Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1920 horror silent film, produced by Famous Players-Lasky and released through Paramount/Artcraft. The film is based upon Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and starring actor John Barrymore. It was directed by John S. Robertson and co-starred Nita Naldi. The scenario was by Clara Beranger and the film is now in the public domain.
Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a doctor of medicine, but he is also an “idealist, philanthropist.” When he is not treating the poor in his free clinic, he is in his laboratory experimenting. Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst), the father of his fiancée, Millicent (Martha Mansfield), is “piqued” by Doctor Jekyll. “No man could be as good as he looks,” he observes.
Following dinner one night, Carew taunts Doctor Jekyll in front of their friends, Edward Enfield (Cecil Clovelly), Doctor Lanyon (Charles Lane) and Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn) proclaiming “In devoting yourself to others, Jekyll, aren’t you neglecting the development of your own life?” “Isn’t it by serving others that one develops oneself,” Jekyll replies. “Which self? Man has two – as he has two hands. Because I use my right hand, should I never use my left? Your really strong man fears nothing. It is the weak one who is afraid of experience. A man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying its impulses. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. With your youth, you should live – as I have lived. I have memories. What will you have at my age?”
And thus the seed is sown, and Jekyll begins his experiments: “Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the two natures in man could be separated – housed in different bodies? Think what it would mean to yield to every evil impulse, yet leave the soul untouched!” Finally, Jekyll develops a potion that turns him into a hideously evil creature that he calls Edward Hyde…
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“In addition to the disturbing transformation scene and appearance of Mr. Hyde, this one was considered almost scandalous for its day. Mr. Hyde gallivants with whores and beats women regularly. Naturally none of these activities made it to the silver screen in the 1920s – a time when showing one’s shoulders was considered lewd and lascivious. Yet they are inferred through more subdued actions.” Best Horror Movies
“Hyde is genuinely alarming-looking: leering, hollow-eyed, malevolent. Barrymore’s full-body work is just incredible as he shifts from Jekyll’s regal carriage to Hyde’s spidery hunchback walk. Every gesture is deliberate – it’s like watching a ballet.” Anne Elisabeth Dillon, Los Angeles Times
“Players-Lasky’s adaptation was put together in their Long Island studios with a scenario expanded to six reels and production values increased to match. The good-girl / bad-girl female leads invented by Sullivan for his stage play (named Millicent and Gina this time around) were allowed more screen time than before, offering insight into Jekyll’s motivations and adding a lecherous tone to Hyde’s formerly one-dimensional villainy. This sexual subtext is underlined by frequent borrowings from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.” The Devil’s Manor