The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (aka House of Fright, aka Jekyll’s Inferno,1960)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz
Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography by Jack Asher
Edited by Eric Boyd-Perkins, James Needs
Music by David Heneker, John Hollingsworth, Monty Norman
Hammer Film Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (UK), American International Pictures (US)
(1:28) Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray box set, Mill Creek
My journey through the Hammer Films box set from Mill Creek continues with a tried a true property, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a story that was already well-worn by the time Hammer decided to give it a try. In fact, by 1960 the tale had already been filmed, parodied, or referenced cinematically worldwide 58 times. What could Hammer possibly do differently?
To make the task even more daunting, the title character(s) had been famously portrayed by John Barrymore, Fredric March, and Spencer Tracy, a trio of heavy-hitters. What actor could even pretend to approach such performances? The producers placed their hopes on Paul Massie, who had won a BAFTA Award one year earlier as the Most Promising Newcomer in Orders to Kill (1958).
In a beard and heavy make-up, Massie plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, hard at work developing a chemical formula which will enable him to understand the intricacies of the human mind. Yet Jekyll works so much and for so long that he neglects his wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who finds herself with lots of time on her hands, which she fills with the less-than-noble attentions of Jekyll’s friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).
Jekyll’s potion transforms him into Edward Hyde, featuring Massie sans beard and make-up. Massie is charming, but with a savage gleam in his eye. Each time he converses with a woman, it’s not exactly about the weather. As in most other versions of the tale, Hyde here is a dangerous, violent killer, but mainly a ravager of women. Hyde’s gaze lingers on a dancer named Maria (Norma Marla) and, of course, Kitty. And as it comes as no surprise to anyone, both of these pursuits tread on dangerous territory.
The greatest tension in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll comes not from actual horror, but from an exploration of debauchery. Paul Allen is certainly a heel, guilty of sleeping with his friend’s wife, but Hyde makes him look like a rank amateur. This, combined with some fairly suggestive dancing (for 1960, anyway), including a snake dance scene which was initially cut from American prints, earned the film an X certificate in Great Britain. This is all tame stuff today, but at the time was pretty hot stuff. Maybe there was too much (suggested) sex and not enough horror. The film did not do well at the box office and is not typically regarded as a strong Hammer film.
Yet I enjoyed the film for its bold colors, its themes, and its non-vampire/non-monster role for Christopher Lee, who is excellent as Paul Allen. I also applaud screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz for taking a very familiar story into a new and interesting direction. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll certainly doesn't deserve the scorn that's usually thrown at it. There’s also an early appearance of a young Oliver Reed, which is always nice.
The Mill Creek video and audio looks very good, perhaps the best of any of the films in this box set so far. I’m not sure I need anything beyond the Mill Creek version, but the Indicator standard edition has some interesting features. All of the screenshots are taken from the Mill Creek edition except the first, which comes from the Indicator.
Next: The Old Dark House (1963)