|Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Dir: Rouben Mamoulian
Cast: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Halliwell Hobbes
This list has it’s fair share of critical darlings but it’s Paramount’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that achieved one golden accolade rarely bestowed upon horror movies. Yes, star Fredric March took home the Oscar for Best Actor, playing a mad scientist who turns into a monster? Not the kind of performance you’d expect the Academy to honor but it’s so good that I’m sure there were no regrets. Fredric March is both charming and chilling in this creepy classic, possibly the greatest adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic tale.
Henry Jekyll (March) is a highly respected medical doctor who claims that within each man lurks powerful impulses for both good and evil. Speaking at a university, Jekyll tells his colleagues that he believes it’s possible to divide these two personas to eliminate evil. So what happens when he tries it out? You guessed it, the evil side takes over and creates nothing but mischief.
Typically in this kind of film you’d expect most of the drama and key scenes to come from the tormented Jekyll, but it is actually Hyde who receives the most development and screen time. Rather than being a simple thuggish monster that grunts an groans, Mr. Hyde is an articulate man but with devious intentions. He cackles at those he torments and frightens with his gruesome appearance. It’s an endlessly entertaining performance and though March is fantastic in both roles, I have to lean towards the monster.
Made just prior to the enforcement of the “Production Code” it is often remembered for it’s strong sexual content, but it’s fairly tame by today’s standards. Something that amazingly still holds up is Jekyll’s fantastic transformation scene, accomplished by using a series of colored filters that puts the campy yet memorable Wolf Man transformation from the 40s to shame and this was ten year earlier! It’s another one of the many gems of the golden age of horror, check it out if you (like Edward Norton) are a fan of duality.