Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Article #1146 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2004
Posting Date: 10-1-2004
Directed by Victor Fleming
Featuring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner

A doctor experiments with a drug that ends up bringing out his evil side.

There is a controversy among horror fans as to which version of the Robert Louis Stevenson story is better; this one featuring Spencer Tracy or the 1932 version with Fredric March. First of all, I find it interesting that these two in particular are singled out for the competition, whereas the John Barrymore version from 1920 doesn’t enter into the fray. Having now seen the Tracy version for the first time in years, I’ve developed a bit of a theory about that, and that is that these two movies are so similar (I think there are several chunks of dialogue that are identical) that in watching them both, you get the sense that one of them is unnecessary. The question is – which one?

Rouben Mamoulian was a very flamboyant director, whereas Victor Fleming was more the seasoned professional; the 1932 version is certainly more audacious, but there are times where the direction in that version distractingly calls attention to itself, a problem that never occurs in the 1941 version. I also like certain touches and details in this one, including that of allowing Hyde to look much more human than in the 1932 version; after all, Hyde’s monstrousness is psychological rather than physical. I also think the acting is slightly better throughout the 1941 version, and the movie has a subtler touch throughout.

However, one big problem with the 1941 version is that it was made after the Hays office went into effect. As a result, much of the ferociousness of the 1932 version is not to be found here; everything looks neater, cleaner and classier, and the whole movie feels a lot more polite. Also, this version is a good 20 minutes longer than the 1932 version, and this is most noticeable during the scenes with Ingrid Bergman, which go on much longer than the equivalent scenes in the 1932 version, no doubt increasing the size of her role. Furthermore, though I think she’s a better actress than Miriam Hopkins, she also feels a little too classy for the role, and when she’s trying to be seductive and sexy, I find her less believable. As to which does a better job with the title characters (Tracy or March), I’m willing to call that a draw, as I really don’t have a preference.

So how does it balance out? Well, in my case I’d have to go with the March version. Not only do I feel it’s a more efficient telling of the story, but the first time I saw it, it blew me away, and that’s something the Tracy version never managed to do. Not that this will settle the controversy, by any means; I feel both movies will be watched and discussed for years to come.

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