Cast & Crew
Charles J. Hayden
Dora Mills Adams
Dr. Jekyll, a celebrated London philanthropist and physician, discovers a drug that possesses the power of separating the evil and good elements that exist in every human being. Through its agency he is able to assume the personality of Mr. Hyde, a perverted creature with an overwhelming lust for wickedness of every description, while as his other self, the lovable Dr. Jekyll, he retains the respect of his fellow men. When Jekyll's preoccupation with his work causes his fiancée Bernice Lanyon to break their engagement, the personality of Hyde takes on an even baser nature, committing more heinous crimes. Finally, as Hyde, he is arrested and lodged in jail for murder. At the moment of execution, he awakens to find that it has all been a dream, and that love and happiness still await him.
Charles J. Hayden
Dora Mills Adams
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) on Blu-ray
As Dr. Henry Jekyll, the moral, religious man who keeps company with society gentleman who find Henry more than a little self-righteous, Barrymore takes on a theatrical nobility: quiet and subdued, he stand tall and stiff and favors his great profile to the camera. He runs a free clinic (called "the human repair shop," a phrase that inadvertently brings to mind Frankenstein more than Hyde) that his friend Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) sneers at. "You should live--as I have lived," he advises the sheltered Henry. Sir George is the father of the proper young lady Millicent (Martha Mansfield), who admires and loves Henry, a seeming contradiction that he explains to Henry thusly: "I protected her as only a man of the world could." After a visit to a seedy nightclub, where Sir George invites dancing girl Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) to get Henry all hot and bothered, Henry decides that maybe it's time to let his baser desires out for a romp. But rather than sully his soul (or his reputation) he concocts a potion is release the evil buried inside (the original sin?), essentially releasing the id from his dominant superego, to take a Freudian approach.
Barrymore makes the transformation into a theatrical showpiece. He curls up on himself and emerges gnarled and bent, with a bald cone sprouting on top of his head surrounded by matted hair and grotesque teeth jutting from his twisted smile. It's Barrymore's version of a Lon Chaney transformation without the elaborate prosthetics. Make-up effects turn his hands knobby and gnarled but the rest of the transformation is in his performance: he screws his face into a demented grimace and he takes on a spidery body language, looking like an urban troll with evil on his mind. He is as close as you'll come to pure evil in a 1920 movie, leading a life of wanton vice and leaving a trail of victims in his wake. Jekyll, meanwhile, becomes addicted to bad behavior and goes about creating a separate like for Hyde so he can live out his basest desires and impulses but "leave the soul untouched." It's pure hypocrisy on the part of Jekyll, pretending that he has no responsibility for the acts perpetrated by Hyde even as he lets his alter ego out to play with greater frequency. He changes his will to leave everything to Hyde and spends more and more time in his life, neglecting his own practice and looking worn and exhausted when he's back as Henry. And when he decides to kick the habit, it's too late: Hyde emerges without the potion after a terrifically bizarre dream sequence with a monstrous spider bearing Hyde's head.
Barrymore was almost 40 when he made Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, already a star of the stage and veteran screen performer, and he used the role as a performance showcase. Known as a handsome leading man, he delivers a big, outsized performance of a grotesque figure and he unleashes the hammy side of his style as the leering beast of a thug, but what a monster. By the end of the film, he's stomping children in the street and wantonly murdering Henry's friends. And he brings a tortured struggle to the repressed doctor, horrified at the demon he's unleashed, guilty that he enjoys Hyde's unrestrained life of drinking and whoring, and terrified that he can no longer control the transformations. Barrymore was acclaimed for the performance and it launched him into the 1920s as a real movie star.
This was an A-list studio production and John S. Robertson delivers a handsome canvas, something not always apparent in earlier home video editions. Henry's world is perfectly fine but the squalid slum streets and dive taverns frequented by Hyde really give the film its atmosphere. But it also has a choppy narrative with a heavy reliance on bridging intertitles to carry the plot forward and explain the narrative turns of the film. The script drops story threads (whatever happened to his free clinic?) and no one seems to notice how Henry has all but dropped from sight, only that his association with the repulsive Hyde is becoming too much for even the sybarite Sir George to put up with.
Barrymore's performance carries the film and it's more interesting than convincing today; his brand of flamboyant theatricality hasn't aged well, but it is fun to watch. Nita Naldi, who made her film debut here, is memorable in the small role as Miss Gina, the wicked woman next to Martha Mansfield's angelic good girl Millicent. Naldi later starred opposite Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand (1922) and Cobra (1925).
The 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which long ago fell into the public domain, has been released in numerous substandard editions. Kino first released the film on DVD in a fine edition in 2003 but has gone back to archival 35mm materials to create a new HD master for its Blu-ray debut. There are plenty of artifacts on the image--scratches, grit, chemical damage--and a couple of scenes are clearly salvaged from inferior prints to fill in missing footage. The difference in clarity from a 35mm source and a 16mm copy is glaring, which only illustrates the vast improvement in image quality from previous editions. Even with the emulsion scratches and chemical degradation, the image underneath is presented with greater clarity and sharpness than in any previous disc release and that allows viewers to look past the visual noise to the film itself. The film is presented at a slower and more accurate frame rate than the previous Kino DVD and features color tints.
The accompanying score is compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Supplements (carried over from the previous DVD release) include a one-reel version of the story from 1912 starring future director James Cruze, a 15-minute digest version of the rival 1920 version of the film starring Sheldon Lewis, the 1925 Stan Laurel one-reel parody Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, and a rare 1909 audio recording of "The Transformation Scene" with actor Len Spencer. All of these extras are also on the new DVD edition made from the same HD master.
by Sean Axmaker
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) on Blu-ray
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
But it was Barrymore's performance that created a sensation. One of the more amazing things about his portrayal is that he accomplishes the intial transition from the refined, handsome Jekyll to the evil, hideous Hyde with no special makeup, camery trickery or cutting. In a continuous sequence that takes up one thousand feet of film, Barrymore simply turns away from the camera with his hands hiding his face, then turns back to reveal grotesquely distorted features. In later sequences, makeup aids his transformation into a horror with pointed head and fangs. Barrymore puts his hands, which he had always considered ugly and "blunt," to effective use as Hyde, wearing sleeves that rise above his wrists as he twists them into claws.
The horrific effects seemed all the more startling to audiences of the day who thought of Barrymore as a handsome, romantic figure. "Underlying the horror of Hyde," Peters writes, "is the astonishing beauty of Dr. Jekyll: the contrast shocks, like a maggot at the heart of a rose." The New York Times was equally impressed by Barrymore's double-edged performance, calling it "one of pure motion-picture pantomime on as high a level as has ever been attained by anyone."
This adaptation, written by Clara Beranger, was the one to establish the convention, followed in most versions since, of having Hyde interact with a "good" and "bad" leading lady. Martha Mansfield (who would die after her costume caught on fire during the filming of The Warrens of Virginia four years later) is the virtuous heroine, while Nita Naldi (wearing costumes that were were considered scandalous even for the flapper age) is the naughty cabaret performer who catches Hyde's lustful eye.
Barrymore was performing Shakespeare's "Richard III" onstage at night while filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at New York's Famous Players studio during the daytime. In addition, he was pressing himself to learn his next role as Hamlet and was involved in a tempestuous romance with poetess Michael Strange (Blanche Oelrichs), whom he married in 1920. The result of all the strain was a physical and nervous collapse.
Tallulah Bankhead would recall in her autobiography that she had been approached as a virginal young actress by Barrymore at the time Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was being cast. When it became clear that a session on Barrymore's "casting couch" was part of the process of becoming his leading lady, Bankhead beat a hasty retreat. The two later became friends, though Barrymore admitted that "our relationship was loathsomely platonic."
Producer: Adolph Zukor
Director: John S. Robertson
Screenplay: Clara Beranger, from novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography: Roy F. Overbaugh
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Principal Cast: John Barrymore (Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde), Martha Mansfield (Millicent Carew), Brandon Hurst (Sir George Carew), Charles Lane (Dr. Richard Lanyon), George Stevens (Poole, Jekyll's butler), Nita Naldi (Miss Gina, Italian Singer).
by Roger Fristoe
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
According to a news item, director Charles J. Hayden based his version of the roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the way they were performed by the great stage actor Richard Mansfield, who first acted in the roles on May 9, 1887 in Boston. For information on other film versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, see the listing above for the 1920 Famous Players-Lasky version, directed by John S. Robertson and starring John Barrymore in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20.