Rouben Mamoulian

Pre-Code Essentials: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1931


Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) is a very highly respected doctor in London and is extremely dedicated to his patients. He also believes that deep down, every human being has the capability of being both good and evil. When he isn’t tending to his patients, Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes the ugly, evil side of his personality, which physically manifests as a wolf-like creature named Mr. Hyde.

Acting as Mr. Hyde, he goes down to the tavern where Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) works. He promises to give her anything she needs if she keeps him company. While Dr. Jekyll is extremely kind and had helped Ivy in the past, Mr. Hyde is extremely controlling and abusive. Ivy is absolutely terrified of Mr. Hyde and while he’s gone, Ivy’s landlady suggests that she go see Dr. Jekyll for help with getting away from Mr. Hyde. When Dr. Jekyll realizes how his alter ego has hurt Ivy so, he vows to never take the potion again, but Mr. Hyde begins reappearing without the potion and Mr. Hyde kills Ivy. As Dr. Jekyll, he repents for how his experiments have interfered with God’s will and breaks off his engagement to Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) as penance, but it isn’t enough to spare Muriel from being exposed to the horrors of Mr. Hyde.

My Thoughts

Easily one of the finest horror movies ever produced. The Academy Awards have a reputation for snubbing horror and science fiction movies, but even they couldn’t ignore the brilliance of Fredric March’s performance. As great as Fredric March is in it, his makeup is equally incredible. Not only is the make-up he wears as Mr. Hyde truly astonishing, I love how they showed his transition from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. It’s without a doubt one of the greatest makeup jobs ever committed to celluloid.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Miriam Hopkins’ long, drawn-out striptease.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Miriam Hopkins’ striptease after being rescued by Dr. Jekyll is easily one of the most notorious scenes in pre-code history. I think it’s been included in virtually every compilation I’ve ever seen of clips showcasing the sort of things you could get away with during the pre-code era.

Applause (1929)

Applause 1929At the height of her career, Kitty Darling (Helen Morgan) is a queen of burlesque with dreams of performing on Broadway.  Even the birth of her daughter April (Joan Peers) does nothing to slow her down.  But as April grows, Kitty realizes that the burlesque world is no place for a child and sends April to school at a convent in Wisconsin.  As the years pass, Kitty’s Broadway dreams go unfulfilled and her best burlesque days are behind her.  She drinks too much, her looks are fading, and she’s gotten involved with Hitch Nelson (Fuller Mellish, Jr.), who only cares about what little money she has.

When Hitch finds out about April, he demands that Kitty bring April back to New York so she can spend her money on him rather than tuition.  April isn’t aware of what kind of performer her mother is and when she finds out, she is horrified.  She loves her mother but detests the sleazy environment of the burlesque theater.  April certainly has no desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps and Kitty respects that.  But with Kitty’s career quickly going downhill,  Hitch pressures April into joining the show so she can make more money for them.

April finds some happiness when she meets Tony (Henry Wadsworth), a sailor on leave in New York.  Before Tony leaves, they decide to get married and move to Wisconsin.  Kitty is thrilled for them, but when April overhears Hitch berating her mother, April decides to stay.  While April is off saying goodbye to Tony, Kitty takes an overdose of sleeping pills and goes downstairs to the burlesque theater where she is set to perform.  Kitty is in no condition to go on stage and April volunteers to fill in for her, not realizing what her mother has done.  When April comes off stage, she finds Tony waiting for her and they decide to carry on with their plans and bring Kitty with them.  Little do they know that Kitty has passed away.

Applause marked the directorial debut of Rouben Mamoulian and it is an incredibly ambitious debut at that.  Applause was part of the early talkie era, a time when movies were typically very static.  Filmmakers were busy enough dealing with the new challenges of working with sound, they weren’t eager to tackle the challenge of trying to move the camera too.  But Mamoulian accepted the challenge and with his innovative use of camera movement, camera angles, and montages, the result is a movie that is ahead of its time stylistically.  Rouben Mamoulian was clearly a man with a real vision for this movie; his work was truly inspired.

Helen Morgan’s performance as Kitty is also outstanding.  Morgan was primarily known for her work on stage and only appeared in a handful of films so she isn’t particularly well remembered today.  However, she makes a very strong impression in Applause.  Kitty is the type of character who would go on to be exemplified by Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas, but Helen Morgan set a very high standard for Stanwyck to follow.

What’s on TCM: October 2012

October is upon us and that can only mean one thing — classic horror movies!  TCM certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department; every Wednesday night in October will be full of great horror movies to help you get into the Halloween spirit.  In addition to the great horror movies, there’s also a great Star of the Month — Spencer Tracy.  Every Monday night this month will be all about Spencer, but his movies also carry over into every Tuesday as well.

On Tuesday nights, TCM will be doing a series called “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film,” which will examine how people with physical and mental disabilities have been portrayed in film.

One night that certainly sounds intriguing is the night of October 21st, a night full of animation rarities.  There will be selections of UPA cartoons as well as many cartoons from the silent film era, dating back as early as 1907!  I know I’m certainly looking forward to seeing those!


Love Me Tonight (1932)

Viscount Gilbert de Vareze (Charlie Ruggles) is a huge fan of Parisian tailor Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier).  Not because he’s a particularly big fan of his work, but because he’s the only tailor in Paris who will let him buy suits on credit.  After Gilbert buys several suits from him on credit and skips out on the bill, Maurice isn’t about to sit back and take this, so he heads out to his family’s estate to collect on the debt.  Gilbert lives with his uncle Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth), the Count’s daughter Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald) and niece Countess Valentine (Myrna Loy).  On his way to the estate, Maurice runs into Jeanette on his way to the estate.  It’s love at first sight for him, but Jeanette isn’t as easily won over.

When Maurice arrives at the estate, he refuses to leave until Gilbert pays his bill.  Unable to pay, Gilbert goes ahead and invites Maurice to stay for a few days until he can get the money.  He tells his family that Maurice is really a Baron and  even though Maurice thinks this scheme is ridiculous, he decides to go along with it when he realizes that Jeanette lives there.  Some of the family questions his background, but ultimately, he wins them over.  They even throw a costume ball in his honor.  Valentine in particular has taken a shine to Maurice, but he still loves Jeanette and Jeanette can no longer deny that she loves him, too.

But Maurice’s cover is blown when one day he sees Jeanette’s seamstress working on a new riding habit for her and he thinks he could do better.  First he rudely dismisses the seamstress, but then the family is scandalized when he is caught with a semi-dressed Jeanette.  At last it comes out that he’s a tailor, not a Baron, and Maurice catches the next train out of there.  The only person not outraged by this revelation is Jeanette, who hops on the fastest horse she can find and chases him down.

I really enjoyed Love Me Tonight.  I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite movies, but it is very light, charming, and witty.  The cast is wonderful and you’ve really got to see its incredibly lavish sets.  Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald may be the stars, and they’re great, but Myrna Loy is a total scene stealer.  Myrna’s character is very man crazed and one of my favorite moments of the movie is when Gilbert asks her if she could go for a doctor and she says, “Yes!  Bring him right in!”  Her delivery of that line is classic.  She says it in total Myrna Loy fashion and it’s perfect for this movie.

Queen Christina (1933)

Queen Christina 1933 Greta Garbo

Who better to play a Swedish queen than the Swedish queen of cinema herself, Greta Garbo?  Christina is crowned Queen of Sweden at the ripe old age of five after her father is killed in battle.  As she grows up, she loves her country so much that she turns down romantic relationships so she can dedicate herself to being the best ruler she can be.  But sometimes, the pressures of being a ruler get to be too much for Christina and she likes to get away.  She dresses in men’s clothing and sneaks out-of-town.  While she’s out, she meets the Spanish envoy, Antonio (John Gilbert), who has gotten stuck in a snowdrift.  She helps him out and she runs into him again that night when they check into the same inn.  But since the inn is so crowded because of the snow, Antonio has to room with Christina.  He doesn’t realize that she’s really a woman until that night.  But when he finds out, he’s very attracted to her.

Christina and Antonio spend a few blissful days at the inn snowed in, but Antonio still doesn’t know that she’s the Queen.  He remains clueless until he arrives at the palace to present his embassy to the Queen.  When one of the Queen’s suitors realizes that Christina prefers Antonio to him, he tells the public that the Queen is in love with a Spaniard.  Everyone gets all riled up about it and Christina decides that she wants to be a regular person.  She wants to live life on her own terms and be free to love whomever she pleases.  She abdicates the throne and decides to go to Spain with Antonio.  Unfortunately, just before he was to leave for Spain, Antonio is fatally wounded in a duel and dies in Christina’s arms.

Queen Christina is one of the most unconventional women in the pre-code era.  First of all, there’s the fact that the real Queen Christina liked both men and women, that wasn’t something made up for the sake of having a more scandalous movie.  Even though she ultimately falls in love with John Gilbert’s character in the movie, we also see her kiss her lady in waiting.  Queen Christina was also famous for behaving in a very masculine way.  She preferred wearing pants and had no desire to get married or have children.  The real Queen Christina abdicated the throne to be able to be an openly practicing Catholic, though, not for love like in the movie.

Christina isn’t the only remarkably pre-code woman in the movie.  Christina’s lady in waiting, Ebba, also likes men and women and is having an affair with Christina as well as a man.  When Christina and Antonio are at the inn for the first night, Elsa helps them settle in and openly flirts with Christina.  When Antonio asks her if she’s a good girl, she replies, “Only when I don’t like someone.”  Such a true pre-code line!  Queen Christina is also one of the few movies I’ve ever seen where the idea of a woman having lots of lovers is actually celebrated.  When Christina and Antonio are at the inn, they witness a couple of guys get into a fight over whether the Queen has had six or nine lovers.  The guy who insisted it was nine thought it was insulting to suggest the Queen had a mere six lovers in one year.  When Christina declares that they’re both wrong, the correct answer is twelve, the whole bar erupts in cheers!

Queen Christina is one of my favorite Garbo talkies.  What made Garbo such a perfect actress for silent films is that she could say so much using only her face, words were completely unnecessary.  The great thing about Queen Christina is that she gets two exquisite, very famous scenes where all she does is emote.  We also get one last chance to see her work with her greatest co-star, John Gilbert.  Again, we see here that his voice and his acting were not the disaster that popular legend might lead you to expect.  Queen Christina took the best elements of Garbo’s silent films and reinvented them for sound.  Garbo and Gilbert still made a great team and Garbo never lost her ability to use her face to tell stories once she started making talkies.  None of the magic had been lost.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

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.

What’s on TCM: October 2010

Happy Halloween!  Before we get to the TCM schedule for October, it’s time for a little site news.  To celebrate Halloween, I’ll be reviewing a different horror film every Wednesday this month.  I promise it will be a mix between some typical Halloween favorites and some more unusual choices, so be sure to check that out.

Now, back to the TCM schedule.  Since it’s October, I’m sure it’s not at all surprising that there will be tons of horror movies this month.  Every Friday night is a night of horror classics from Hammer Film Productions.  Fredric March is the star of the month, which I’m pretty geeked up for.  Every Monday and Wednesday night is Critic’s Choice night, where two notable film critics pick two of their favorite movies to play.  Some of the critics include Leonard Maltin, Roger Ebert and Mick LaSalle and they’ve made some pretty great choices.