By Dirk Sonniksen | February 11, 2014
Writer(s): Robert Louis Stevenson (novella), Clara Beranger (scenario as Clara S. Beranger), Thomas Russell Sullivan (play, uncredited), Oscar Wilde (novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, uncredited)
Starring: John Barrymore, Brandon Hurst, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Cecil Clovelly, Nita Naldi
Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore), tinkerer of concoctions and doctor to the destitute. Henry is a do-gooder and that is as it should be. But one evening over dinner, Sir George (Brandon Hurst) puts an evil bug in Henry’s ear, questioning his humble existence. Sir George suggests that perhaps Dr. Jekyll is incapable of dropping the philanthropist vibe and dares Henry to let his devilish side out for a stroll. This browbeating angers Henry and doubt floods his soul. Henry begins to ponder the unthinkable—a potion that will allow Henry to live a double life, one as the honorable doctor, the other as someone altogether different. Enter Mr. Edward Hyde, a most unwelcome guest.
Of all the incarnations since director John S. Robertson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, none of have captured the dark, brooding, creepy atmosphere given off by John Barrymore portraying Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. Barrymore’s Jekyll is an honest man, but there is a seedy underbelly that is always evident, even when he is healing the sick. His doubt bounds forth not only in his professional endeavors, but in his relationship with his love interest Millicent (Martha Mansfield). Henry’s forced trip to a nightclub with Sir George where he is introduced to the tawdry Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) seals his fate, and in that den of iniquity he foresees his destiny. He knows his transformation into Edward Hyde is inevitable.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 1920 is as haunting as many horror movies of modern times. Silent films forged the art of modern horror and while these films may lack the gore of some of today’s efforts, the crackling film stock, monotonous score, and pale ghostly faces of our able actors make for a truly creepy experience. There are some that have discounted the silent era of film, but it is alive and well and should be appreciated—and it can, offered up on brilliant blu-ray by Kino Classics. Pick up a copy, turn off all the lights, and let one of the great films of the past send shivers down your spine.