I’m pretty sure everyone has a general idea of what Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about: a doctor invents a concoction that turns him into an evil creature. But if you’d like to be more specific, Fredric March plays Dr. Jekyll, a kind and respected scientist who believes that all people have good and evil sides to them. So Dr. Jekyll comes up with a potion which he believes will bring out the evil side of the person who drinks it. Sure enough, the potion works and when Dr. Jekyll takes it, he becomes the hideous beast, Mr. Hyde. As Mr. Hyde, he pays a visit to Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), a barmaid and prostitute Dr. Jekyll had helped out earlier. Mr. Hyde tries to come onto Ivy, and even though Ivy is terrified of Mr. Hyde, she can’t refuse his offer to take care of her. When Dr. Jekyll realizes what he’s done to her as Mr. Hyde, he sends Ivy some money. Ivy then visits Dr. Jekyll to personally thank him and begs him to protect her from Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll agrees to help her, but unfortunately, he soon begins turning into Mr. Hyde without even taking the potion. As Mr. Hyde, he goes to see Ivy again and strangles her to death. When he goes back to being Dr. Jekyll again, he vows to never make the potion again and decides to give up his fiancée Muriel (Rose Hobart) to punish himself. But when he goes to call off his engagement to Muriel, he turns back into Mr. Hyde and attacks Muriel. Muriel is saved, but Mr. Hyde runs back to Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory, where he is cornered by police.
The Academy Awards have always been a bit snobby when it comes to horror films, but I’m glad to see they were able to set that aside for once and give Fredric March the Best Actor Oscar because he really deserved it. He played both roles superbly. Well, actually that year was considered a tie between him and Wallace Beery in The Champ, even though Fredric had one more vote than Beery. The Academy just figured it was close enough to be a tie. I also loved Miriam Hopkins’ performance, it’s really too bad she couldn’t be nominated for an Oscar for it. A lot of her performance had to be cut out when it was released because of censorship, but I thought the scenes of her being terrorized by Mr. Hyde were outstanding. She managed to get just the right mix of vulnerable and terrified. Although one of her scenes is one of the most unmistakably pre-code scenes of all time:
This version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a whole, is simply remarkable. Not only for Fredric March’s and Miriam Hopkins’ acting performances, but the direction by Rouben Mamoulian, the cinematography, and the special effects. It truly is a high note in horror films.