Archive for June 8, 2010

Things I Read Off the Screen in Son of Dr. Jekyll

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by dcairns

Part of my See Reptilicus and Die mission to see every movie shown in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford. SON OF DR JEKYLL is a mostly-respectable B-movie with Louis Hayward in, unusually, a triple or maybe quadruple role, as Edward Jekyll, son of Jekyll-Hyde, as the transformed monstrous version, and as both his fathers (although they’re so fleetingly glimpsed it’s hard to be sure if we see both of them…)

Although set mostly in 1890, the movie features anachronistic newspapers with paparazzi-style photographs. This press persecution drives poor Jekyll towards nervous collapse (a somewhat uncomfortable echo of Hayward’s real mental state) as he tries to recreate his illustrious father’s experiments. A minor character here is named Rathbone, and Basil R in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is clearly a big influence here.

Mustn’t… black… out!

Disappointingly, Jekyll transforms only momentarily, and sleeps through the whole experience. A shame, since otherwise the plot produces some intrigue, but the marked lack of rampaging subhuman fiends rather lets the wind out of it. The script is by turns respectful of Stevenson’s original (although RLS doesn’t merit a screen credit, alas) and flippantly unfaithful: apart from giving Hyde a wife and child, the movie continues the adventures of Jekyll’s friends Utterson and Lanyon, but makes Lanyon into a villain, rather cheekily. Alexander Knox, dependably stolid, plays this role. National pride requires me to remark that Knox moved to Longniddry, just outside Edinburgh, late in his life.

Hayward goes wayward! A variation on the coloured makeup/coloured filters technique used in Mamoulian’s 1932 film allows the transformation to occur while the actor is in motion, although he loses consciousness midway. Mr Hyde sleeps through his own movie.

Screenwriter Jack Pollexfen wrote or co-wrote several mad scientist films, most of them worse than this — THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is astonishingly poor. But Edgar Ulmer’s THE MAN FROM PLANET X and DAUGHTER OF DR JEKYLL have their charm.

We watched this because Fiona was tired. It was this or HOUSE OF HORRORS, also featured in the Gifford. “I think I’m too weary to cope with Rondo Hatton’s face,” Fiona said. “Well, Louis Hayward’s face might be even more tiring,” I said thoughtfully, “It’s always moving about. Not like Rondo’s. Which is always just where you need it.”

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