Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)

"You come here often?"


I'd heard good things about this picture for awhile now.  You already know the story:  Dr Jekyll invents a potion that enables man to be split into two separate entities, one wholly good, one entirely evil.  Combine that with John Barrymore (and you all know what a fan of Jack I am), and, well...I was a little disappointed that I didn't enjoy the picture more than I did!  I found it stagy and stilted, even (dare I say it?) boring in some places.  There were, however, two bright spots: the famous Barrymore transformation scene(s), and Nita Naldi, as the dancer in whom the terrible Hyde indulges his lust.

Many people have written about the moment Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde, and with good reason; when Jack takes the potion, without any help from special effects, he becomes another person.  He thrashes, he tears at his clothes and hair, and a sinister aspect settles over him like a cloak, right in front of your eyes.  In this age of CGI, it's nothing short of miraculous, and fascinating to watch.  (His transformation back to Jekyll is no less amazing, even with the small blooper of a prosthetic finger flying off.)

Nita Naldi, as Gina the Italian dancer, is not beautiful - not in the typical way of her time - but there is a sensuality about her; an earthiness that is very attractive, more so than the squeaky-clean and incredibly dull Millicent Carew (Martha Mansfield).  Naldi is seductive.  Her eyes hold carnal promises.  It's not difficult to see how Jekyll was aroused by her, how Hyde desired her (and Barrymore, for that matter).

There are moments of tension and excitement, and the rest of the cast plays amicably, but for the most part, excepting the aforementioned bright spots, it was mediocre for me.

I give this one: 

4 comments:

Mythical Monkey said...

Wow, what timing -- I watched this again over the weekend, mostly to check my impression of Nita Naldi, which was favorable the first time and more so the second. Sensual is the word, although in the first meeting with Dr. Jekyll and his rich, randy compatriots, there's also in her eyes, I thought, the memory of the girl she used to be before circumstances forced her to start playing nice with guys like this. Which makes the treatment she receives at the hands of Mr. Hyde all the more tragic.

But I have to say, the movie tends to get ponderous when she's not on the screen.

Avalon76 said...

Ponderous is a good way to describe it. It's a shame, too, with such a great leading man, and Naldi, besides. The later scene of her in the bar, where she turns her world-weary face to the camera...heartbreaking.

Artman2112 said...

i watched this for the first time about 6 month ago and i have to agree with you here, barrymore - superb, but the picture as a whole seems long and a bit overblown. but no doubt it IS a must see for silent filmn lovers! nice post :)

FilmMaster said...

I felt this was a fairly average film too. Great review and wonderful blog!