Ripping the lid off the id

The 1941 MGM DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has never been a favourite of mine. In the MGM tradition, it substitutes production gloss for imagination, throwing money at the screen, with little high-grade thought in evidence. Spencer Tracy is no favourite of mine either, though I acknowledge that he CAN be rather fine. He was routinely praised as an underplayer, but he’s uncomfortably broad here, partly because he’s trying to do Hyde with minimal makeup, which means plenty of eye-rolling instead. I do wish somebody in the ’40s had tried to make the story with TWO actors. Imagine Michael Redgrave as Jekyll and Robert Newton as Hyde!

Still, the flick has some exciting sequences, once you wade through the set dressing and gowns by Adrian and endless padding. The montage-transformations, inspired by Mamoulian’s subjective hallucination sequence in the 1931 version (it’s absolutely shameful how much here is lifted from that superior production), have a Slavko Vorkapich kind of insanity, but are actually the work of filmic doppelganger Peter Ballbusch, who must have been taking lessons from the king of cod-surrealist montage malarkey.

The fast-cut assemblages of detail shots as Dr. J. brews his potion, bars the door and draws the shades, harks back to Eisenstein and forward to Sam Raimi, and then we’re into the lunacy:

Good Girl Lana Turner (!) and Bad Girl Ingrid Bergman (!) emerge from a lily pond, trying to look naked, and then everything goes all champagne-sparkly.

Then it’s “Into the mud, scum-queen!” as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr might say, as the fizzy pond becomes a feculent quagmire, sucking the soiled maidens down into the dirty depths of Spencer Tracy’s pervy unconscious. Now he is a coachman, swinging freely with the lash, and Turner and Bergman are his horses. Well, I make it a rule never to criticise anybody’s lifestyle choice.

“Sadism is fine as long as you’re not hurting anybody,” ~ Cynthia Payne.

Transformation #2 features more of the same. Lana Turner is a Bottle Imp, sealed within the GLASS WALLS OF SOCIETY:

Ingrid Bergman is A SEXY CORK:

And yes, Spencer Tracy is screwing her.

My absurdly glossy, beautiful book Hollywood Horror by Mark A. Vieira is full of great background stuff. Spence is quoted as having said ~

“I felt Jekyll was a very respectable doctor — a fine member of society….But there was another side to this man. Every once in a while, Jekyll would go on a trip. Disappear. And either because of drink or dope or who knows what, he would become — or should I say “turn into”? — Mr. Hyde. Then in a town or neighborhood where he was totally unknown, he would perform acts of cruelty and vulgarity.”

As a description of the story, this is a mixture of the obvious and the bafflingly inaccurate. But as Vieira helpfully points out, it’s a very accurate profile of Tracy himself, who had been dropped by the Fox Corporation for drunken misconduct. “Tracy, after repeatedly disappearing on binges, quarreled violently with studio head Winfield Sheehan. According to makeup artist Frank Westmore, Tracy ‘went on such a drunken rampage that he had to be locked inside a huge studio sound stage… Before he reached the blessed state of unconsciousness, he tore down sets and systematically smashed thousands of dollars’ worth of lights.'”

3 Responses to “Ripping the lid off the id”

  1. Ew, what have they done to the colour?

    Still, I love that double zoom. Distinctive!

    A friend said, of the zoom: “What was THAT?”

    Me, momentarily fazed: “It was an interesting attempt at…something.”

    Friend: “Can I have that inscribed on my gravestone?”

  2. […] full study of expressionist dream sequences in 40s movies (a trend seemingly begun by Charles Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY, 1939) would be fun to research. […]

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