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1931 is the founding year of horror film. It was the year when all the strands and experiences of the silent era crystallized into the genre we know now. Even the term “horror film” wasn’t widely used until 1931. Four films in particular had a lasting impact on the genre that is still felt to this day. Dracula and Frankenstein are the two most often mentioned in conversations about horror movies of that year, but Fritz Lang’s films are also important. M for essentially inventing the serial killer subgenre, and Rouben Mamoulianoscar-winning horror movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

By 1931, the effects of the Great Depression had reached Hollywood. Studios at all levels needed success, but few were very successful. Notable exceptions to this generality were Warner Brothers with their low budget gangster pictures Little Caesar and The public enemy and Universal with the massive success of Dracula. Universal itself immediately began looking for a follow-up to capitalize on Draculathe success of, ultimately deciding two more literary adaptations, Frankenstein released at the end of November, and Rue Morgue murders which finally hit theaters in early 1932. The prestigious Paramount studio also noticed the success of Dracula and decided to remake a property they already owned, originally planning to cast the star of this earlier release.

John Barrymore was already a legendary stage actor when he starred in the 1920 silent version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was offered a handsome sum to reprise the role just over a decade later, but by then he had signed a contract with MGM, and it proved impossible for him to participate. Paramount moved on to its next choice, Irving Pichel, but the director the studio had hired, respected director Rouben Mamoulian, objected, citing that Jekyll should be played by a younger man. According to a 1971 interview, Mamoulian felt that “rebellion and transformation are most interesting when they are the result of the ferment of youthful aspirations”. He then suggested an actor that the studio initially balked at, the handsome stage presence with only supporting roles in lighter films to his name, Frederic March. Despite their objections, Paramount relented due to Mamoulian’s reputation and strength of personality.

As with most Jekyll and Hyde films, the script called for a “good girl” and a “bad girl” to serve as a love interest and conflict for Jekyll’s two faces and to emphasize themes of duality in the film. ‘story. For Jekyll’s fiancée Muriel, rising Paramount star Rose Hobart was thrown away. Although she never rose to the heights of stardom, she would become a familiar face both in and out of the genre with roles in Tower of London (1939) and Isle of the Dead (1945) – both starring Boris Karloff, the mad ghoul (1943) and The cat crawls (1946). She is the heart and compassion of the film but the role itself pales when placed next to the “bad girl” of the story.

Miriam Hopkins already had the reputation in 1931 of being one hell of a diva. She often made life difficult for her partners and few who worked with her had very nice things to say about the experience, including Frederic March on this film. Hopkins also had a long-running feud with legendary actress Bette Davis who accused her of using “every trick in the book” to upstage her fellow performers. Rouben Mamoulian even used a trick to circumvent these habits on Jekyll and Hyde. The director also cast her as Ivy Pearson because he knew Hopkins was absolutely electrifying on screen. In the movie, she gives a performance just as Oscar-worthy as March, especially in the scene where she goes to Jekyll’s house to ask for Hyde’s protection. She would go on to work with some of Hollywood’s great filmmakers, including Ernst Lubitsch, William Wyler and Arthur Penn, but her reputation for being difficult to work with also followed her, forcing her to take on increasingly larger roles. small over time.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a perfect example of Hollywood’s “pre-code” era. Although the Motion Picture Production Code, a list of do’s and don’ts for industry self-regulation and censorship, was officially adopted in 1930, it was not strictly enforced until 1934. Films made between the time of adoption and enforcement tend to try to push the boundaries of the Code, especially when it comes to sexuality and violence. jekyll and hyde is particularly outspoken in its sexuality in both text and subtext. Jekyll’s reason for taking the potion before a party is because his wedding keeps getting postponed and he turns into Hyde to satisfy his sexual frustrations. The role of Ivy is a sympathetic portrayal of a sex worker with Miriam Hopkins’ dynamic portrayal drawing more empathy and compassion for her plight from the audience. Early in the film, the Freudian symbolism of Jekyll placing his cane in the garter that Ivy pulled off and threw to the ground is clear. In the same scene, when Jekyll orders her to rest, she provocatively undresses in an attempt to seduce the good doctor. The suggestive sequence ends with a long crossfade of Ivy’s bare leg with a garter around her thigh swinging back and forth like a hypnotist’s pendulum.

In Hyde’s character, the film comments on toxic masculinity more than eighty years before the term became mainstream. Hyde is a manipulator and an abuser. He berates, whips, rapes, and eventually murders Ivy, never feeling any remorse. Hyde’s outward appearance becomes more hideous as his soul becomes darker. His inner and outer disfigurements become all the more revolting when compared to the handsome, generous, compassionate and almost holy Dr Jekyll.

The movie spends a lot of time early on establishing Jekyll’s goodness. Sometimes he is bestowed with practically messianic qualities, such as when he takes a young girl’s crutches and urges her to walk, which she is miraculously able to do at his command. Unlike most werewolf movies (essentially the folk version of the story), Hyde remembers what he does as Jekyll and Jekyll remembers what he does as Hyde. This greatly adds to Jekyll’s guilt and pathos and makes it even more devastating when he is unable to control the beast within him and begins to transform into Hyde without the help of drugs. It was undoubtedly the breadth of the performance that ultimately earned March his Best Actor Oscar for the film.

Another distinctive aspect of this version of Jekyll and Hyde is the unique take on Hyde’s look. He is the most simian interpretation of the character, reflecting the growing acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution at the time. Makeup, created and applied by Wally Westmore, was based on the concepts of Neanderthal artists and made March virtually unrecognizable playing Hyde. It also turned out to be a torturous experience for the actor. Much of the makeup consisted of liquid latex applied directly to his face and as he removed it he removed layers of skin. The final version of the makeup seen near the end of the film almost caused permanent disfigurement and forced March to undergo a three-week hospital stay. The role that won him the Oscar almost ended his career.

Mamoulian’s use of the subjective camera is one of the greatest impacts on the horror genre for decades to come. In the opening shots, we see through Jekyll’s eyes, a moment believed to be a cinematic first. The technique was rarely used (1947s dark passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is a notable exception) until its innovative use in Bob Clark’s black christmas in 1973 and John Carpenter Halloween in 1978. Now, the “POV killer” is a staple of horror movies, especially in the slasher subgenre. Another key directing touch is Mamoulian’s use of screen-splitting wipes, again emphasizing the film’s themes of duality.

The fact that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on a literary classic saved it from heavy censorship in 1931. Before the film was sent for approval, Paramount deleted two scenes, one in which Hyde casts a kitten in one river and another. where he stomps on a child, although there are stills from this last scene. The main sequence to be cut by the censors was Ivy’s tape in her bedroom, and the Chicago regional censors requested a few more cuts. Despite these minor changes, the film remained relatively intact when it premiered in New York on New Year’s Eve 1931 and opened to record-breaking audiences in early January 1932.

As was the fate of many pre-Code era films, jekyll and hyde was heavily censored and seventeen minutes cut from it for re-release in the late 1930s. Some of the cuts were for content, but many others were simply for time, making it about the same length than universal horror films of the time and allowed exhibitors to fit in for another screening per day. The film was sold to MGM in the early 1940s to make way for their new version starring Spencer Tracy and languished in a vault for decades before finally being rediscovered. It was released in its truncated form on VHS before eventually being restored to its original length in the late 1990s for release on DVD. Unfortunately, the film never received the kind of restorative attention that Dracula and Frankenstein have received over the years and have yet to have further home video releases in high definition formats, although they are available for streaming on some platforms.

Despite this, the film remains incredibly important to the horror genre for the reasons already discussed and more. Frederic March’s performance is groundbreaking and quite stunning even to this day. The film itself explores the deepest darkness of the human heart and, with the exception of Hyde, portrays its characters with deep humanity and sympathy. It’s a powerful portrait of how our most basic impulses can destroy us and those around us. It’s a story of addiction, self-destruction, longing and ultimate redemption. These themes and ideas remain compelling because they examine the heart of the human heart of darkness, a darkness that still lingers after ninety years and, sadly, will surely remain for much longer than ninety years to come. Because of his frank explorations of our higher and lower natures, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continues to be a deeply effective and touching work of art.


In Bride of FrankensteinDr. Pretorius, played by the inimitable Ernest Thesiger, raises his glass and toasts Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein – “to a new world of gods and monsters.” I invite you to join me in exploring this world, focusing on horror movies from the dawn of the Universal Monster movies in 1931 to the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the New Hollywood Rebels in the late 1960s. With this period as our focus and occasional adventures beyond, we’ll explore this beautiful world of classic horror. So, I raise my glass to you and invite you to toast with me.