A Monster’s Biography

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

As told by Robert Louis Stevenson, the classic tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the subject of today’s post. Photograph of Fredric March in the role of the horrifying Mr Hyde from the 1931 picture.

Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings are hosting a Movie Scientist Blogathon, and this post is one of the entries.

Since its publication in 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson has been adapted for theatre and screened more than 120 times, including five classic films. These films and their viewing locations and some background information on the legendary tale’s genesis will all be discussed on this page.

In the classic Hollywood canon, Edward Hyde and Dr Henry Jekyll were created by Scottish author Stevenson, whose works include Treasure Island, Kidnap, and The Master of Ballantrae. When it came to human psychology, Robert Louis Stevenson was particularly interested in the duality within each of us.

Stevenson frequently used the phrase “myself and the other guy” to describe his erratic temperament. He was fascinated by the many exciting murder cases that the Victorian newspaper reported. However, Eugene Chantrelle, an Edinburgh teacher who claimed to have no memory of taking out life insurance on his wife and then poisoning her, may have inspired Jekyll and Hyde (he was either a great actor or someone who suffered from dissociative identity disorder).

Whatever Stevenson’s real-life inspiration for the story, Jekyll and Hyde came to him in a very vivid nightmare, including the pivotal transformation scene. According to his stepson and wife, he penned the story in two or three days. Forty thousand copies of the novella were sold when first published in 1886. When a serial killer resembling Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde began stalking women in London’s Whitechapel district, a popular London production of the play was forced to close.

Stevenson’s terrifying tale also drew the attention of film developers. There are eight silent versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, including a 1912 version based on a popular theatrical performance and a 1913 film by Carl Laemmle. He would become a horror legend at Universal Pictures.

Jekyll and Hyde’s most significant silent film adaptation, starring John Barrymore in 1920, is often considered the best. As a Broadway legend, the actor’s performance as both Jekyll and Hyde made him a bona genuine movie star. Among Barrymore’s many amazing performances is the legendary transformation sequence that he performed in just two takes with no makeup. Instead of having two actors portray Jekyll and Hyde, as in the book, this film uses a single actor to perform both roles. As a result, subsequent screen adaptations of the Jekyll/Hyde saga will follow this design. Hyde has a thing for ladies with a dark past, whereas Jekyll has something for a sweet English rose (Martha Mansfield) in this film (Nita Naldi). DVD, Blu-ray, and video-on-demand versions are available.

A mini-horror resurgence in the early 1940s prompted MGM to acquire the rights to Stevenson’s novella for Spencer Tracy, who would star in the film adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde. Victor Fleming had to compel the down-to-earth actor to take on the part. While Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman shine as Jekyll’s and Hyde’s respective love interests, Tracy struggled to capture the duality of Jekyll and Hyde’s identities. To play Hyde, he had to wear a lot of thick makeup, and he couldn’t handle the physical rigours of the part, dropping an amused Bergman in a scene when he was supposed to carry her up a flight of stairs.