Very few characters have struck the chord of man's imagination with more resonance than Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, for in his duality he represents the struggle of good and evil within the individual. It is a struggle that has always intrigued, puzzled, and preoccupied men. As early as 1908, Hollywood's fledgling filmmakers recognized the potential box-office appeal of Stevenson's spine-chilling classic. It was a story that possessed all the winning ingredients: horror, suspense, romance, and morality. Only three of the Jekyll and Hyde films have done justice to Stevenson's literary masterpiece—the inspired performance given by John Barrymore in 1920, the 1932 version starring Fredric March as the infamous doctor, and the Victor Fleming 1941 production starring Spencer Tracy. The 1932 film was produced and directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who was acknowledged and esteemed as one of the most inspired and innovative Broadway directors during the 1930's. Although Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was only Mamoulian's third film, he infused this stunning melodrama with a theatrical virtuosity which perfectly expressed the brooding, bizarre quality of Stevenson's character.
Dr. Jekyll (Fredric March), is a man unshackled by the taboos of convention. As Karl Struss's camera pans a filled-to-capacity auditorium of students and distinguished medical men, Dr. Jekyll leans on his dais and elaborates on his theory of the dualistic nature of the human psyche. "I have found," he explains, "that certain agents, certain chemicals have the power to disturb the trembling. immateriality of the seemingly solid body in which we walk." The reaction to this heretical proclamation is immediate and sharply divided, some believing the doctor to be a savior, others convinced that.he is in league with the devil.
In addition to his research and lectures, Jekyll unselfishly devotes long hours of his time to a free medical clinic, causing him, on this particular evening, to arrive late at a dinner party held at the home of Brigadier General Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), Jekyll's future father-in-law. However, Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), Jekyll's fiancée, forgives the good doctor for his tardiness, and as they stroll in the garden, they discuss their impending marriage on which the general has imposed an eight-month waiting period. Jekyll leaves the Carew home in the company of his good friend, Dr. Lanyan (Holmes Herbert). Suddenly their reverie is broken by a noisy scuffle between a man and a woman in the dimly lit street ahead. Rushing forward, Jekyll drives off the assailant and helps the manhandled young woman upstairs to her rooms. Encouraged by his solicitous ministrations, the cockney woman, Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), becomes coquettish and attempts to seduce him. However, she fails, and with the scene rather abrubtly ended, the audience realizes that Ivy will reappear later in the film.
Following this is a scene which takes place in Jekyll's laboratory where, after three days of unflagging experimentation, Jekyll has produced a bubbling elixir which awaits its final test. The doctor hesitates for one long moment, then raises the flask and drinks the foaming potion. Suddenly, a spasm convulses his body, and he writhes in pain, his face horribly contorted. This scene portraying the initial transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is a cinemagraphic masterpiece since it was done without the usual series of dissolves to accommodate makeup changes. The use of a number of colored gelatin filters caused March's makeup to appear to change and, as Struss's camera relentlessly focuses on Jekyll's face, the audience watches in horror as the evil in his soul permeates and contorts his features into a dark and loathsome mask of wickedness and malice before their very eyes. Moving with an ani¬mal's quick grace, Hyde grins savagely in the mirror and then, throwing a cape around his shoulders, leaves the lab by the back door.
In a later scene, the doctor restlessly paces his lab, his life in limbo. General Carew, concerned over Jekyll's refusal to give up his research, has taken his daughter to Bath on an extended holiday. A telegram from Bath informing the doctor that Muriel will not be returning for at least another month incites Jekyll to action. Downing a draft of the potion, he changes quickly to Hyde and slinks off into the foggy London streets. After making inquiries at Ivy Pearson's boarding house about her whereabouts, Hyde proceeds to the Blue Boar dance hall where, amidst the bacchanalian revelry, he observes Ivy flitting about with debauched abandon. Hyde snatches up a broken glass and with a savage, threatening gesture, chases away Ivy's escort. Then, with a wolfish, terrifying intensity, he turns to Ivy and says, "You'll come with me, eh?"
From this point on, the pace of the movie quickens dramatically; time lapses are effected through a series of dissolves and slow fades as Jekyll catapults, through the character of Mr. Hyde, toward an abyss from which there is no escape. The sound effects, including the use of quickening heartbeats, builds suspense throughout the ensuing scenes to a raw, nerve-jangling level of intensity. Having been informed of the recent return to London of General Carew and his daughter, Jekyll is deeply disturbed and full of remorse over his recent indulgences. Deciding to end his double life, he sends his butler, Poole (Edgar Norton), with a fifty-pound note and a message to be delivered to Ivy. In addition, he gives his butler the key to the rear door of his lab, stating that he will no longer have need of it.
Later, Ivy arrives at the doctor's home to return his money and beg his assistance in freeing herself from Hyde's sadistic attentions. Jekyll, remorseful over the anguish which he has caused her, promises that she will never see Hyde again. However, Jekyll has unleashed the licentious Mr. Hyde once too often. The fragile chain of conscious control has been irrevocably broken and the beast lurks ever-present, unshackled, and ready to claw its way into the upper consciousness of Jekyll's mind. Totally unaware of this irreversible change that has occurred within himself, Jekyll strolls happily through the park on his way to the Carew home. Following their return from Bath, the General has undergone a change of heart and agreed to an early marriage between Dr. Jekyll and his daughter, and this is the night the formal wedding announcement is to be made. Suddenly, with dynamic primitive force, Hyde takes over Jekyll's body and walks towards Ivy's flat. Here, he informs the terrified Ivy that he is the wonderful Dr. Jekyll in which she has believed; then, with a pagan enjoyment, he wantonly takes her life. Smashing his way through the curious onlookers who have heard Ivy's screams and gathered on the stairs, Hyde escapes into the safety of the darkness.
Unable to return to his laboratory and no longer being in possession of the rear door key, Hyde sends a message by porter to his friend Lanyan, instructing him to retrieve certain chemicals from his lab and give them to a messenger whom Jekyll will send to Lanyan's home at midnight. Lanyan, however, refuses to release the package to the suspicious-looking Mr. Hyde. Having no choice, Hyde mixes and drinks the potion, reverting to Dr. Jekyll before the disbelieving, horrified eyes of his friend. Jekyll swears Lanyan to secrecy, promising that in return for his trust, he will give up Muriel and never again take the potion.
With a heavy heart, Jekyll arrives at the Carew home and informs Muriel that he is releasing her from her marriage commitment. However, as he leaves -the house, Hyde again takes possession of Jekyll's mind and body. Reentering the house, he pursues Muriel, who screams at the sight of this horrifying stranger. General Carew comes to his daughter's rescue, but Hyde savagely beats the old man with his cane and escapes into the night. Two constables, alerted by the General's cries for help, take up the chase, tracking their suspect to the home of Dr. Jekyll. Frantically Hyde mixes his potion with the constables pounding on the door. At the last second, as the door finally succumbs to their persistent barrage, Hyde changes back to Jekyll and convinces the officers who have burst into the room that the murderer, Hyde, has been there but has escaped by the back door. At this moment, Lanyan appears and reveals to the constables that Jekyll himself is the ruthless, cold-blooded killer whom they seek. Shock and anger at Lanyan's betrayal brings the ever-present Hyde back to the surface. He attacks Lanyan and then the police until his frenzy of unbridled hatred is finally halted by a bullet; and, as the formless evil power slowly dissipates, Jekyll emerges to claim his dying and desecrated body.
Mamoulian's finely etched, visual interpretation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde possesses the timeless elegance of the Stevenson classic. Each scene is a hand-carved cameo, perfect in lighting and composition. The characters of Jekyll and Hyde allowed Mamoulian to draw upon the full range of his theatrical genius, to portray the elemental struggle of man's emotions against a back¬ground of rich symbolic imagery. In one scene, violence is junaposed against a lyric view of romantic statuary, and in another, a bubbling cauldron flickers in the flames of a fireplace, providing a fleeting symbolic glimpse • of the hell lurking in man's soul. March is stunning in his portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde, a role which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. His interpretation of Hyde's unsheathed wickedness pares Jekyll's civilized veneer in one clean, devastating stroke, stupefying audiences with its raw and savage intensity, and making the Mamoulian production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a classic of the horror film genre.