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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Since I've been on a bit of a silent horror film run the past little bit, I figured I might as well sit down and review another classic from the silent film era- "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", starring John Barrymore (Drew Barrymore's grandfather).

Dr. Jekyll is a fine, upstanding member of society: respectable, intellegent, and giving of his time to the poor in his clinic.  When criticized by his soon to be father-in-law, for his lack of worldly experience, Jekyll is determined to gain experience in the darker side of life.  A potion he creates allows him to revel in humanity's depravity as Mr. Hyde... but soon Hyde begins to take over.

Of the many versions of Louis Stevenson's novel, the 1920 silent version is probably one of the most famous ones.  The differences in this version and the novel are attributed to the fact that it was actually based on a stage play adaptation from 1887.

I really quite enjoyed this film.  While the pacing isn't all that quick, I found that I had little problem staying interested in the story, possibly because the music was moody and interesting to me.

There wasn't really a lot of "acting" in this film other than characters walking, sitting, standing and talking.  Most of the "action" was actually done by either Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Hyde- and done quite well.  In keeping with the general style of the early silent films, John Barrymore presented us with a very theatrical performance.  As with a couple of other silent film classic I've reviewed, I could almost imagine myself sitting in a darkened theater watching a live performance of this movie.

Barrymore was excellent in my opinion.  The way he was able to contort his face and hands for the first transformation scene was remarkable to see.  There was no make-up used for that first scene- it was all plain old acting skill.  And watching him contort and convulse during the other transformations was startling and a little disturbing to watch too.  Just a wonderful performance.

Even though his character didn't do a lot, I felt that Brandon Hurst (who would later play Jehan Frollo in Lon Chaney, Sr's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), was well cast as Jekyll's soon to be father-in-law, Sir George Carew.  He brought a look of arrogant respectability to the character, which I felt was perfect.

The camera work and lighting was fairly good, though the sets were rather plain.  Despite the blandness of the sets, the use of shadows created a moodiness that lessened the negative aspects of the film's simplicity.

While, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" may have lacked the artistry of other silent films, I would certainly say it qualifies as one of "The Good."

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