Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

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Boris Karloff stars in a triple locked-room mystery!
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US / 69 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Nigh Assoc pr: William Lackey Scr: Houston Branch Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Colliers Magazine Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings, Evelyn Brent, George Lloyd, Lucien Prival, John St. Polis, William Gould, Hooper Atchley, John Hamilton, Wilbur Mack, Lee Tong Foo, Lynton Brent, Grace Wood, Frank Bruno, Wheaton Chambers.

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The first of a series of six movies about the San Francisco PI James Lee Wong, created in print by Hugh Wiley; the first five movies starred Boris Karloff as Wong, while the sixth starred an actual Chinese-American in the role, Keye Luke. Depressingly, that sixth movie, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), flopped and so the series came to abrupt end. (When I get a chance, I’ll add it to this site. But it seemed silly to start watching a series with its final entry.)

I confess that for years I’ve avoided the Mr. Wong movies—as I generally do the Charlie Chan ones—because I find it just as creepy to watch a white actor play what I suppose we have to call Yellow Face as I do watching white actors play Black Face. I have to report, though, that the experience wasn’t as grueling as I’d expected. There is no mockery at all of Chinese culture or mannerisms. To the contrary, Wong is the most respected character in the movie; at one point the romantic lead compares the elderly Wong so favorably to her police-detective boyfriend—“Mr. Wong, it’s been such a pleasure meeting a detective with such charming manners”—that the cop’s eyes narrow in jealousy.

The Dayton Chemical Co. is planning to ship a consignment of toxic chemicals to Europe aboard the good ship Orinoco. The operation is spied upon by Lescardi (Bruno), an enforcer working for a pair of activists embedded in European politics, Anton Mohl (Prival), who goes by the name Baron von Krantz, and Olga Petroff (Evelyn Brent), who goes by the name Countess Dubois. They’re eager to divert Continue reading

Speed Devils (1935)

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US / 60 minutes / bw / Melbert, Perfect Circle, Warner, Hoffberg Dir: Joseph Henabery Scr: Burnet Hershey Cine: E.B. DuPar, Ray Foster Cast: Marguerite Churchill, Paul Kelly, Russell Hardie, Leo Curley, Walter Fenner, Earl Mitchell.

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After a crash at the Madison County Fair Ground, rival racecar drivers Marty Gray (Kelly) and Dan Holden (Hardie) find themselves in adjacent beds in the Harristown Hospital. When Dan’s told his injuries mean he must give up racing for life, Marty, whose injuries are less debilitating but still likely to keep him out of the game for a while, suggests they Continue reading

Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

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So many seedy secrets behind a boarding house’s doors!
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US / 62 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: D. Ross Lederman Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: Anthony Coldeway Story: Murder on the Second Floor (1929 play) by Frank Vosper Cine: Allen G. Siegler Cast: Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce Lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Charles Irwin, Phyllis Barry, Mary Field, Paul Renay.

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London, 1937, and on the surface Mrs. Armitage’s boarding house appears tranquil enough. But, as we soon find out, not all is as it seems . . .

The movie opens at the docks. One of Mrs. Armitage’s lodgers, Joe Reynolds (Cavanagh), observes as another, Ram Singh (Bey), helps smuggle a small trunk onto the dock and away. Back at the boarding house next morning, it’s clear that the two are in uneasy, mutually suspicious cahoots.

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Ram Singh (Turhan Bey) awaits the arrival of the smuggled box.

Not all is well among the building’s other occupants. Startled while clearing away the breakfast things, the maid, Lucy Timpson (Barry), drops a tray of dirty dishes and is promptly and viciously fired by the landlady, ex-actress Stella Armitage (Inescort). Joe has been carrying on a long-term affair with Stella—in fact, it was he who bought the boarding house for her to run ten years ago when her acting days were over. Stella’s chess-fiend husband Tom (Mander), likewise an ex-actor—he boasts he once played the aunt in Charley’s Aunt—is oblivious to the pair’s shenanigans even after a decade. On the other hand, Stella is equally oblivious to the fact that her lover Joe has been canoodling on the side with Lucy.

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Lucy (Phyllis Barry) is startled by various goings-on.

Also living in the house are Miss Phoebe Marcia St. John Snell (Field)—“I usually leave out the Marcia”—a spinster who sublimates her unmentionable yearnings by reading an endless string of fevered romance novels; and a young, would-be playwright, Hugh Bromilow (Lester). Hugh is carrying on with Stella’s daughter Sylvia (Angel), but at least for the moment in what we might call Continue reading

Inside Information (1934)

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Not your average Tarzan movie!
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US / 49 minutes / bw / Consolidated, Stage & Screen Dir: Robert F. Hill Pr: Bert Sternbach, Albert Herman Scr: Bob Lively, Betty Laidlaw Story: Bert Ennis, Victor Potel Cine: George Meehan Cast: Rex Lease, Marion Shilling, Philo McCollough, Charles King, Henry Hall, Robert McKenzie, Victor Potel, Jean Porter, Henry Roquemore, Jimmy Aubrey, Robert F. Hill, Charles Harper, Tarzan the Police Dog.

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The star of this short feature is the dog Tarzan. Inside Information was the first of the three Melodramatic Dog Features, each starring Tarzan, to be produced by the Beyond Poverty Row studio Consolidated Pictures. The other two were Million Dollar Haul (1935) and Captured in Chinatown (1935); in the latter, Marion Shilling and Philo McCollough (there spelled McCullough) would once more be his costars.

Lloyd Wilson (Lease) has persuaded Police Chief Gallagher (director Hill) to ask the Police Commissioner (Roquemore) for a special medal for Lloyd’s dog Tarzan (self). The Commissioner’s dubious, so Lloyd tells the tale of Tarzan’s intelligence and valor . . .

Lloyd informs the Commissioner that he’s Assistant Cashier at the City Investment Co. . . . although later in the extended flashback that makes up almost the entirety of the movie it seems Continue reading

Witness for the Prosecution (1982 TVM)

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A very good remake of a classic movie!
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UK, US / 102 minutes / color / United Artists Dir: Alan Gibson Pr: Norman Rosemont Scr: John Gay Story: “Traitor’s Hands” (1925 Flynn’s Weekly) and Witness for the Prosecution (1953 play), both by Agatha Christie, and the screenplay for Witness for the Prosecution (1957) by Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald Pleasence, Wendy Hiller, Diana Rigg, David Langton, Richard Vernon, Peter Sallis, Michael Gough, Frank Mills, Michael Nightingale, Peter Copley, Patricia Leslie, Primi Townsend.

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Christie’s play has been filmed several times. The most famous adaptation is quite clearly Billy Wilder’s 1957 movie Witness for the Prosection, featuring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyron Power and, in what’s effectively an unorthodox version of the femme fatale role, Marlene Dietrich.

Because of the fame of the Wilder adaptation, it’s easy to think it must have been the first. Not so. As far as I can gather, the first movie adaptation was Continue reading

Where’s Marlowe? (1998)

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Two flies on the wall of the PI’s office!
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US / 99 minutes / color with some bw / Western Sandblast, H2O Paramount Dir: Daniel Pyne Pr: Clayton Townsend Scr: John Mankiewicz, Daniel Pyne Cine: Greg Gardiner Cast: Miguel Ferrer, Mos Def, John Livingston, Allison Dean, John Slattery, Elizabeth Schofield, Barbara Howard, Clayton Rohner, Miguel Sandoval, David Newsom, Olivia Rosewood, Kirk Baltz, Bill McKinney, Heather McComb, Wendy Crewson.

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A mockumentary in much the same spirit as Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap (1985) but focusing not on rock but on another supposedly glamorous profession, that of the noirish private eye.

The last documentary made by A.J. Edison (Livingston) and Wilton “Wilt” Crawley (Def), a three-hour epic called Water in the Apple: How New Yorkers Get their Water, was a tad unsuccessful—to euphemize. “I don’t believe you can cover a topic of that magnitude in less than three hours,” according to A.J. “And I don’t care what the festival people say.”

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A.J. (John Livingston) and Wilt (Mos Def) spy on some sinful canoodling.

(As an aside, the notion that the story of New York’s water supplies is an inherently boring topic seems rather askew. It’s a fascinating tale, and I’d happily watch a documentary about it. Okay, maybe not a documentary three hours long.)

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Joe (Miguel Ferrer) fancies himself as a screen personality.

And so they go in search of a subject that might have greater commercial potential . . . which leads them to the LA detective agency Boone & Murphy Inquiries and an agreement to make a documentary about the day-to-day operation of their business. One partner, Joe Boone (Ferrer), is very keen on Continue reading

Too Many Suspects (1975 TVM)

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“In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is: Who killed her? . . . Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess: Whodunnit?
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US / 98 minutes / color / Fairmont Foxcroft, Universal Dir: David Greene Pr & Scr: Richard Levinson, William Link Story: The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) by Avram Davidson writing as Ellery Queen Cine: Howard Schwartz Cast: Jim Hutton, David Wayne, Ray Milland, Kim Hunter, John Hillerman, John Larch, Tim O’Connor, Nancy Mehta (i.e., Nancy Kovack), Warren Berlinger, Monte Markham, Gail Strickland, Tom Reese, Vic Mohica, Dwan Smith, John Finnegan, Rosanna Huffman, James Lydon, Basil Hoffman, Frannie Michel.

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“B–b–b–b–b–but!” I can hear you cry. “Surely there can be few things less noirish than the pilot movie for an Ellery Queen TV series? Even Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies have more of the mean streets about them than Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.”

You forget two things. First, that your humble scribe has had an affection for the tales of Ellery Queen that has lasted most of his reading life. Second, that, like it or lump it—and Raymond Chandler famously lumped it—without the strand of crime fiction of which Ellery Queen is a prime representative, the hardboiled strand might not have flourished. And without hardboiled crime fiction we might not have had film noir. Let’s remember, too, that there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between an Ellery Queen movie of the early 1940s and The FALCON TAKES OVER (1942), based on Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), or, for that matter, DANGEROUS FEMALE (1931) and SATAN MET A LADY (1935), both based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930).

Leaving those justifications aside, the year selected for this month in Rich Westwood’s Crimes of the Century feature at his Past Offences blog is 1975 and, although there were other possible candidate movies—such as Arthur Marks’s humdinger A Woman for All Men (1975)—this was the one that I fancied watching and writing about.

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It’s 1947 in NYC and, as the movie opens in the apartment of swish fashion designer Monica Gray (Mehta/Kovack), we hear a voice in the background:

“Good evening. This is our fourth week of bringing you world and local news through the exciting new medium of television.”

A shot rings out, and what we next see is Monica crawling agonizedly across the carpet to pull the plugs of her TV set and her electric clock from the wall. It is exactly 10.25pm.

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Monica Gray Nancy Kovack) has just moments to live.

The case goes to Inspector Richard Queen (Wayne) of the NYPD’s 3rd Division, and he’s intrigued enough by the supposed clue of the plugs being pulled from their sockets that he lures his son, mystery writer Ellery Queen (Hutton), into the investigation, despite Ellery’s state of panic about Continue reading

Last Light, The (2013)

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Whose fault was it what happened that night?
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US / 14 minutes / color / Coral House Productions Dir: Jennifer Cummins Pr: Lisa Cooper Scr: Persephone Vandegrift Cine: Dan McComb Cast: Telisa Steen, Sarah Dennis, Elora Coble, Randall Dai, Pearl Klein, Danika Collins.

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A very simple albeit narratively rather complex short that gives a powerful portrayal of grief but is, for me, let down by the triteness of its ending. The movie was, as acknowledged in the closing credits, funded through Indiegogo.

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Karen (Telisa Steen) and her two girls (Sarah Dennis [right] and Elora Coble) in happier times.

Karen Kingston (Steen), a single mother and seeming career woman, always promised her timid younger daughter Rebecca Anne “Becca” (Coble) that she’ll make sure to protect her from any harm that might come her way; but Becca was Continue reading

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931/2)

US / 86 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir & Pr: Rouben Mamoulian Scr: Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath Story: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson Cine: Karl Struss Cast: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Halliwell Hobbes, Edgar Norton, Tempe Pigott.

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[An essay originally written for the Wonders in the Dark SF Countdown.]

This is widely regarded as the best screen version ever made of Stevenson’s classic tale. Alarmingly, we’re lucky to have it. When MGM was preparing to release its 1941 adaptation, with Spencer Tracy in the dual role, the company, in an act of cultural philistinism that’d almost surpass belief were it not that there have been other examples, sought out and destroyed every print of the 1931/2 adaptation that it could find. It was not until 1967 that a print of the Mamoulian movie was uncovered, and even then it was only the post-Code reissue of 1936, from which about eight minutes had been cut (from the middle of the first transformation to the middle of the second, which must have made things pretty confusing for audiences). At last, in 1994, an unbowdlerized print was discovered, so that now we’re free to watch it in all its glory.

It’s a matter of quiet pleasure to me that Mamoulian’s adaptation has made it into this countdown—albeit by the skin of its teeth—while the wholly unnecessary MGM remake hasn’t.

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A note on the release date: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had its premiere on December 31 1931 and went on release a few days later, on January 3 1932. Technically, therefore, it’s a 1932 movie. However, it’s frequently listed as for 1931. Finicky, yes, I know.

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Poole (Edgar Norton, left).

The movie opens with Dr Henry “Harry” Jekyll (March) playing on the pipe organ he keeps in his house for recreation. The intention seems to be to remind us of Phantom of the Opera (1925) so as to make us fully aware that this is a horror movie we’re watching. In the opening minutes of the movie Mamoulian deploys subjective camera; we watch through Jekyll’s eyes as he’s reminded by his butler, Poole (Norton), that he’s late for the public lecture he’s due to give. This use of the subjective camera is to prepare us for the first transformation scene, which we’ll see from the viewpoint of Jekyll as he faces himself in the mirror.

Jekyll - 1 Jekyll expounds his theory at one og his popular lectures

Jekyll (Fredric March) expounds his theory at one of his popular lectures.

Back to Jekyll’s present. When he gets to the lecture hall, he explains to a large and rapt audience of students and fellow physicians the underpinning of the movie:

“My analysis of the soul, and the human psyche, leads me to believe that man is not truly one, but truly two. One of him strives for the nobilities of life. This we call his good self. The other seeks an expression of impulses that bind him to some dim animal relation with the earth. This we may call the bad. These two carry on an eternal struggle in the nature of man, yet they are chained together, and that chain spells repression to the evil, remorse to the good.

“Now, if these two selves could be separated from each other, how much freer the good in us would be. What heights it might scale. And the so-called evil, once liberated, could fulfil itself—and trouble us no more.

“I believe the day is not far off when this separation will be possible . . .”

After the lecture he runs into his old friend Dr. Lanyon (Herbert), who tells him they’re expected to tend a wealthy hypochondriacal duchess. No, no, says Jekyll: he’d rather take care of his charity patients and to hell with the fat duchess’s fat fee. So, to Lanyon’s obvious disapproval, he goes off and, near Christ-like, does things like persuading a cute little crippled urchin, Mary (uncredited), to cast aside her crutches and walk.

Jekyll - 2 Mary (uncredited), a charity patient to whom Jekyll restores the power of walking

Mary (uncredited), a charity patient to whom Jekyll restores the power of locomotion.

Later he and Lanyon dine with Brigadier-General Carew (Hobbes) and his daughter Muriel (Hobart), who is Jekyll’s affianced. Carew is insisting that the wedding between the two be postponed for nigh on a year. Both Jekyll and Muriel are desperate to get married as soon as possible, but the old man is obdurate. Obviously for two such righteous youngsters as Jekyll and Muriel the very thought of premarital malarkey is out of the question . . . except that it’s obvious both of them are thinking about it quite a lot.

Jekyll - 3 Muriel and Harry, a happy young couple impatient for marriage

Muriel (Rose Hobart) and Harry (Fredric March), a happy young couple impatient for marriage.

On the way home through the London streets, Lanyon reproves his younger friend:

Lanyon: “I’m afraid you’ve offended the general.”
Jekyll: “Offended him? It’s a pity I didn’t strangle the old walrus.”

Moments later, Jekyll is rescuing tavern chanteuse and general all-round floozie “Champagne” Ivy Pearson (Hopkins)—spelled “Pierson” in the closing credits but seen written as “Pearson” during the movie—from some drunken pickup. He carries her up to her rooms and checks that her injuries are but slight.

Jekyll - 4 Jekyll carries the bruised Ivy up to her apartment

Jekyll (Fredric March) carries the bruised Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) up to her apartment.

In a sequence that involves the slow, sensuous removal of her stockings and garters, she makes it clear that, when a girl says she’d do anything to express her gratitude, she doesn’t mean cooking him a nice meal. Despite the fact that, as we know, Jekyll is in a condition described by Mervyn Peake in Titus Alone (1959) as like a tightened harp-string, he rebuffs her advances. Even so, when she sweeps him into a passionate kiss he doesn’t put up much resistance.

Jekyll - 5 Ivy makes it plain that, um, her gratitude knows no bounds

Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) makes it plain to her savior (Fredric March) that her gratitude knows no bounds.

It’s at that moment that Lanyon walks in. By this time, oddly, one of the garters she removed is back on her thigh. Maybe it’s one of them homing garters you’ve read about.

Jekyll - 6 The scene that greets Lanyon when he bursts into the room

The appalling scene that greets Lanyon when he bursts into the room.

As the two men leave, there’s a neat superimposition of Ivy’s swinging naked leg, to the sound of her final husked words to Jekyll—“Come back sooooon”—over the figures of Jekyll and Lanyon while they’re climbing back down the outside stairs to the street:

Jekyll - 7 The superposition mentioned in text

Lanyon’s still very dismissive of Jekyll’s theories about being able to separate the wanton and the civilized aspects of an individual. Jekyll’s response epitomizes the Hollywood understanding of science:

“I tell you it’s unscientific not to admit the possibility of anything.”

Needless to say, the unfulfillable yearnings for Muriel and the quite obviously rather more fulfillable yearnings for Ivy contribute to Jekyll renewing his researches into finding a chemical potion that might release his more brutish self from the constraints of his civilized persona.

The potion, appropriately, steams.

Jekyll - 8 The earnest young scxientist, hard at work

The earnest young scientist (Fredric March), hard at work.

Even so, he downs it, and we witness—in Jekyll’s laboratory mirror—the metamorphosis of the civilized man of science into the simian Mr. Hyde, who takes the form of some perhaps Neanderthal evolutionary ancestor of Homo sapiens, his head-shape reminiscent of a gorilla’s or chimp’s, his teeth a picket fence in the wake of a tornado.

This first transformation is one of cinema’s great tours de force. We actually see much less of it than we think we do. The illusion is created by having the subjective camera follow the track of Jekyll’s frantic gaze around the paraphernalia of his laboratory, with snips of various of the scenes we’ve already seen and voices like those of Carew and Lanyon accusing him of base impulses—he wants to hurry up the marriage, he kissed Ivy, etc. . . . While it’s an astonishingly clever piece of cinematic trickery, for much of the time—invested as we are in events—we’re letting our imaginations fill in the details without our realizing it.

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Jekyll - 10e The first transformation

The first transformation.

Part of the dramatic metamorphosis of Jekyll to Hyde was achieved by applying a wig and false teeth to March while the camera wasn’t looking, part of it was done by March himself, expertly manipulating his facial muscles, and part of it was done by the clever use of filters: March’s face was made up in some areas using colored makeup invisible to the standard filter, but then the filters were adroitly changed. On the bw film, the effect was to make it seem as if dark patches—bruises?—had appeared from nowhere on the actor’s face. (Later in the movie a different technique was used, essentially a matter of editing akin to what goes on in stop-motion animation. It’s not nearly as effective.)

Reified at last, the brutish Hyde hotfoots it to the tavern—the so-called Variety Club—where Ivy sings, and grabs a table where he and she can have a romantic drinkie. She at first seems to assume he’s just a new and rather more vomitworthy than usual client. (“Strike me pink,” she tells the waiter who informs her of the man’s request for her company. “You interest me. I’ll take a chance.”) He, for his part, presses his suit by use of a string of those appeals that we chaps thought were infernally cunning seduction lines when we were about 15: “I like you when your temper’s up” is perhaps the best of them, although “You should have a place that would set off that fine body of yours” and “I’m no gentleman . . . but I have money” run it close. There’s even “What I want, I get.” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Trump? What emerges quite clearly in this first conversation with Ivy is that Hyde is hugely jealous of Jekyll, who could have made her his through kindness, civility and good looks rather than through fear.

Jekyll - 14 Hyde tells Ivy she'll never be free of him

Hyde (Fredric March) tells Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) she’ll never be free of him.

And fear it is. Whatever Ivy’s bravura beforehand, her revulsion now for him, her terror of him—they’re palpable.

Jekyll might have been able to resist further metamorphoses in order to indulge in the temptations of the flesh—in Hydeness—after this first experiment were it not for the fact that Carew has dragged Muriel off for an extended stay in Bath. Not only is Jekyll free at any time to transform himself into Hyde and dash out through his laboratory’s rear door for a night of brutalized sex with Ivy, the continued isolation from Muriel is, well, tightening that harp string:

Jekyll: “Miss Muriel won’t be home for another month. Can’t even go to see her.”
Poole: “I’m sorry to hear it, sir.”
Jekyll: “Another month!”
Poole: “I beg your pardon, sir, but may I suggest you ought to amuse yourself.”

The remainder of the plot is much as we could guess even if we didn’t know it so well. Muriel and her father get back from Bath and Carew finally agrees the couple can wed as soon as practicably possible.

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Jekyll - 15 Eventually Carew gives consent to the early marriage

Eventually Carew (Halliwell Hobbes) gives Mary (Rose Hobart) and Harry permission to bring the marriage forward.

Jekyll resolves to forswear forever his use of the potion. Alas, he’s now incapable of resisting spontaneous metamorphoses: on the night when he’s supposed to be at Carew’s dinner announcing the engagement he’s off murdering Ivy. (Perhaps the most striking moment of many in the movie is when Ivy, believing herself forever rid of Hyde, toasts herself in the mirror just as, over her reflected shoulder, the door inches open to reveal her leering oppressor.) There’s going to be no happy ending to this one . . .

Jekyll - 18 Ivy's despairing discovery that Jekyll couldn't keep his promise

Ivy (Miriam Hopkins), having believed herself free of Hyde forever, is distraught to glance up from her mirror and discover she was wrong.

A recurring motif throughout the movie is that of freedom. Jekyll and Muriel crave the freedom to be physically united, a freedom barred to them by her ghastly old father and the constraints of society. Jekyll is intent upon setting the two aspects of the individual free from each other. Hyde, once first incarnated, throws his head back to swallow the London rain as he rejoices in his liberation from the prison of Jekyll:

“Free! Free at last! Ah! Mad, eh, Lanyon? Eh, Carew? You hypocrites, deniers of life! If you could see me now, what would you think?”

Jekyll - 11 Hyde rejoices in his freedom from Jekyll

Hyde (Fredric March) rejoices in his freedom from Jekyll.

There’s a long (somewhat bathetic) sequence toward the movie’s end where Jekyll’s greatest desire is to set Muriel free from any obligations of engagement she might have, so that, in being released from Jekyll, she is released also from Hyde. Most poignantly of all, Ivy dreams of setting herself free from the thralldom of Hyde while all the time knowing this can never be: she will be his slave until he chooses to kill her. She tells as much to her sympathetic landlady, Mrs. Hawkins (Pigott), and then later to Jekyll himself. The former hardly believes her; the latter is fool enough to think he can protect her through governing his own impulses.

Jekyll - 12 Mrs Hawkins advises Ivy to escape from Hyde while she can

Mrs. Hawkins (Tempe Pigott) advises Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) to escape from Hyde while she can.

Jekyll - 17 Jekyll promises Ivy that Hyde will never trouble her again

Jekyll (Fredric March) promises Ivy (Miriam Hopkins) that Hyde will never trouble her again. Alas . . .

Overall, the conclusion seems to be that unbridled freedom—the freedom Hyde attains and that so many of us think we want or believe is our right—is harmful not just to others but to ourselves: during the limited period within which Hyde enjoys his release from the shackles of restraint, he murders two people but himself comes to a sticky end. There’s a freedom to put oneself outside the mainstream of society, the movie’s telling us, but it comes at a personal cost, and possibly a terminal one. It’s not that freedom is unattainable, but that its exercise carries with it responsibilities—responsibilities that Hyde is unwilling or unable to acknowledge.

Jekyll - 20a At Lanyon's gunpoint . . .

Threatened by Lanyon (Holmes Herbert) . . .

Jekyll - 20b . . . Hyde starts to demonstrate the potion's power to Lanyon

 . . . Hyde (Fredric March) starts to demonstrate the potion’s power.

March won a well deserved Best Actor Oscar for the dual role (tied with Wallace Beery for The Champ, something that must have pained the snobby March mightily); the screenplay and cinematography both won nominations. In a more enlightened era, Hopkins might well have repeated March’s feat in the Best Actress category, but she probably showed too much flesh for the Academy’s approval.

The truth is that the impressive performance from March is as Hyde. Anyone male and passably good-looking could have tackled the not especially demanding role of Jekyll at least adequately, but Hyde is a genuinely special creation, requiring true skills from the actor. Every move of Hyde’s is full of vigor—his body language is that of a small boy on the first day of the summer vacation, when the swimming pool or the soccer pitch beckons. His gait is sometimes a caper, sometimes close to a glide. Also, while Jekyll—supposedly a Londoner—has an unreconstructed American accent, Hyde does at least sound English . . . well, most of the time.

It’s not that Jekyll is an entirely vapid, two-dimensional character. As we watch, it slowly dawns upon us that Jekyll isn’t as entirely disengaged from Hyde’s actions as he (and we) might wish to think. In many ways, he’s Hyde’s accomplice. When Hyde is chased through the streets and finally cornered in Jekyll’s laboratory, it’s the hastily reconstructed Jekyll who tries to cover up his alter ego’s trail. Similarly, when Jekyll seeks to liberate both Ivy and Muriel from the horrors of Hyde, he could do so by the simple expedient of jumping off a high building. He chooses instead to try a sort of compromise with his own subconscious—a deal with Hyde, in other words, even though he must know this is a deal with the Devil. These aren’t the actions of the saint we at first thought we’d met.

Jekyll - 23 Carew makes clear his low opinion of Jekyll

Carew (Halliwell Hobbes) makes clear his low opinion of Jekyll (Fredric March).

The 1931/2 screen adaptation of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is part of the Hollywood Gothic tradition that would eventually, although never a major contributor, feed into the film-noir style. In this it resembles the roughly contemporaneous—although I’d argue far less subtle—Frankenstein (1931) dir James Whale, with Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke and John Boles. There’s another link to Frankenstein: the idea that science is ever in peril of invading God’s province, and the experimenters must pay the price when it oversteps the boundary. Baron Frankenstein dared to create life and was thereby damned. Jekyll experiments with innate human personality, and so his fate must be similar.

There are echoes, too, of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), in that the protagonists of both are in some sense trying to get away from the moral repercussions of their licentious behavior.

Jekyll - 16 Jekyll indulges in his favorite habit, organ-playing

Jekyll (Fredric March) relaxes at the pipe organ . . .

Jekyll - 22 Muriel takes solace in piano-playing

. . . while Mary (Rose Hobart) seeks solace from her woes at the piano.

In minor ways Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shows its age—for example, there’s no musical soundtrack as such beyond a couple of essays by Jekyll on his pipe organ and by Muriel on the Carew family grand. Yet there’s a tremendous modernity in the movie’s open attitude toward sexuality—Ivy’s brazenness is up front and obvious, while it’s made clear that those same yearnings lie within the bosom of the outwardly straitlaced Muriel. Viewing it today, the movie seems as fresh and as full of vigor as it must have seemed on release. As I said when writing about Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), which I edited with John Clute, “This movie is a classic of the cinema and a milestone in both horror and technofantasy genres. Its most terrifying feature is that we all know Hydes.” Add to that that it’s one of the masterpieces of science-fiction cinema.

Jekyll - 19 The decor in Ivy's apartment

Part of the decor in Ivy’s apartment.

But there’s more!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931/2) is just one of countless screen adaptations of either Stevenson’s novella or the stage play based upon it, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1887) by Thomas R. Sullivan. Here’s a list (with occasional brief notes) of some of the most enjoyable and/or significant of those others:

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908 US) dir Otis Turner, with Hobart Bosworth and Betty Harte. A lost movie.
  • Den Skæbnesvangre Opfindelse (1910 Denmark; vt Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) dir August Blom, with Alwin Neuss. A lost movie.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912 US) dir Lucius Henderson, with James Cruze, Florence Labadie and Marie Eline.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913 US) dir Herbert Brenon, with King Baggot, Jane Gail and Howard Crampton. You can find this on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjLSic_FPBk
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913 US) dir Frank E. Woods, with Murdock MacQuarrie.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920 US) dir John S. Robertson, with John Barrymore, Nita Naldi, Martha Mansfield, Brandon Hurst and Charles Lane. Here it’s Carew—father to Jekyll’s betrothed—who sets the staid Jekyll on his path of debauchery; concerned for the future of his daughter, he explains the only way to banish temptation is initially to give in to it. After giving in to really quite a lot of it, Jekyll creates his potion.

Jekyll - 21 fit in where appropriate

  • Der Januskopf (1920 Germany) dir F.W. Murnau, with Conrad Veidt, Béla Lugosi (as the doctor’s butler!), Magnus Stifter, and Margarete Schlegel. Murnau changed the names of the dual protagonist to Dr. Warren and Mr. O’Connor to avoid having to pay the Stevenson estate. A lost movie.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920 US) dir J. Charles Haydon, with Sheldon Lewis, Dora Mills Adams, Gladys Field and Leslie Austin.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941 US) dir Victor Fleming, with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Peter Godfrey, Ian Hunter and Frances Robinson. The lesser of the two “classic” talkie versions.
  • Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951 US) dir Seymour Friedman, with Louis Hayward, Jody Lawrance, Alexander Knox and Lester Matthews.
  • Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953 US) dir Charles Lamont, with Boris Karloff, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. You really didn’t want to know this one existed, did you?
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1955 US TVM) dir Allen Reisner, with Michael Rennie, Cedric Hardwicke and Mary Sinclair. Adapted for the Climax! series by Gore Vidal. A short (~45 min) but really quite pleasing version.
  • Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957 US), dir Edgar G. Ulmer, with John Agar, Gloria Talbott and Arthur Shields.
  • The Ugly Duckling (1959 UK) dir Lance Comfort, with Bernard Bresslaw, Maudie Edwards, Jon Pertwee and Reginald Beckwith. From Hammer, a surprisingly amusing comedy version updated to the 1950s.

Jekyll - 24 Hyde's flight through the darkened streets, the copy in hot pursuit

  • The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960 UK; vt House of Fright; vt Jekyll’s Inferno) dir Terence Fisher, with Paul Massie, Christopher Lee, Dawn Addams, David Kossoff and Norma Marla. The first of the Hammer Horror riffs on the theme.
  • The Nutty Professor (1963 US), dir Jerry Lewis with Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens and Del Moore. Despite moments of brilliance, a comedy that seems not quite to live up to its promise.
  • Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (Canada/US 1968 TVM; vt The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde) dir Charles Jarrot, with Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, Leo Genn, Oscar Homolka, Duncan Lamont, Liz Cole and Billie Whitelaw.
  • I, Monster (1971 UK) dir Stephen Weeks, with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Richard Hurndall, George Merritt, Susan Jameson, Marjie Lawrence and Mike Raven. Strangely, the names of Jekyll and Hyde are changed but Lanyon, Enfield, Poole and Utterson all have their accustomed roles in what’s a moderately faithful version of Stevenson’s tale.
  • Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971 UK) dir Roy Ward Baker, with Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Susan Brodrick, Lewis Fiander, Dorothy Alison and Gerald Sim. A T&A riff.
  • Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1973 US) dir David Winters, with Kirk Douglas, Susan George, Susan Hampshire and Michael Redgrave. A musical.
  • Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976 film US) dir William Crain, with Bernie Casey, Rosalind Cash and Marie O’Henry. A blaxploitation adaptation.
  • Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980 US) dir Charles B. Griffith, with Oliver Reed. Horribly misfiring satire from the dreaded Golan–Globus gang. Or is it actually intended as satire?
  • Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1981 UK TVM), dir Alastair Reid, with David Hemmings, Ian Bannen and Lisa Harrow. A good but somewhat stodgy BBC adaptation.
  • Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes (1981 France; vt The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne; vt Bloodbath of Dr. Jekyll; vt The Blood of Dr. Jekyll; vt Le Cas Étrange du Dr. Jekyll et de Miss Osbourne; vt Doctor Jekyll and Miss Osbourne) dir Walerian Borowczyk, with Clément Harari, Udo Kier, Patrick Magee, Marina Pierro, Howard Vernon. Not far short of soft porn, this is quite a sophisticated piece stressing the sexuality aspect. “God knows what the raincoat trade makes of it . . .” wrote critic Chris Peachment.
  • Jekyll and Hyde . . . Together Again (1982 US), dir Jerry Belson, with Mark Blankfield, Krista Errickson, Bess Armstrong, Michael McGuire and Tim Thomerson. Deliberately tasteless but entertaining comedy riff, set in modern US.
  • The Jekyll Experiment (1982 US DTV; vt Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Darkness; vt Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death) dir James Wood, with John Kearney, Dawn Carver Kelly, James Mathers, Tom Nicholson.
  • Edge of Sanity (1988 UK) dir Gérard Kikoine, with Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Ben Cole and Sarah Maur-Thorp. Jekyll accidentally turns himself into Jack the Ripper.
  • Jekyll and Hyde (1990 US TVM) dir David Wickes, with Michael Caine, Cheryl Ladd, Joss Ackland and Ronald Pickup. A lavish treatment marred by a dire performance from Caine in the dual role.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Ms Hyde (1995 US) dir David F. Price, with Tim Daly, Sean Young, Lysette Anthony, Harvey Fierstein and Stephen Tobolowsky. In a similar vein to Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971).
  • Mary Reilly (1996 US) dir Stephen Frears, with Julia Roberts, John Malkovich, Michael Sheen, Glenn Close, Michael Gambon, Ciarán Hinds and George Cole. Based on the 1990 Valerie Martin novel, this tells the tale from the viewpoint of Jekyll’s kitchen maid, who falls in love with him. The movie was widely disliked by the critics . . . although much enjoyed by this one (as was the novel).
  • The Nutty Professor (1996 US) dir Tom Shadyac, with Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn, Larry Miller and Dave Chappelle. A remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis outing. It was sequeled by Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000 US) dir Peter Segal, with Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Larry Miller and John Ales, which I personally found even less funny.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2003 UK TVM) dir Maurice Phillips, with John Hannah, David Warner, Gerard Horan, Kellie Shirley, Jack Blumenau, Brian Pettifer and Ellie Haddington.
  • Jekyll + Hyde (2006 Canada DTV) dir David T. Reilly, with Brian Fisher, Bree Turner, Jeff Roop and Maria del Mar. An updating in which college student Henry “J” Jekyll comes across the transformational mixture while experimenting with illicit drugs.
  • The Nutty Professor (2008 US–Canada) dir Logan McPherson and Paul Taylor, with the voices of Jerry Lewis, Drake Bell, Andrew Francis and Britt Irvin. An animated sequel to the 1963 Jerry Lewis outing.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2008 US TVM) dir Paolo Barzman, with Dougray Scott, Krista Bridges, Tom Skerritt and Danette Mackay. Another updated version, this time set in Boston, with Hyde as a serial killer.

Jekyll and Hyde—often just Hyde—also turn up in supporting roles in unrelated movies, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and Van Helsing (2004).

Jekyll - closer a

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Daring Daughters (1933)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Tower Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Sig Neufeld Scr: Barry Barringer, F. Hugh Herbert Story: Sam Mintz Cine: Harry Forbes Cast: Marian Marsh, Kenneth Thomson, Joan Marsh, Bert Roach, Lita Chevret, Allan Vincent, Richard Tucker, Arthur Hoyt, Florence Roberts, Charlotte Merriam, Bryant Washburn Jr.

Daring Daughters - 0 opener

Terry Cummings (Marian Marsh), working at the cigar counter in the Cortez Hotel lobby, has been living in the Big City—New York, in this instance—for long enough to know that men, young and old, rich and poor, want Just One Thing. She’s tried to inculcate the same wariness in her kid sister Betty (Joan Marsh), who’s recently arrived from the country to live with her, but to no avail: Betty has fallen hook, line and proverbial for garage mechanic Roy Andrews (Washburn).

Terry’s right about most of the men she meets: as soon as they set eyes on her they develop extra hands. She uses them for the gifts they give her—groceries, nights out—then fobs them off easily when they try to go further. She’s invented a sick old grandmother with whom she supposedly lives as a means of quenching the passions of those who suggest going back to her place.

Daring Daughters - 1 Preston sees the two Cummings sisters side by side for the first time

Daring Daughters - 1b . . . and they look like this (Betty on r)

Alan Preston (Kenneth Thomson) sees the two Cummings sisters, Terry (Marian Marsh) and Betty (Joan Marsh), side by side for the first time.

One night Terry arrives home with playboy Alan Preston (Thomson) and they run into Betty. Preston positively drools over Betty, who has the aura of being an order of magnitude more virginal than Continue reading