Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Rouben Mamoulian
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.