Monday, September 28, 2009

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Review #0004

In this early adaptation of the eponymous novel, John Barrymore delivers a great, if totally theatrical performance (as was common at the time, before sound and the advent of "film" acting) as both the righteous Jeckyll and the monstrous, depraved Hyde. Of course, as in all filmed theater, makeup and costumes do a great deal to characterize the protagonists, and so Hyde's persona owes a lot to his hump and inflated cranium, both of which function quite effectively as signifiers of monstrosity. Despite moralistic goals and a mostly Christian conception of good and evil (epitomized in the discrepancy between Jeckyll and Hyde's love interests, the virginal Millicent Carew and Miss Gina, the frivolous cabaret dancer), the "show" is enjoyable. We're treated to intriguing close-ups of paramecia, a burlesque show, and the freakish transformation of man into monster. And although most of the mystery elements have been excised from Stevenson's novel, the violence remains, including somewhat shocking bits as the beating of a child, beating of two women, and the vicious clubbing of an aristocrat.
An effort worth praise, however primitive it looks compared to, say... "Nosferatu" (1922).

3/5 : for historical importance.