why Hyde is bigger than Jekyll, and explicitly states that he started off as a smaller man but that Hyde grew along with his appetites. Hyde gets all the best lines and scenes in the series, including an unforgettable one involving the invisible man that we really needn’t go into the details of… The series also rather nicely ties him in with London’s Hyde Park.

    Of course, the Jekyll/Hyde film that I really want to see is THE UGLY DUCKLING, with good old Bernard Bresslaw. IMDb claims that it’s a lost film though, more’s the pity.

  4. Renoir’s film was rehearsed like a play and shot very quickly using multiple cameras — a technique I would have hoped more directors would have tired.

    Jerry’s Nutty Professor is a masterpiece. Eddie Murphy’s shoudl be passed over in dead silence.

    Also of note Roy Ward Bakers’ Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde with the lovely Martine Beswick.

  5. The multi-camera approach has been used a lot, but rarely with such skill.

    The Eddie Murphy version uses the concept as a way to exploit makeup and sfx, which is a perverse choice for a comedy. Lewis uses it as an opportunity to show what he can do as an actor, a more interesting approach all round.

    We’re going to be viewing Sister Hyde later this week…

  6. ———————–
    Eddie Murphy’s shoudl be passed over in dead silence.

    That film was one of the dumbest remakes in film history. It makes Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake look unbelievably creative by comparison. I mean it took the title of the original film and the basic storyline and devolved into the very cliches that Lewis broke away from. The main thing being that Buddy Love and Julius Kelp aren’t really fighting each other or anything that silly.

    Renoir’s film was rehearsed like a play and shot very quickly using multiple cameras — a technique I would have hoped more directors would have tired.

    Renoir also did his ”Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe” in that style and then he abandoned it. What that really helped him to achieve with Cordelier is the unity of performances and the crucial casting of Jean-Louis Barrault who used just a wig for his transformation from the prissy Jekyll-guy to the assymetrical Bouduvian Hyde character and conveyed the rest with facial expressions and the like.

    I guess that kind of technique depends heavily on the actors. Like most actors who work on film are fairly used to the idea of space between takes or the time left for themselves between takes and the like. This technique needs more stamina I guess for the performances or at least I’m assuming it does. Since it’s not like the entire film was one uninterrupted take like ”Russian Ark”.

  7. Most actors can find it in them to survive a long take, whether with a single camera or several, but it does help if they have stage experience.

    I’m afraid the claim that Barrault didn’t use makeup is one I’m going to be blowing out the water. But that’s not to take anything away from his extraordinary physical performance.

  8. Barrault evokes Cordelier in his performance in Conrad Rooks’ sublimely insane Chappaqua — my favorite “rich hippie movie.”

  9. Renoir got the inspiration to use that multiple-camera style partly as a result of his experience at directing theatre. Although theatre was important as an influence on Renoir, it was only after the war when he came to France that he actually started directing stage productions. He did one production of ”Julius Caesar” and fitted the stage with microphones and the like as if it were a movie set. Jean-Claude Brialy I believe was one of the actors on that production.

    Renoir loved actors to bits and was constantly interested in getting as pure a performance as possible from actors. Like actually shooting on a moving locomative for the stunning opening of ”La Bete Humaine”(his nephew DP Claude nearly got decapitated when it moved into a tunnel) and the like.

    That connects a bit with ”The Nutty Professor” where Buddy Love’s persona is nothing other than the actual Jerry Lewis, his relationship with Julius Kelp being that of an actor with the character.

  10. Yes, although Renoir has a reputation for being lovely, one thing that made him lose his temper was technicians talking to the actors — he didn’t want the actor to have to moderate his performance for cinema, and if that was necessary, HE wanted to be the person who facilitated the accommodation between actor and technician. In this he’s absolutely right, of course.

    Agree re Lewis. Whether it’s conscious or not, Buddy Love’s look and attitude have more to do with Lewis than any part he played until Jerry Langford (how’s that surname for a joint homage?) in King of Comedy. The suggestion (inaccurate) that Love is an attack on Dean Martin served as a smokescreen for his authetic relationship to Lewis.

  11. It wasn’t an attack. It evokes certain aspects of Dean Martin, as well as Jerry himself. And as Andrew Sarris noted, “Buddy Love” brings the “Mastin-Lewis tension” into the film.

    While Mamoulian’s rendition is the most celebrated, Victor Fleming’s isn’t bad at all. Ingrid Bergman is especially good, and several scenes between her and Spencer Tracy’s Hyde look forward to her daughter Isabella Rossellini and her scenes with Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.

  12. The Martin-Lewis tension is a nice way of looking at it. Certainly Love’s seething energy is irreconcilable with a straight Dean Martin parody. If Lewis had wanted to skewer Dino he could have done it far more precisely. He talks about patterning Buddy’s attitude on racist bullies in his childhood.

    The Fleming Jekyll is just too close to the Mamoulian in structure and plotting, while bloating everything up. Tracy and Bergman seem to shuttle back and forth between effective and forced.

  13. Yet another version is Stephen Frears’ Mary Reilley with John Malkovich (a Hyde without a Jeckyll if there ever was one) and Julia Roberts as his servant/victim.

  14. Yeah, I’ve got some good dirt on that one too (they filmed for a few days in Edinburgh, though none of that wound up in the movie!).

  15. David, is this thread inspired in any way by your recent meeting with Steven Moffat? His clever take on the story in the recent TV series was deliciously entertaining. Hyde as a suave gent supressing a caged beast was a neat trick (almost Fight Club-like with Hyde as the Tyler Durden idealised persona of Jekyll). He’s a smart man and obviously knows his genres.

  16. Oddly enough, I wasn’t too taken with Jekyll. It had some very good stuff, particularly how Jekyll and Hyde deal with each other at the start, accommodating their lives together, but a lot of it just didn’t convince me. Some of the ideas seemed disastrous, like suggesting that the Stephenson book was a true story, or whatever that was.
    I’ve liked Moffat’s writing for Dr Who, particularly The Empty Child and Blink (the best episode ever) and the library 2-parter in this recent run.

  17. I’ll be reading further instalments in this series with interest, since earlier this year I had my own little Jekyll-and-Hyde video festival as research for an article I wrote about Steven Moffat’s Jekyll, which I liked more than you did.

    Moffat’s scripts often sound as if they were written by a very intelligent computer, but this is part of their fascination — the novelty of Jekyll lies in the use of the two alternating personae as a purely structural device, and not as any kind of psychological metaphor. What did he have to say when you heard him speak?

    Among other versions, I’ve heard very good things about The Two Faces Of Doctor Jekyll but haven’t yet tracked it down.

  18. Moffatt didn’t talk much about Jekyll, other than to pour scorn on the theory that James Nesbitt would inevitably be the next Dr Who “because I’ve got his phone number.”

    The actor who plays the American agent? UNBELIEVABLY BAD.

    I think The 2 Faces is out in the states. I’m a bit doubtful of it but am keen to see it sometime. Especially as Hammer’s other version, The Ugly Duckling, a comedy with Bernard Bresslaw, is officially a lost film.

  19. The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll isn’t bad, actually. It does a neat thing in that Jekyll has a wife in this version, which is one of the few times I’ve seen that element introduced into the story. She’s having an affair with lanky Chris Lee, who becomes Hyde’s best mate for nights of fun out on the town (including the obligatory Hammer stripper with a snake).

  20. That’s all pretty interesting. Stephenson omits any major female characters, which is never permissable in the film versions. A strong case could be made for Hyde as the repressed homosexual side of Jekyll.

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