Friday, December 31, 2021

Radley Metzger | Score

elivra & bestsy & jack & eddie

by Douglas Messerli

Jerry Douglas (screenplay), Radley Metzger (Director) Score / 1974

Having become recognized as one of the best of US erotic filmmakers of the day, Radley Metzger, having already successfully tackled soft heterosexual porn in his Camile 2000 (1969) and The Lickerish Quartet (1970), as well as having distributed several European films that showed causal nudity that deemed them unworthy of being released in the good ole USA, decided to dabble with bisexuality, one of the earliest to do so, in Score of 1974. As one of the first such US pictures to feature frontal nudity and dramatically present both lesbian and male gay sex, the film received such glowing reviews one might think that Metzger was a kind of cinematic genius.

     Watching this in 2021, however, the fact that it was passed off as a “first”—particularly given the fact that in the very same year Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. presented a far more intelligent and sexually explicit vision of gay sex in Passing Strangers, and that only a year later Sidney Lumet would tackle a far more complex issue of a transgender, potentially transsexual relationship that leads to a major bank robbery and hostage situation in Dog Day Afternoon, without even mentioning the fact that in Europe and Asia filmmakers such as Luchino Visconti, Lino Brocka, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Chantal Ackerman, and others were delivering up far more professional and daring LGBTQ movies—doesn’t particularly impress me given its  laughably bad script, acting, and cinematic tricks, as well as its garish sets and silly presentation of its admittedly “naughty” intentions. In hindsight Score looks like an amateurish production of someone determined to wake up suburban married couples who just loved Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice who are ready to move up to something slightly more kinky.

    Let me be clear, Metzger’s film has very little do with being gay or lesbian, nor does it have anything at all to do with love. Both Elvira (Clarie Wilbur) and Jack (Gerald Grant), the seducing couple of Metzger’s film, admit that they’d have sex with a porcupine if they found the species attractive. 

     That is not to say that if you perceive it as a comedy of seduction in the same way that you can read Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls (1967) as a comedy of aging actresses and their drugs, that Metzger’s film doesn’t provide a great deal of campy fun. The “true” seductress of the couple, Elvira has been busy grooming the young married convent-trained Betsy (Lynn Lowry) for a lesbian encounter, while her husband Eddie (Calvin Culver) seems, unknown to either of them, ripe and ready to try out a fling in bed with another man. He’s even brought home from a convention, along with his several porno mags of females one magazine of male nudes, so we later discover from devout Catholic Betsy’s bedtime confessions. Why she’s even discovered him masturbating in the bathroom when he should be focused on his morning shave!

       Everything that matters here, accordingly, is how to go about the seduction. Since Jack has a successful career as a porno and fashion photographer and the couple can afford a nice moderne home in a lovely seaside Croatian village where Metzger filmed the movie, they spend much of their time playing the game of who can succeed at seducing heterosexuals for same-gender sex. Ads for tourist couples in the local paper everyday haven’t panned out, the previous evening having produced a lot of empty wine glasses, pot roaches, and tossed off undergarments without, evidently, a “score.” And the clock is running down on their bet. Elvira only has 24 more hours to get Betsy into her bed and to put her tongue into Elvira’s “pussy.” As part of their bet, she’ll pick up Eddie on his way out....that is if Jack doesn’t jack him off first.       

     Meanwhile, there’s the telephone repairman (Carl Parker) to contend with while Betsy has unexpectedly arrived earlier in the morning on the same evening Elvira and Jack have invited the couple over for the “last supper.” Elvira gets the idea that she might get Betsy in the mood by allowing her to watch while the repairman services her personal line. Betsy’s intrigued but runs home out of modesty and almost refuses to come to dinner.

      The fact that Eddie arrives early as well and is already making fast friends with Jack quickly cures Betsy’s headache as the poor girl comes running, willing to play her role for the rest of the evening as a mix of the ditzy blondes who Goldie Hawn’s been forced to play for most of career and the woman “on the verge of a bathroom upchuck” who Sandy Dennis was asked to perform in the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and, even worse, to play “Chopsticks.”       

      A little bit of wine and a lot of grass, however, is the perfect cure, and before Elvira and Jack can even begin to play “Getting the Guests,” Betsy has stripped and put on a negligee that purposely reveals what most such articles of clothing pretend to hide while Eddie has eagerly pulled the cowboy regalia out of  their host’s deeply stocked costume trunk as is suddenly convince that he is Billy the Kid.


     Eddie is almost ready to be seduced, but Metzger refuses to hurry the plot, and nearly bores us to death with the stumbling straight couples’ purposeful misreading of events, and with the terrace conversations of the frustrated seducers. And when, finally, things begin to unravel, Metzger’s camera goes all out of focus as it attempts to show us a truly artsy series of doubled images to signify lesbian sex while becoming suddenly terribly shy about showing the two males going after anything but a few French kisses. The seducers of this film evidently believe amyl nitrate to be an aphrodisiac, and spend more time sniffing than smooching, screwing, and scrogging. Yet, obviously, both Jack and Elvira eventually score.

        The next day Eddie has the “morning after druthers,” while the convent girl has evidently been completely converted to the devil’s ways. Indeed Eddie and Betsy are nearly set to go their own ways, as Betsy jumps into bed with both Elvira and Jack ready for a second act, while Eddie is about to wander home to ponder his new homoself. 

         Fortunately, the telephone repairman always rings twice, returning just in time to take along Eddie and Betsy on another call, forcing the slightly disappointed Jack and Elvira to look elsewhere, finding a new object of possible interest in a male waiter they’d never before spotted at a local café.    

Los Angeles, December 31, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).

 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Bertrand Blier | Tenue de soirée (Ménage)

metamorphoses

by Douglas Messerli

Bertrand Blier (screenwriter and director) Tenue de soirée (Ménage) / 1986

Bertrand Blier’s 1986 absurdist comedy is a satire. But what it is a satire of is still open to question. Since its unhappily married heterosexual couple, Antoine (Michel Blanc) and Monique (Miou-Miou), begin the film by loudly arguing at a public dance only to be picked up by a bisexual burglar, Bob (Gérard Depardieu) who quickly convinces them to give up their poverty-stricken romance to join him on a couple of heists and to jump in bed with him, perhaps Blier is satirizing the fragility of heterosexual marriage, this film being shot before queers were allowed to share the same state-and-church sanctioned “privilege.”

     Of course, in Antoine’s case the invitation to participate in male/male sex isn’t immediately accepted, and part of the fun of the early part of this film is watching to see how Bob slowly manipulates the nerdy looking Antoine into offering up his bottom to what Monique insists is Bob’s more-than-ample sized erection. But through offering them up regular stacks of cash beyond their imagination, a lot of compliments about Antoine’s quite ordinary appearance, Monique’s demand that her husband just play along, and Bob’s insistence that he has fallen madly in love with him, Antoine finally becomes curious and eventually breaks down, actually enjoying being approached from behind—only to be sold for a great deal of money to an elderly gentleman who is later described as Bob’s “protection.”

     Antoine, as you might expect, is outraged, but Bob reassures him by reminding him that is after all, a thief not be trusted. 

      With all this attention to her husband, it is only logical that Monique might be a bit jealous, despite all of the good times they have together breaking into mansions to which, in one case, a terribly bored couple return home in the midst of their robbery and attempt to the engage them, by gunpoint, in a mixed-gender orgy.

      Or perhaps this is a satire about what homophobic heterosexuals believe is always at the back of all homosexual’s minds, the desire to convert every “normal” heterosexual male into being a fag. Having served time in prison, Bob seems to be a perfect example of a straight guy who, after learning the ropes, is dedicated to spreading the joys of anal sex to any man he meets.

      Maybe Blier simply wants to show how gay men are as chauvinistic and misogynistic as any heterosexual bro, as Bob and Antoine give up their thieving to live in a nice little cottage together with Monique who they treat like a slave, chastising her for her inability to get food on their plates on time for their arrival home from the bar, for failing to properly dust, and numerous other housewifery chores at which she has apparently failed, chiding her even for eating the chocolates  they bring her as presents. Bob beats her (as he does several times in the movie) and finally pays a friend, Pedro (Michel Creton) to lure her away to his imaginary Spanish getaway where he  enslaves her into prostitution. 

       Antoine, meanwhile, attempts to take over the cooking and cleaning jobs, but  fails just as badly, Bob treating him not much better than Monique, although he does offer sex as a seeming reward for of Bob’s toiling. But when Bob, finally fed up, complains, Bob brings home several packages of what he describes as “gifts,” all containing women’s apparel and cosmetics, now requesting that Antoine obviously move on to a new identity of a transgender man.

      Perhaps this film is satirizing the very idea that transgender behavior can become an acquired taste based on someone’s else’s desires. If Antoine once more balks, he soon comes round, good sport that he has become regarding all of Bob’s requests for endless transformations. 

      Dressed up quite successfully in drag, he attends a large dance with Bob that at first seems filled with young straight people, a highly unlikely place to take his new transgender girlfriend it seems. But suddenly in the middle of the event, as Bob announces he has to pee, everything appears to shift as Antoine spots his ex-wife dancing with another man, and one of the cute heterosexual dancers (Jean-Yves Berteloot) leaves his date behind to service Bob as a paid male prostitute who frequents the pissoir.

      Antoine meanwhile stalks Monique and her “beau,” which also leads to the bathroom where Antoine overhears who he now recognizes as her pimp berating her for failing to please one of her paid johns, who as Antoine attempts to intervene shoots him/her in the shoulder. Antoine responds by  grabbing the gun and killing him, stumbling back upstairs to the dance floor only to realize what Bob has been up to. 


       Having stolen the pimp’s gun, he now threatens Bob, demanding that he take him to the beach, where he may or may not decide to kill him. Finally stopping the car, Bob and Antoine battle it out, but seemingly with no resolution; but then we can’t at this point we can’t even imagine what either of them might be seeking.

      We might almost long for what seems, in comparison, as the pastoral and sane world of an Almodóvar soap opera such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

       The last scene shows the trio back together again, both Antoine and Bob this time in drag with Monique standing among other whores as they wait in the cold to pick up men—evidently without much success.

       Freezing, the three take a break, Bob and Monique choosing to sip on hot chocolate while Antoine orders up a beer, the three once more squabbling not very differently from how Monique and Antoine behaved in the film’s first sequence. Their squabbles cease, however, as the three join together in a fantasy about Antoine’s son who attends a local school. They imagine him packing his backpack and entering the school, which brings tears to their eyes. It reminds me a bit of George and Martha’s imaginary son in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

      As Bob and Monique return to the street, Antoine orders up another beer, obviously glad to be free of the two of them, and perhaps hinting at a new chapter in these ridiculously radical metamorphoses of socio-sexual worlds.

       If you’re seeking a resolution, I suggest you seek it in another director’s work. For in the end Blier’s  Tenue de soirée (“Evening Dress”) seems mostly to be a satire of itself. 

Los Angeles, December 29, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

William Wyler | Tom of Culver

learning to waltz

by Douglas Messerli

George Green and Dale Van Every (story and screenplay, with additional dialogue by Clarence Marks and Tom Buckingham), William Wyler (director) Tom of Culver / 1932

Tom of Culver was apparently assigned by the studio to Wyler, not something that he might chosen to direct. Yet it makes what, on the surface, is a rather standard “poor and tough kid goes straight” kind of movie into a somewhat deeper character study by pushing it on several fronts through the introduction of unpredictably comic elements with regard to Tom Brown’s (played by the actor of the same name) employment at a coffee shop and relationship with the shop’s owner, Elmer “Slim” Whitman (Slim Summerville), and the somewhat intense and homoerotic boyhood relationships Tom as at the Culver Military Academy with his roommate, Robert Randolph III (Richard Cromwell) and the handsome, obviously carefully casted cadets which included youthful appearances by Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, Dick Winslow, Matty Roubert, and Kit Wain.

      The movie begins as a boxing film, with Andy Devine has a gym manager, but fortunately so shifts away from its “Dead End Kids”-like beginning to Slim’s coffee shop where, after having a surprise visit from Tom’s supposedly dead “war hero” father (H. B. Warner, who performed in 9 other films in 1932 alone), is sent off by Slim with the help the American Legion to the military academy in memory of his supposedly war-hero dad.

       Predictably, Tom does not immediately take to the barrack-like conditions and the requirements of a soldier-like training, but through his at first confrontational relationship with his roommate Robert quickly adapts to school and succeeds in becoming the good kid who wants to become a doctor that any father might have wanted. The plot is basically empty except for a few standard and expected incursions of authority, evaded by the boys’ helping one another.


       The earliest scenes in the movie read more than a military training film than a feature family movie. And the only engaging scenes involve Tom’s attempts to circumvent his conversion into a militarized robot, which in some senses is what he will have be come if he is survive in this environment.

       A trip back home during the holidays shows up Tom and Robert’s good boy possibilities, as Slim gets them together to pass out Christmas presents to patients at the Legion Hospital, one of the men in the beds being, unknow to Tom, his own father.

       In other scenes at the diner, Wyle attempts to turn Slim into a comic, but when that fails he brings in a truly “daffy” customer played by Lew Kelly who performed from 1928-1944 in over 200 film. At one point, after delivering up several absurd statements with which Eugène Ionesco might have loved, Kelly, about to leave, stands to orate: “I'm sorry, but if I leave before I start I'd have to come back, so I'd better wait here till after I'm gone so I'll be sure and be here when I return.”

      Robert, moreover, has a crush—a bit like gay boys of my age might have had for Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand—for the buxom actress of the day, Dolores Delight (Betty Blythe), going AWOL to catch her performance during a holiday break, Tom covering up for him by providing a dummy to fill his bed and a convincing shift of voice tones to call out his name upon nighttime inspection.

      Tom, of course, has to face the central challenge to their friendship and the major plot development of the film which comes in the form of his own father who, despite his determination to keep the facts—after his makeshift tent of a hospital in which he was operating was bombed, killing all his colleagues, he deserted, exchanging badges with one of the dead men—from his son, he cannot resist showing up from his junior graduation ceremony. A sudden rainstorm, whose thunder calls up his memories of the bombings, forces him, totally unconvincingly, to admit the truth to Tom before running back to his hotel room with the intention to kill himself.

      Realizing the full significance of the visit, Tom follows the “stranger” back to his hotel and saves him from the intended bullets of his gun, insisting that instead of his father moving on to a new life that he will join him, dropping out from his senior year.

      Finally, discovering the reasons for Tom’s inexplicable decision a teacher helps him to comprehend that his father’s desertion was actually shell shock (what today we would describe as posttraumatic stress disorder) and arranges from his father to receive an honorable discharge, allowing his father to remain near to Tom for his son’s final year at school.

      But there is a long empty space between the only major issues of plot, Tom’s matriculation and his meet-up with his father, and Wyler fills that with the interactions of the young cadets with one another and a slightly coded love-affair between Tom and Robert.

      Almost as if to ease his audience into accepting what is clearly a growing love between the two boys, the writers and director reveal the normal patterns of all male boarding schools, asking one slower-to-mature cadet than the others to play a kind of school “faggot” who mostly spends his time writing letters home to his mother and the boys have tagged as “flutters.” As usual, this poor kid is bullied by the other boys, including Tom and Robert, in one crucial scene even denying entry to Tom’s birthday party where the boy’s have devoured a birthday cake sent by Slim without leaving the slice for the invited boy. Following the boy back to his room, presumably to further taunt him, Tom and Robert suddenly catch him at the very moment when he receives a cable announcing the death of his mother, putting an immediate stop to his peer bullying, while still establishing the fact that movies of the 1930s did not like to admit that there were males who didn’t fit into the established heterosexual pattern.

      Indeed, Wyler suggests that Tom and Robert might be headed there as well. Obviously, Wyler has seen William Wellman’s film Wings and poses his even younger military “friends” in face-to-face encounters that hint that they enjoy one another’s company for a bit more than simply to chatter.


    

     But it is when the time comes for an instructor to teach the boys how to waltz that their “romance” truly is allowed to bloom on camera. Despite the fact that the two have just had a tiff over the fact that Robert has returned to campus late, they almost light up when asked to take each other in their arms to learn how to properly dance. And when the teacher insists that they further wind their hands around each other’s bodies, moving closer together their intense stare into one another’s eyes say everything, as well as unwittingly taking us back to one of the first seeming queer images in all of film history, Edison’s two dancing “brothers” of William Kennedy Dicksons’ 1894 or ’95 experimental sound film. 



    Of course, the movie reassures us, with Tom’s father return and reclamation the boy will grow up to be a successful family doctor with his own family to look after as well. The friendships he made at the Academy are those that help to make a man. But Wyler’s images can never lie, the lunge forward of Tom into Robert’s open smile tells us everything. 

Los Angeles, December 28, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Otis Turner | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908) || Lucius Henderson | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912) || John S. Robertson | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) || Rouben Mamoulian | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) || Victor Fleming | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) || Norman McCabe | The Impatient Patient (1942) || Mannie Davis | Mighty Mouse Meets Jekyll and Cat Hyde (1944) || Joseph Barbara and William Hanna | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947) || Friz Freleng | Dr. Jerkyl's Hide (1954) || Friz Freleng | Hyde and Hare (1955) || Friz Freleng | Hyde and Go Tweet (1959) || Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble | Is There a Doctor in the Mouse? (1964) || Allen Reisner | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1955) || Jean Renoir | Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) (1959) || Terence Fisher | The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) || Roy Ward Baker | Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) || David Wickes | Hyde's Son (1990)

queer street: the even stranger case of dr. jekyll and mr. hyde’s cinematic adaptations

by Douglas Messerli

Robert Lewis Stevenson Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1886)

Much like Edgar Allan Poe, novelist, journalist, poet, playwright. and storyteller Robert Louis Stevenson was fascinated by the “doubleness” of human beings. As his most recent biographer Claire Harmon notes, even as a child, often sick, he was aware of having “two consciousnesses” which he described as “Myself” and “the other fellow”—the first an everyday, common sense sort of being, while the other was irrational and absurd.

     Certainly as a young man brought up in a strict, well-do-do Scottish Presbyterian household where it was expected in would continue in his sometimes harshly dictatorial father’s footsteps, his development as an adult into an atheist bohemian whose last grand adventure was to travel and live, like the artist Paul Gauguin, in the South Seas where this creator of great romances and childhood fantasies would write realistically about the corruption and poverty he discerned there, argues for his own “double” sensibility.

      Although his biography argues that there is no evidence that he participated in homosexual activities, he certainly lived a double life with regard to his sexuality, during his long courtship and marriage to Fanny Osbourne being involved with several prostitutes and other women, one of whom he may have gotten pregnant. Moreover, as a bohemian figure his manner and dress has been described as “fey,” and he surrounded himself by men, many of whom were homosexual, his close gay friend, critic Andrew Lang writing of him that he “possessed, more than any man I ever met, the power of making other men fall in love with him.” Among Stevenson’s best friends were the closeted homosexual poet Edmund Gosse and novelist Henry James, as well as the later openly gay poet, critic, and cultural historian John Addington Symonds,* with whom he seemed to have a particularly close relationship throughout his life. And with the recent publication of the correspondence between the Scottish friends, James M. Barrie and Stevenson, we might well add the author of Peter Pan to his list of would-be male lovers, Barrie ending one letter: “To be blunt I have discovered (have suspected it for some time) that I love you, and if you had been a woman —.”

       Another friend H. J. Moors, an American who befriended Stevenson in Somoa, wrote: “I was struck at once by his keen inquiring eyes, brown in colour they were strangely bright, and seemed to penetrate you like the eyes of a mesmerist.”

       As Frank Wilson puts it in his Guardian review of the Stevenson biography: “Harmon surmises that Stevenson ‘can’t have been unaware of the homoerotic forcefield he generated’ and concludes that ‘he rather enjoyed it,’ given that he was ‘a man with an insatiable appetite for attention and affection.’”

       Despite Stevenson’s extracurricular sexual escapades, he appears to have deeply loved Fanny, even when her later mental state made life with her nearly impossible. And Harmon does not represent her as a villain, as does Frank McGlynn in his earlier biographer of Stevenson, as well as Stevenson’s many friends who most certainly did not like her, nor did she like them. And Stevenson himself once told a friend that his relationship with Fanny had rendered him “as limp as a lady’s novel.” One only has to glimpse the aesthete gay painter John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Robert Lewis Stevenson and His Wife to comprehend how his male friends might have pictured him, as a strikingly charismatic, lean, and imposing, apparently closeted gay man constantly in motion.      

     The writer himself described the painting as being “… too eccentric to be exhibited. I am at one extreme corner; my wife, in this wild dress, and looking like a ghost, is at the extreme other end… all this is touched in lovely, with that witty touch of Sargent’s; but of course, it looks dam [sic] queer as a whole.”

      And no matter what how one perceives or describes Stevenson’s sexuality, there is little doubt that the author knew a great deal of the Victorian gay underworld and—particularly after the insightful essays by Wayne Koestenbaum’s “The Shadow Under the Bed: Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and the Labouchère Amendment” (1988) and Elaine Showalter’s “Dr. Jekyll’s Closet” (1992), and my own perceptions after rereading Stevenson’s original fiction—that Strange Life of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde not only once more takes up the themes of the double life but is and was intentionally coded as a homosexual text.

      The work was written in 1885, evidently during one of the many spells of illness throughout his life. Apparently, the story came to him in a dream, Fanny observing, according to biography Graham Balfour, “In the small hours of one morning, ...I was awakened by cries from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: ‘Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.’ I had awakened him at the first transformation scene.” Stevenson’s stepson, Lloyd, who has some critics have observed a wonderfully dramatic flair for descriptions of his stepfather’s activities that might reasonably be questioned, describes him coming downstairs in a fever reading nearly half the book aloud; “and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”

       It’s often been recounted how Fanny read the full original version and left comments in the column suggesting that it was actually an allegory he was telling, which forced him, again according to Lloyd’s dramatization to burn the original manuscript and rewrite it anew in less than a week. Calmer minds suggest that there was perhaps no burning of the original, but that it was revised in the way Fanny had suggested. But actually, the allegorical aspects of this work seem far less interesting to me than the original fable, and its dark undercurrents. It’s the allegorical aspects, however, that most seem to account for the work’s great success and certainly responsible for its many retellings on stage and screen. Even Showalter gets carried away its the story’s allegorical aspects as she explores the psychological implications of the work reaching even to the Nunnally Johnson film The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and other real and fantasy feminist retellings where I have no intentions of traveling.

      And clearly if it came to him in a dream he certainly had been very much involved in putting the subject into his subconscious and conscious mind by attending the trials his former Edinburgh friend, Eugene Chantrelle, who was convicted and executed for the murder of his wife in 1878. The French teacher had seemingly lived an absolutely normal life before poisoning his spouse with opium. The prosecution argued that he had, in fact, committed other such murders both in France and Britain by poisoning his victims with a favorite dish of toasted cheese and opium.

      Surely having this story revealed about a man who he felt he knew would have fit in with the Jekyll’s notion that we are all two beings in one, the first a good one who strives for nobility while the other a man of impulses which binds him to his animal nature, the two bound to one another causing the deep repressions we suffer within, limiting us from attaining our true potentials as either beast or saint.

      In her important essay on this work, Showalter suggests another, more possible influence that was perhaps more crucial in its creating of the understructure of the work:

“In January 1886, the same month that Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, another strange case of ‘multiple personality’ was introduced to English readers in the pages of The Journal of Mental Science. It involved a male hysteric named ‘Louis V.,’ a patient at Rochefort Asylum in France whose case of ‘morbid disintegration’ had fascinated French doctors. Louis V.’s hysterical attacks had begun in adolescence, when he underwent a startling metamorphosis. Having been a ‘quite, well-behaved, and obedient,’ street urchin, he abruptly became “violent, greedy, and quarrelsome,” a heavy drinker, a political radical, and an atheist. So far his ‘symptoms’ might be those of teenage boy; but what seems to have upset the doctors particularly was that he tried to caress them. The French physicians attributed his condition to a shock he received from being frightened by a viper, and they cured him through hypnosis so effectively that he could not even remember what he had done.

      Stevenson (called ‘Louis’ by his friends), may well have read the case of Louis V.; it had been written up earlier in the Archives de Neurologie, and his wife recalled that he had been ‘deeply impressed’ by a ‘paper re read in a French journal on sub-consciousness’ while is was writing Jekyll and Hyde.”      

      Showalter, points out, moreover, that Stevenson was a friend of Frederick W. H. Myers, who discussed the case with English specialists. Just an importantly, male hysteria was a popular topic of discussion during that year, another scholar of the subject, Emile Batault observing such men in Sâlpetrière’s special ward as being “timid and fearful men, whose gaze is neither lively nor piercing, but rather, soft, poetic, and languorous. Coquettish and eccentric, they prefer ribbons and scarves to hard manual labor” (quoted as translated from the French by Showalter).

      In short, the male hysteric is equated with what today we recognize as some signs of stereotyped effeminate versions bisexuality or homosexuality.

      Indeed, as Koestenbaum and others have made clear homosexuality was a common subject among scholars and journalists in 1886, the year the Labouchère Amendment criminalizing homosexual acts became law, and in which Richard von Krafft-Ebbing’s Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study) first presented clinical studies of homosexual men. The Victorian culture by this time had developed, as scholars such as Jeffrey Weeks and Richard Dellamora have pointed out, active if hidden subcultures replete with coded languages, practices, and secret locations. The “double” which so attracted Stevenson even as a child and is at the heart of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all of which resound with his biographers’ evidence  of Stevenson’s regular visits to brothels and special night-world venues of bohemian life, his suggestion of his own impotence regarding relations with Fanny, and his hinted passionate feelings for his stepson, issues laid out in essays such as William Veeder’s “Children of the Night: Stevenson and Patriarchy” (1988) and Koestenbaum’s “Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration” (1989).

      More importantly, I would remind readers that unlike the several later cinematic adaptations, Stevenson’s work is actually an all-male affair. The narrator and protagonist of the early Jekyll and Hyde text is not the respectable Dr. Jekyll, writing in his journals, or his friend Dr. Hastie Lanyon, the first to discover in both the fiction and in film versions the true identities of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Eddie Hyde, but the lawyer Gabriel John Utterson who through his cousin Richard Enfield, the testimony and his own observations of the beating to death of one of clients, Sir Danvers Carew, information he receives from Dr. Lanyon, and his own observations of his client Henry Jekyll weaves together the book’s fragmentary and dissociated incidents. As Showalter observes:

“The characters are all middle-aged bachelors who have no relationships with women except as servants. Furthermore, they are celibates who major emotional contacts are with each other and with Henry Jekyll. A female reviewer of the book expressed her surprise that ‘no woman’s name occurs in the book, no romance is even suggested in it.’ Mr. Stevenson, wrote critic Alice Brown, ‘is a boy who has no mind to play with girls.’”

     The doubling, accordingly, does not involve women or the romancing of them, but men, who as Jekyll argues are “not one but truly two,” a “profound duplicity” which results always in “an almost morbid sense of shame.” Jekyll’s goal is to separate these two and thus free them to each behave in their own manner without guilt and shame.

      Throughout Jekyll’s journal entries, as Lanyon later relates, is the repeated word “double.”

       And, indeed, the male observers who make up Utterson’s story believe, in fact, that their friend Dr. Jekyll and his apparent new acquaintance, Edward Hyde, are to separate beings since Jekyll is a "large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty with something of a slyish cast” while Hyde is smaller, younger, cruel, and remorseless for his actions. In this story Hyde is no simian-like beast with hair face and hands and large, mishappen teeth, but just the kind of boy a well-to-do bachelor seeking sexual release might choose, a ruffian from the streets not unlike the Louis V. described in The Journal of Mental Science, just the kind of boy Oscar Wilde might have met up with in his hotel visits arranged by his friend/lover Bosie or in the gay brothels he frequented, what today we might describe as “rough trade.”

      Enfield first encounters Hyde trampling a young girl upon accidently bumping into her. Outraged by the stranger’s behavior, Enfield insists he pay him £100 to avoid a scandal—which, I remind the reader is itself a kind of blackmail—Hyde taking him to Jekyll’s door, where he and Utterson stand as he tells this story, handing him a check signed by a man whom at the time he knew only to a reputable gentleman, who he now knows to be Dr. Henry Jekyll.

      Utterson immediately presumes what Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll, not only because of that check but because he has recently changed his will to make Hyde his sole beneficiary of his considerate estate. Hyde, moreover, has given the young man, who is seen regularly entering and leaving Jekyll’s home, expensive paintings, and other gifts to hang in his Soho apartment. Enfield describes Jekyll’s home as “Blackmail House” on “Queer Street.”  “The more it looks like Queer Street the less I ask,” he tells Utterson, suggesting he not only does not want to get involved with arrestable offenses, but that he is perhaps sympathetic with such actions, having visited “Queer Street”—a late 19th century term, as Koestenbaum reminds us, implying shady circumstances, debt, bankruptcy, or blackmail—himself.  As I just pointed out, furthermore, he has just described himself as having entering that avenue, if from the other end, with regard to Hyde. Jekyll’s butler Poole even comments that something “queer” is going on with regard to his master’s affection for Hyde.**

      As critics have argued, for the audience of Stevenson’s day blackmailing would have been immediately be perceived by an urban audience to be associated with homosexuality since for homosexual men the Labouchère Amendment, often described as the “Blackmailer’s Charter,” as sexual historian Edward Carpenter writes in The Intermediate Sex, “opened wider than ever before the door to real, most serious social evil and crime—that of blackmailing.” In Scotland, Stevenson’s homeland, the term, Showalter tells us, had long been associated with buggery.

     When Utterson attempts to discuss the issue of Hyde with his doctor friend, Jekyll insists that the lawyer drop the matter, while admitting, “I do sincerely take a great, a very great interest in that young man.”

      When on an October night, a servant sees Hyde beating Sir Danvers Carew to death with a half broken cane, the police contact Utterson, who, recognizing the cane as the one he had given as a gift to Jekyll, leads them the doctor’s home. Although Hyde has vanished, they find the other half of the cane, and when Utterson later confronts Jekyll he shows him a note from Hyde apologizing for the trouble that he has caused. Since the handwriting is similar to Jekyll’s own, but written in backhand, the doctor concludes that Jekyll had forged the note to protect the boy.

      Over the following two months, Jekyll returns once more to his sociable self, but as the new year arrives begins to refuse visitors as before. Jekyll’s friend Lanyon suddenly dies after receiving information relation his professional friend. But before his death, he passes on a letter to Utterson to be opened only after Jekyll’s death or his disappearance, obviously not something that soothes Utterson’s endless curiosity as he determines to play Mr. Seek in relationship to Mr. Hyde, suggesting as Showalter and others have wondered that perhaps Utterson’s own life is equally enmeshed with repression and fantasy, particularly when even he begins to have rape fantasies of a faceless being who opens Jekyll’s bedroom door, pulls back the bed curtains, and forces Jekyll to rise and do his bidding, something oddly prescient in its similarity to Bram Stoker’s 1897 book Dracula and the role Dr. Caligari performs with his minion / lover Cesare in Robert Wiene’s film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

     As much as Utterson may see himself attempting to protect his client he is also subliminally seeking to rape and perhaps sodomize him. He is no more innocent about what he abjures that is his cousin Enfield. Like the lovestriken Freddy infatuated even by the thought of Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, Utterson begins to haunt the street where Jekyll lives.

      That house and street is itself described by Stevenson in terms of the human body being sodomized. During Hyde’s comings and goings he is described as traveling in a “chocolate-brown fog” beating about the “back-end of the evening.” Hyde enters Jekyll’s house always by the back door which is “equipped with neither bell nor knocker,” revealing the “marks of prolonged and sordid negligence.” Hyde’s visits to Jekyll represent a “muddy,” “dark” route.

      In late February, during another walk with Enfield, Utterson starts a conversation with Jekyll at his laboratory window, when Jekyll suddenly slams it shut and disappears, shocking and concerning Utterson.

     The narrator imagines that perhaps Jekyll may have contracted a disease from Hyde, as he puts it, “one of those maladies that both torture and deform the sufferer, which explains his endless laboratory experiments. Perhaps he is seeking a drug which will cure “the cancer of some concealed disgrace; punishment coming, pede claudo,” which Showalter cleverly points out may be a bilingual pun, the Latin meaning “on halting foot,” while in English suggesting the pederasty through which Jekyll may have contacted syphilis.

     That same critic observes that in his original manuscript Stevenson was even more explicit about the sexual practices that had driven Jekyll to his double, quoting Jekyll’s statement that “from an early age” he has become “the slave of certain appetites,” vices which are “at once criminal in the sight of the law and abhorrent in themselves. They cut me off from the sympathy of those whom I otherwise respected.” Showalter argues that even with these missing from the final version, the work is still filled with associations of “abnormality, criminality, disease, contagion, and death.”

      More importantly, even nearing death, in Stevenson’s published version, Jekyll is convinced, like so very many gay closeted pre-Stonewall (and some surely still today) that having been caught in a homosexual situation that they might still overcome their addiction as if it were merely a bad habit, like the people who still believe in “conversion therapy.” As we shall see, these passages are particularly important when we turn attention to the cinematic representations.

      The ending of the original fiction is not so very different from the scenes in many of the cinematic versions. After the butler Poole visits Utterson to tell him that Jekyll has secluded himself in the laboratory for weeks, they break into the back room attached to Jekyll’s house only to find Hyde’s body dressed in Jekyll’s clothing, apparently having died from suicide. There they discover Lanyon’s letter to Utterson.

     That letter and another from Jekyll reveal what we know early on in the movies, that the doctor has discovered a way to transform himself into Hyde and thereby indulge in his evil, self-indulgent vices without fear of detection. But once having become those transformations Jekyll found no way to control them, Hyde taking over his body at certain moments without using the formulated serum. On one of those occasions, far from his laboratory and chased by the police, he wrote to Lanyon, who brought him the needed chemicals. Observing Hyde mixing them and drinking the serum to be transformed back into Jekyll so shocked his friend that his health deteriorated and he died.

      As the unwanted transformations began to appear with greater and greater frequency, Jekyll ran out of the original chemicals, forcing him to remain in his studio and finally to take poison to end Hyde’s control of his life.     

    Even in this last section of the work, when we might have finally felt that there will be no further revelations of who Hyde, the terrible secret kept with the normative-living Jekyll, truly was, we nonetheless get further evidence that goes directly back to the images of the young male hysteric over whom the French doctors pondered at the beginning of Showalter’s essay. For here, in Lanyon’s letter we see him absolutely horrified by the hysteria of Jekyll’s request that he bring to Hyde the needed chemicals, particularly in lines such as these:

“Confident as I am that you will not trifle with this appeal, my heart sinks and my hand trembles at the bare thought of such a possibility. Think of me at this hour, in a strange place, labouring under a blackness of distress that no fancy can exaggerate, and yet well aware that, if you will but punctually serve me, my troubles will roll away like a story that is told. Serve me, my dear Lanyon and save.”

      Lanyon writes that he “Upon the reading of this letter, I made sure my colleague was insane.”

    And when he actually meets up with Hyde, like all the others feeling an immediate dislike of him, he is shocked when the eager boy, so lively with impatience, dares to lay his hand upon his shoulder and to shake him, certainly a series of events that might remind us of the shock of the French doctors when Louis V. attempted to “caress” them.  

   The restrained gentleman, “puts him back,” commenting on the fact that he has not yet “had the pleasure of his acquaintance,” experiencing an “icy pang” along his blood in the consciousness of his touch. The language hear seems to be almost contradictory or doubled, the ice posing opposite the attack of anguish or the piercing of pain. Hot and cold, struggle and impassiveness seem to run at odds through his blood. Here is precisely the kind of “doubling” which destroys all impulses in the lives of these old bachelor men who cannot permit themselves the dangers of pleasure, or a simple choice of one or the other.

       And although Jekyll as Hyde momentarily regains his “composure,” Lanyon can evidently still see “in spite of his collected manner, that he was wrestling against the approaches of the hysteria.” In short, he recognizes him still as the hysterical boy who cannot control his hands. The great French queer director Robert Bresson would speak of just this kind of hysteria throughout several of his films, particularly in The Diary of a Country Priest (1951).

       Strangely, this man who has doubted all of Jekyll’s seemingly irrational scientific claims, cannot let go of his curiosity enough to take Hyde’s/Jekyll’s advice to save himself from witnessing the scientific wonder/terror he insists upon watching, the transformation of Hyde back into Jekyll. Obviously, given his inability to assimilate what he perceives as irrational he dies with the shock of the experience, just as ultimately so must Jekyll die since in his gentle, doctorial personae he is one with them—the already dead men like Utterson, Enfield, and Poole who in resisting all impulse rot to death in reasoned control of their lives.      

*Although earlier in his life, Symonds was rather closeted, by 1873 in his A Problem in Greek Ethics, we wrote what was basically a gay history which represented a true eulogy of “Greek” pederastic love. Symonds argued for what he described as l'amour de l'impossible (a love of the impossible) which would include homosexulity in both pederastic and egalitarian male/female relationships. By the end of his life his bisexuality was an open secret, as he worked from 1889 to 1893 on his private memoirs, perhaps the earliest self-conscious LGBT autobiography.

**The world “queer” meaning a sodomist or Uranist entered the English language in the later half of the 19th century before the word homosexual existed, so that Lord Alfred Douglas’ father the Marquis of Queensbury might easily use that word, as he did, in the trial against Oscar Wilde with fear of being misunderstood. 

Los Angeles, November 29, 2021.

 

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Thomas Russell Sullivan The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, first performed at the Boston Museum, May 1887.

Before I proceed to discuss the numerous films that rewrote Stevenson’s original tale, I should briefly discuss one of the first of several plays that were adapted and presented in response to Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which reached the stage the only a year after the fiction’s publication, the first performance taking place at the Boston Museum in May 1887. The play, written by Boston author Thomas Russell Sullivan, felt the need—felt the need and, seemingly, determined the course of most other adaptations, by adding female characters and romantic plot complications to the original all-male story. It also added “The” to the title, which many later editions of the book did as well.

     As in the several film versions, actor Richard Mansfield, who had purchased the rights from Stevenson, played both the roles of Jekyll and Hyde, his transformations creating such horrified reactions from the play’s audience that it became a huge success, moving on to London where it was performed for 10 weeks in 1888.

     The plays was forced to close down with grown hysteria surrounding the Jack the Ripper serial murders with even some stage actors being considered suspects in the real-murders. When Mansfield’s name was mentioned in the London newspapers as among those suspects, he immediately closed the production.

     The 1920 Paramount film production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based, in part, upon Robertson’s play.


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an early model

George F. Fish and Luella Forepaugh (screenplay, adapted from their stage drama and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Otis Turner, presumed director Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1908 || Lost Film 

Perhaps the earliest Jekyll and Hyde films, now lost, was Otis Turner’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 1908, a 16-minute, one reel film, adapted from another play from the one I mention above, a four act drama, by George F. Fish and Luella Forepaugh, which was presented on stage in 1904, also derived from Stevenson’s novella. It is also considered to be the first US horror film.

     Like many of the films that follow, Dr. Jekyll (Hobart Bosworth) begins the film vowing his love for a woman, in this version named Alice (Betty Harte), the vicar’s daughter. Suddenly, seized by his chemical addiction to the formula, he begins to convulse, transforming into the evil beast who attacks Alice, her father attempting to come to her defense but is. as in numerous later versions, is murdered by Hyde.

      In his lawyer’s office soon after Jekyll seems himself being executed for the crime, but he apparently again turns into Hyde, begging from his friend Dr. Lanyon the chemicals he needs. Drinking the potion, he returns to Jekyll and once more is haunted by visions of himself on the gallows. He takes poison, killing both himself and Hyde as do nearly several of the other versions of Jekyll that follow.

      The film was evidently successful enough that producer William N. Selig released another 7-minute version in 1909 titled A Modern Dr. Jekyll, a film that has also been lost. Apparently it was a comic version where, in one of his transformations, Jekyll turns into a girl on a swing.

       Another version of the film by the same name, directed by Sidney Olcott, as also released in 1908, and in 1910 August Blom directed a Danish language version of the film Den Skaebnesvangre Opfindelse (The Fatal Invention). That same year saw another Jekyll/Hyde film titled The Duality of Man.

        Before 1920, there were 11 further versions, the 1912 Lucis Henderson Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I write about below, and the following: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913, Herbert Brenon);  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913, Kineto-Kinemacolour in color); A Modern Jekyll and Hyde (1913, Robert Broderick); a German film Der Andere (1913, Max Mack); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1914, Starlight productions); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Done to a Frazzle (1914, Charlie de Forrest); another German film, parts of which have been restored by the Munich Filmmuseum, Ein seltsamer Fall / Sein eigner Mörder (1914, Richard Oswald); Horrible Hyde (1915, Howell Hansell); Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde (1915, Charles L. Gaskill), the first female version; and Luke’s Double (1916, Harold Lloyd), a comic version about a man who after reading the tale has a nightmare.

       The same year that John Stuart Robertson’s 1920 version, about which I write below, there were five other remakes of and derived from the Stevenson story, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, Charles J. Hayden); a German work, Der Januskopf (Janus-Faced, aka Love’s Mockery) (1920, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, Arrow Film Corporation); When Quackel Did Hyde (1920, Charles Gramlich); an animated short staring the comic strip figure Happy Hooligan Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Zip (1920, Gregory La Cava). In 1925 Percy Pembroke directed another comic version starring Stan Laurel, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride.

       I review Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version of the film, but after that 9 more films appeared from 1932 to 1940 including a Betty Boop movie, a Mickey Mouse version, and a Looney Tunes stuttering pig cartoon. I again tackle Victor Fleming’s 1941 remake and other later versions.


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drugs destroy doctor

Thomas Sullivan (screenplay based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson), Lucius Henderson (director) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1912 

Apparently written by Thomas Sullivan, who also penned the 1887 play based on Stevenson’s work, the one-reeler 12-minute first film of the horror story titled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is precisely that and little else: a moralistic horror tale presented as a melodrama with very little and no psychological depth. In fact we know virtually nothing about this Dr. Jekyll (James Cruze) other than he is a doctor evidently intrigued by a text he has been reading by a man named Graham “On Drugs” who argues apparently that “taking certain drugs can separate man into two beings—one representing EVIL the other GOOD. So presumably Jekyll is good.


      He must be “good” since we soon discover he is the accepted suitor of the local minister’s daughter (Florence La Badie). And despite the act that we have just observed Jekyll, after mixing up a serum quickly turn into fanged monster and back, we witness the two gently kissing as they encounter the girl’s father. 

     From there on there is very little in the way of action: as in the original the fiendish Mr. Hyde knocks down a young girl in the street as in the original, and unlike the original continues to court the minister’s daughter, on one such occasion turning unwillingly into Hyde and killing his fiancée’s father as in the 1920, 1931, and 1941 remakes. In this work thee are no other friends to warn or chide him, and the minister and his daughter know nothing about Jekyll’s risky research.

     His butler, the Poole role in the later films, encounters no one but his master Jekyll, discovering only at the end of the film that Jekyll may be locked away with the monster.

      As critic Troy Howarth are rather humorously commented, Hyde’s “reign of terror” is confined to the brief encounter with the girl on the streets and his future father-in-law, otherwise acting more “like an unrestrained child who is allowed to run amok by a distracted parent.”

     As he madly tears apart Jekyll’s studio he grabs a bottle of poison and swallows it, unlike some of the later Jekylls who still insist that can win the battle with Hyde and have to be stopped by other means. And unlike the dying Hydes of the 1931 and 1941 film who transform back into the goodly doctor, this Hyde surely has defeated Jekyll as he dies with the face of the monster alone.

      Since we are presented only with the outlines of the horror tale that allows no entry into personality or intention or even ideas of pleasure, this film is utterly impervious about any sexual identity except for the normative heterosexual pairing of Jekyll and the minister’s daughter. And even after her father’s death, Jekyll, accidently meeting her on his way to leave, still shows love for her with no sense of consequence for Hyde’s actions other than his recognition that the monster within himself can no longer be contained.

      Except for a doctor who experiments with drugs to create a monstrous being, this work has almost nothing to do with Stevenson’s tale other than using his character’s names. The movies might be best expressed in something like a prohibition headline: “DRUGS DESTROY DOCTOR.”

 Los Angeles, December 7, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).

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henry jekyll meets dorian gray

Clara Beranger (screenplay and intertitles, based on the play by Thomas Russell Sullivan and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson), John S. Robertson (director) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1920

While in the years leading up to his writing of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Stevenson was mulling over the significance of the murders of his former drinking companion Eugene Chantrelle and reading through the latest French theories of young male hysterics, the British general public just prior to the publication of his book were being treated to a far more sensational story published in the July 1885 issues of W. T. Stead’s The Pall Mall Gazette: “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” serialized in several sections some of which were six newspaper-sized pages in length with titles such as “The Violation of Virgins,” “The Confessions of a Brothel-Keeper,” “How Girls Were Bought and Ruined,” and “Strapping Girls Down,” together taking up the issue of child prostitution, “the abduction, procurement and sale of young English virgins to Continental ‘pleasure palaces.’”

     According to Stevenson biographer Jeremy Hodges the Pall Mall Gazette (P.M.G.) sold a million and a half copies of the issues about the “The Maiden Tribute” despite the fact that the owner of the greatest number of newsstands, W. H. Smith, refused to sell them given their lurid and prurient content such as the following passage: 

“The examination [to confirm virginity] was very brief and completely satisfactory. But the youth, the complete innocence of the girl, extorted pity even from the hardened heart of the old abortionist. 'The poor little thing,' she exclaimed. 'She is so small, her pain will be extreme. I hope you will not be too cruel with her' - as if to lust when fully roused the very acme of agony on the part of the victim has not a fierce delight. To quiet the old lady the agent of the purchaser asked if she could supply anything to dull the pain. She produced a small phial of chloroform...

     From the midwife's the innocent girl was taken to a house of ill fame, No. - , P - - -street, Regent-street, where, notwithstanding her extreme youth, she was admitted without question. She was taken up stairs, undressed, and put to bed, the woman who bought her putting her to sleep. She was rather restless, but under the influence of chloroform she soon went over. Then the woman withdrew. All was quiet and still. A few moments later the door opened, and the purchaser entered the bedroom. He closed and locked the door. There was a brief silence. And then there rose a wild and piteous cry - not a loud shriek, but a helpless, startled scream like the bleat of a frightened lamb. And the child's voice was heard crying, in accents of terror, 'There's a man in the room! Take me home; oh, take me home!' And then all once more was still.” (Pall Mall Gazette, July 6, 1885) 

     The girls being described ranged from the ages of 12 to 14. Sir William Harcourt, the Home Secretary was so fearful of riots on a national scale, Hodges tells us, that he begged Stead to stop publication, to no avail.

     Stevenson, convalescing in Skerryvore, his home in Bournemouth, Dorset named after the lighthouse built by his great-uncle Alan, was sent copies of the newspaper by his friend William Ernest Henley, the model for Treasure Island’s one-legged Long John Silver, to whom he replied rather jocularly about what the rest of Scotland and England were reading with shock and dismay, '”The P.M.G. is wonderful; the simplicity of C. Morley [the paper's manager] in person: a kind of impudent innocence, as of an inexperienced devil, or one of his own virgins. But maybe there is some truth in some of the things; and if there is, I suppose it's worth doing. Anyway, it's worth doing for the P.M.G.”

     No matter that the nightmare world he would soon create would be an all-male affair, as Hodges observes: “Louis did not need to outline what Mr Hyde did on his nocturnal adventures around Soho—thanks to Stead, all Britain knew and was gripped by a prurient frisson of horror and hysteria.”

     Within only a few months, after long delays going back to 1882, Britain would enact the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which raised the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16, and also re-criminalized homosexual acts, most notably Section 11 introduced by MP Henry Labouchère, the so-called Labouchère Amendment I describe above, which provided for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years,” with or without hard labor for any man found guilty of “gross indecency with another male, whether “in public or in private”—the definition of “gross indecency” evidently, as it is in so many such laws, up to the justice system, but generally interpreted as any male homosexual behavior short of sodomy, which remained a separate and far more serious crime.

      It should be no wonder then that by 1920 when Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky decided to film a silent version of the now famed Stevenson tale, they chose the stage version with its female romantic introductions as their model instead of returning to the more controversial all-male cast. Certainly their audiences who had by this time assimilated the tastes of notorious Victorian heterosexual males such as Stead had described and Jack the Ripper had made world-famous, it would almost be expected that Mr. Hyde’s craven nights had something to do with equally brazen females, while the good Doctor would naturally have by this time in his life found the friendship and desired companionship of a suitable, similarly class-oriented woman. Even in pre-code Hollywood, homosexuality was not a proper subject matter for a serious motion picture. Yet even here their female screenwriter, Clara Beranger, found ways to introduce subjects closer to the original by coding them through literary references and their structures in a manner that would be apparent only to a select group of viewers. And surely her scenario and presumably the play’s plot on which the film was based (I offer up the effort of comparing the play to the 1920 film to some younger researcher and essayist, since I don’t know the location of a manuscript and have not read it) will leave Stevenson’s populist audience—who were convinced they knew of what Hyde’s nocturnal activities consisted—in some confusion and disappointment. For neither Jekyll nor Hyde seems truly interested in the female sex.

       In the film, unlike the fiction, the young and beautiful girl of “sheltered innocence,” Millicent Carewe (Martha Mansfield), the daughter of a gentleman in Henry Jekyll’s circle of friends, is clearly in love with the young idealist Jekyll (John Barrymore), who not only is a noted doctor and scientist exploring areas which another of his peers, Dr. Richard Lanyon (Charles Willis Lane) finds abhorrent and dangerous, perhaps relating to the “supernatural”—Lanyon appears to be even  afraid to peer into the lens of his friend’s microscope for fear what he might see there—but runs a free clinic for the poor to which he devotes most of his off hours. Because of his work at the clinic, Jekyll shows up after dinner at the first party of the film, leaving Millicent very much alone, having to rebuff the vaguely romantic attentions of yet another gentlemen of their circle, the lawyer John Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn), the original narrator of Stevenson’s work.


      Jekyll appears to be equally interested in Millicent, although we wouldn’t know it from the events of the rest of the film, since he spends most of the work evading her, at first because of his charity work and experiments, and later because of his busy activities as Edward Hyde and his fear that in her presence he might at any moment turn back into the uncouth and repulsive friend of  Jekyll’s. Indeed there is only one kiss that they share through the entire movie, and we witness very little conversation between them other than his constant apologies for being late or simply not showing up to dinner parties she has planned. One might describe Millicent as a figure entire in suspension until the very last frames of the film when she suddenly springs into action by appearing at his laboratory door, a motion that results in his suicide through the poison he has kept within the ring Edward Hyde has stolen from Gina’s finger on their first meeting. If Hyde and Gina might ever have been described as a couple, the metaphor of the poisonous ring should make evident that it stands as a total inversion of the wedding ceremony

      Although Hyde takes up living with the Italian music hall dancer Gina (Nita Naldi), we are given little evidence of sexual contact, as she too seems to be left pretty much despite the fact that the intertitles tell us that Hyde is racking up “the victims of his depravity.” Who these victims are and what kinds of depravity Hyde is engaged in, we’re never told, but it is evidently not of the  heterosexual kind he might have with Gina. Indeed, the only time we observe returning to their apartment is when he tells her that their relationship is over and demands that she immediately leave. In the film he sees her only one other type when, after attempting to resist drinking to potion which releases Hyde, he finds himself again unable to resist temptation, releasing Hyde to visit his own neighborhood haunts where he meets up with Gina and a far younger girl at a bar, demanding that if she might imagine that we would return to her she need only compare herself with the prettier woman to which he shows a brief attraction, again through a mirror image focusing on the outer visage rather than what lies within. Moreover, he soon leaves both of them to visit an opium den, apparently disinterested in whatever either of them might have to offer him.

     In sum, the introduction of female figures hardly seems to create any deep sense of romance in the 1920 film as opposed to Jekyll’s passionate need for his fiancée’s love in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version of Stevenson’s haunting tale.

     In fact, it forces us to wonder even more about the sexuality of both Jekyll and Hyde. As in Stevenson’s work, Jekyll inexplicably to the outside world leaves his entire estate and the permission to come and go at will to his friend Edward Hyde, much the wonderment of his butler Poole, his lawyer Utterson, and the other friends with whom Utterson discusses the matter. They do not, as in the fiction, speculate that Hyde may be blackmailing their friend nor do they even wonder if the many long periods of absence by Jekyll and the odd nighttime comings and goings of Hyde represent something located on “Queer Street.” They are only stunned by the fact that Jekyll would have such a crude and deformed friend, although in this film version Barrymore does not attach any appliances to his face, but merely extends his hands into long monstrous-like paws, and wear his suddenly long hair in a kind of stringy pageboy cut.  In fact, they find it hard to even catch a glimpse of him until Millicent’s father, Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) makes an unannounced visit and his beaten to death for his bother.

     The only time when Utterson and his cousin Edward Enfield (Cecil Clovelly) actually encounter Hyde and deal , with him for any length of time is when coming down the street where they are walking Hyde stumbles over a young boy playing in the street and instead of apologizing and attempting to help him up, cruses the kid and appears to lean into him even further in a kind of hurtful vengeance. Shocked by his behavior, they insist he pay the father a sum of money, which he is only happy to do, taking them to Jekyll’s house which he enters and exists with a signed check, the signature being Jekyll’s. When he attempts to simply hand it over as payment to the father, they remind him that it’s not written out in his name, but insists that he will accompany the father to the bank, proving that it is still valid and startling Jekyll’s friends for the Doctor’s willingness to protect Hyde.

      Something similar with a young girl happens in Stevenson’s original novella. But here it is given further significance when we recall Jeykll’s own loving attention to two ill boys in his charity ward, one of which he carries, almost like beloved baby to his bed, the boy having evidently broken his leg. If there is any scene in this movie that might give us some small indication of what Hyde’s“depravities” might involve, we might only compare Jekyll’s loving, slightly pedophilic attentions to his sick young boys with Hyde’s outright abuse of them to render a possible clue. And surely that might accord with the child abuse that his newspaper reading fans might have imagined the original Hyde was involved with, even if the gender were to be reversed.

      In a sense, it doesn’t entirely matter since the film and presumably play also overlaid the structural pattern of another homosexual work upon Stevenson’s deeply coded one. One of the new characters introduced into this film, Sir George Carewe, may have kept his beautiful daughter pure, as one of Jeykll’s circle jokes, “as only a man of the world could,” suggesting that having lived, as he admits, his life to the fullest, he is determined to see that his daughter doesn’t. In short, Carewe is a sexist cad who spouts—particularly when Jekyll joins the group—a series of outrageous aphorisms and epigrams that might make even the witty Lord Henry Wotton of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray blush.

      In this version, it is Carewe, the figure at the center of their male bachelor’s club, who first mouths the challenges to conventional behavior, not Jekyll as in Stevenson’s work, making Barrymore’s Jekyll a kind of youthful purist who Carewe and the others gladly corrupt. Having heard of Jekyll’s numerous good deeds and his high moral values to which a couple of his guests attest, when Jekyll arrives late, Carewe takes out the “pique” against the young man he has previously mentioned by challenging him in several statements.

       In this silent film a considerable amount of intertitles are devoted to their conversation:


                       Carewe: In devoting yourself to others, Jekyll, aren’t you

                            neglecting the development of your own life?

                       Jekyll:  Isn’t it by serving others that one develops oneself,

                            Sir George?

                       Carewe: Which self? A man has two—as he has two hands.

                            Because I use my right hand, should I never use my left?,

                       Jekyll:  Your really strong man fears nothing. It is the weak

                           one who is afraid of—experience.

                      Carewe: 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.

     Before the evening is over, Carewe has dragged Jekyll to a music hall where he introduces him to the Italian dancer Gina, Jekyll repulsed the very idea. Carewe further challenges him, asking if he is afraid of “temptation,” but Jekyll leaves with Lanyon, returning home to stew over the challenges that Sir George has set out before him.

     It is those dinner table and late night incidents which set Jekyll on a scientific search to see if through chemical potions he might separate the two beings within every man, allowing the good and honorable man the protection for his other, baser self to give in and experience all temptations.

     As we know, he believes he succeeds by creating his friend Hyde. 

    This film’s kinship with Wilde’s famed fiction does not end here moreover. Unlike Stevenson’s work, director John S. Robertson and writer Beranger add yet another Dorian Gray twist to their story as each time Hyde escapes from Jekyll’s psyche he becomes more vile and physically more hideous, serving Jekyll in the same role as the portrait does Gray, the double image representing all the moral decay of the beast within while the outer shell, Jekyll, retaining his handsome visage.

    And it is for this very reason and the fact that Hyde increasingly takes over Jekyll’s body that in  the 1920 film version Jekyll gives up communication with nearly all his former acquaintances, increasing their worry about him and their speculations about what may be happening in the dark confines of his home and laboratory. When Carewe finally visits him, Hyde kills him arguing oddly enough from Jekyll’s viewpoint, that it was he who corrupted him in the first place. For that moment before Hyde chases down the elderly roué and beat his to death, it is hard to know whether the action belongs to Hyde or Jekyll; and there is some passing satisfaction rather than utter horror in the fact that Carewe is finally meeting with his punishment for his deviant and selfish life.

      By this time in the film, however, we have come to realize that there is very little difference between the two men except how they appear to the world. And Jekyll realizes that in the struggle to control the vessel of his body, Hyde has won; Jekyll has no choice but to destroy what is left of himself, denying Hyde any further access to the world around him. That he transmutes after death back into the visage of Jekyll permits Utterson to declare to that Hyde has killed Jekyll, while we know that, in fact, Jekyll has destroyed his hidden existence.

     By introducing these elements of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, both director and writer make it even clearer that, as with Dorian Gray, Hyde’s depravities may have involved women, they have surely also included homosexual events. And indeed the only murder we witness is of a male “friend.” And in that respect, Robertson’s film remains somewhat truer to Stevenson’s original despite its introduction of women and presumed romance, both of which seem to be cancelled out by Jekyll’s and Hyde’s numerous other activities.

     Although this film was well received in its day, after Mamoulian’s 1931 version premiered it was long believed to be the superior work of cinema, something which is still difficult to argue against. Yet over the years, Robertson’s film has begun to be rethought and newly appreciated. Certainly there are some wonderful cinematic scenes, particularly when Carewe takes Jekyll for a night on the town, the scenes for which are tinted in dark blue for the outside scenes, and light pink for the musical hall dances of Gina. To watch Barrymore undergo his transformations without the absurd applications of prosthetics and costumes that actor Fredric March was forced to suffer is a pleasure, Barrymore acting out the potion’s effects instead relying on camera tricks. And  Barrymore, although just as terrifying as Hyde does not need to resort to the literal monkey shenanigans that March is forced to enact. The scene where Hyde tramples the young boy is quite brilliantly conceived. And observing Jekyll rush back and forth from his laboratory to his drawing room to the full-length mirror which he eventually drags into his laboratory to watch over and perhaps even “enjoy” his transformations, startlingly reiterates Stevenson’s own description of the glass behind the door, “the very fortress of identity.”*

     Arguably, along with the foreign films of the 1920s, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), Robertson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde not only helped to establish the horror film genre which would come into full fruition a decade later, but made it clear to filmmakers the coded sexual markers which were innate to the very structures of the genre with its “them and us,” “outsider and insider,” and other doubling elements that US writer Edgar Allan Poe had already hinted at—codes which would be particularly advantageous when nearly all openly sexual references, homosexual and heterosexual, came under the intense scrutiny of the Hays Commission and other censoring organizations.

     The 1920 film, in short, attends to Stevenson’s original far more carefully, and accordingly is more complex and of interest to LGBTQ viewers than is Mamoulian’s more thoroughly hetero-sexualized movie where the formerly gay figure at the center of the work is not only killed but made to disappear. 

Los Angeles, December 1, 2021

*In the original manuscript version when Utterson breaks into Jekyll’s laboratory, the butler Poole comments on the mirror: “This glass as seem some queer doings,” (in the final text the word is changed to “strange”), making it is clear that in Jekyll’s constant peering into it he has become a kind of Narcissus staring into the odd beauty of himself as an “other,” someone he might kiss, love, and with whom he might even have sex were he not so very ugly to behold. Surely this is the same kind of experience that Dorian had in checking up from time to time on his hidden painting.  

       

*

 residual echoes

Percy Heath (screenplay, based on Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Rouben Mamoulian (director) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1931

Finally the then mostly quite elderly readers of The Pall Mall Gazette almost got the work they thought they were reading back in 1885, along with a nice girl that the good Doctor Henry Jekyll might have settled down with and married if he hadn’t gotten caught up in his heinous experimentations, in Rouben Mamoulian’s well-filmed remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1931.

      The Doctor (Fredric March) is just as curious about scientific exploration to which friend Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert) is similarly opposed, and is once again involved in the community through his lectures and his work at the charity award which leads him to miss the dinner portion of his fiancée’s party just as he had in Robertson’s retelling of the Stevenson story. But this beautiful girl, now named Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) is far less passive about her relationship to him, and he far more expressive of his love. And her over-protective father, now titled Brigadier-General Danvers Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), has none of the charm of the gay cad that Sir George had, but his befuddled arch conservative Victorian who stands in the way of the couple’s desired early wedding every chance he has. The handsome and debonair Doctor, no matter what his credentials be, is perceived as a young radical in his eyes, and even his desire to marry early, he tells him, “is yet another evidence of your eccentricity.” Even his attempt to argue the point is “positively indecent.”

      We already know from Jekyll’s public lecture early in the film, that this radical thinker fully believes that “man is truly two beings,” the one we call the good one, who strives for nobility, while the other “seeks an expression of impulses which bind him to the animal nature of the earth.”

     “These two selves are chained to one another, causing repression,” he argues—scandalously from his friend’s Lanyon’s point of view. Jekyll even admits that is the “the things one can’t do that tempt me most.”

      Having broken up his bachelor’s club on which he was so dependent in both the fiction and in the 1920 film, Mamoulian leaves him with only the conservative Lanyon—Utterson, the narrator of Stevenson’s tale is such a minor figure in this film that he is not even mentioned in the credits—as a supporting friend. March’s Jekyll is such a solitary figure that when—having begun his experiments in separating the two selves of his own being he becomes frightened about the possibilities of the direction in which Hyde might take him—he dares to once again bring up the necessity for an early marriage with Muriel (he begs of Muriel, “Marry me now. I can’t wait.”; making it clear that only in marriage can he get her into bed so that he might relieve his sexual desires), whereupon he again is denied that possibility, the film veers dangerously close to the shoals of the completely neutered 1941 revision by Victor Fleming in which Jekyll’s transformation into Edward Hyde is simply a product of his sexual frustration instead of a self-willed voyage into an unknown land of depraved desires.

      Fortunately Jekyll has already come to the rescue of the bar-singer, prostitute (a word which even the 1931 cusp-of-code film could not utter) Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins), who not only entices Jekyll but literally strips for him, tossing her garters over his turned away body as she gets naked for bed, and dangling her naked leg as a token of her desire that he return to her for sex as soon as possible. 

     In the 1936 re-release, Joseph Breen and his committee demanded the entire scene be cut—ironically reiterating the demands of Muriel’s father, that Jekyll remain celibate, permitting only his monster other the ability to have sex with a woman. The footage was lost for decades, forcing audiences apparently to fill in the gaps of the cinematic logic of how Jekyll has become so very nervous about his ability to wait out the time while Ivy and her father go traveling across the continent before their marriage and why Hyde show’s up at Ivy’s nightclub. But in 1931, March’s Jekyll clearly took his cue from Ivy’s delightful invitation, showing up as Hyde at the dive of a nightclub in which she nightly performs.

     The trouble is that locked away in Wally Westmore’s excessive make-up, turning him into a hairy simian being with large and crooked canine teeth of Edward Hyde—very much the way Victorian taxonomists portrayed mad, syphilitic, and deviant human beings as well often as those who were non-Caucasians—it is hard to imagine any woman, even a prostitute willing to go to bed with Edward Hyde. While Robertson’s Hyde may have been unattractive, he still showed the remnants of being Barrymore’s Jekyll. Here he is simply a beast who, as those British housewives who read the daily exploits about child prostitution might have imagined, whips, beats, and runs his long nails across the back of his lover Ivy. At last we know what depravities Hyde committed, but alas we have lost all interest in them.

      And it is totally impossible to imagine any rational  friendship or sexual camaraderie between Jekyll and Westmore’s version of Hyde. Except for his busy athletic monkey-like jumps and leaps, Hyde becomes uninteresting and totally unbelievable. Our and the film’s interest now focuses solely on the brooding and very lonely Jekyll, without any of his bachelor friends to even offer a shoulder to cry upon. What now becomes important is Jekyll’s attempt to go sober, to resist the temptations of the drug which makes him so very loathsome; and, after he transforms into Hyde even without the potion, his belief that someway he can still correct his ways and overcome his addiction. If you have noticed that I am using the terms of alcoholism and a drug addiction I think it is quite appropriate to describe how this film superficially portrays the situation.

      Although they exist as one in the same body, we might argue that Jekyll and Hyde have now truly become two separate beings, the one overcome with guilt to leaves Ivy, sending her a  £50 note and when she mistakenly comes to Jekyll seeking protection from her tormentor, determining to protect her from Hyde. But of course, he can no longer control the “other,” Hyde soon after returning to Ivy’s room to murder her, and in so doing dooming Hyde and his creator Jekyll to death and, in the process, ending our interest in any further events other than a shiver of curiosity perhaps of how they will track him, either Jekyll or Hyde, down and kill him.

         Mamoulian is too intelligent of a director to let his film go at that, and postpones the inevitable by restoring the important scene from the original work where Jekyll, trapped in Hyde’s visage, sends for Lanyon to bring his chemicals so that he might return to his own being. But unlike the original, where the tension between Hyde and Lanyon exists as a frisson of sexual fear, here it is a matter simply of transactional violence as Lanyon pulls a gun on Hyde demanding that he take him to Jekyll, forcing the monster to take the drink in front of the skeptic of all things supernatural to watch him turn into his former friend; Lanyon is bound by his doctor’s oath of patient confidentiality cannot even attempt to tell others of what he has just witnessed.

      Realizing that Hyde has been now separated forever from his female tempter, Jekyll is still convinced that he can control the situation for himself but cutting of his ties with Muriel, but in the process, transformed once again beyond his will into Hyde, beating and killing her father. We may even feel it is the old man’s well-deserved punishment for refusing youth its natural pleasures, but the act obviously means the end for Jekyll as well.

       Yet, as Elaine Showalter has observed in her essay I quoted in the first section of this essay, Jekyll does not even imagine killing himself, since as a heterosexual transgressor he suffers no real guilt for having transgressed against a woman or even having killed his would-be lover’s father for standing in their way.


       When Hyde again returns to overcome Jekyll, Lanyon and the police show up at his door, the police finally shoot him dead for his criminal acts. But even then Hyde is not allowed his reward of out surviving his progenitor; the last scene of the film shows one final transformation, as the terrible face of Hyde disappears to be replaced by Jekyll’s handsome visage. As I noted above the even the remnants of a potentially queer figure must be wiped away from the film without further evidence, as if he never truly existed.

      Despite the director having utterly altered Stevenson’s dark tale of the sexual desire for the “other” that perhaps lies outside of normative heterosexual desire, and, by so doing, literalizing the work in such a way that it becomes basically a story about a thoroughly frustrated man’s lust for a woman outside of his social status not so very different, in fact, from a fiction such as Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy—despite this and numerous other failures, there are many excellent moments in Mamoulian’s film which take it a notch above Robertson’s earlier version.

      The entire first scene, in which we view Jekyll’s world only from his eyes as he narrowly envisions it—a society created to facilitate his efforts, a butler to remind him of his lecture and fetch his cape, a hackney drive to take him to the event, friends to great him and a friendly worker to whom he can toss his coat as he passes, and a full room of desirous young students as well as carping skeptics attending to his every word—devastating reveals the central figure’s fatuousness, his utter faith in himself at the expense of anyone else. It is only when, as preparing to leave, he peers into a mirror to check on his appearance that we catch a glimpse of the being behind the camera’s movements, a handsome man who cannot truly see beyond the pleasant image that faces him in the glass. The rest of the movie will, in fact, take him into that mirror to explore who he truly is.

     Unfortunately, one might argue, what that voyage consists of his as predictable as he imagines the world is in this first scene. And that represents the film’s failure, whereas had it followed Stevenson’s story more closely it might have taken its hero and us into far more uncomfortable and revelatory territory. 

    Strangely, however, even Mamoulian’s heterosexual Jekyll cannot entirely escape the language of Stevenson’s guilty gay outlaw who has experienced the guilty pleasures of another world through the subterfuge of another man, Edward Hyde.

    As Jekyll begins to perceive what Hyde has done to him, his verbal responses are not those that one might expect of a heterosexual brute who’s had a few S&M sessions in bed with a pretty young woman, not even those of a relapsing alcoholic of drug addict desperate to just one more time to inject the substance which has allowed him to go places which he has never before experienced. Or let me just suggest that if his comments to share something in common with those beings, they more closely align, in my way of thinking, with the denials of a man having briefly left the sexual closet for an adventure that he is convinced he will never again need to explore, but is absolutely unable to without denying his own existence.

     I have chose just a few of the words uttered by March supposed coming from the mouth of his character Jekyll, who at times also speaks for Hyde.

     Early on it appears as a kind of bravado, a sense of release as when, having first swallowed the serum, he shouts “I’m free. Free at last,” and addressing the absent Lanyon, “If you could see me now!”

     He comments to others, “There are no bounds.” “We may control our actions, but not our impulses.”

     While waiting in total frustration after hearing of Muriel’s voyage, even Poole suggests he get out an enjoy himself, hinting at a world perhaps even outside of the music hall where he finds Ivy to which the plot confines him. Poole: “There are many amusements for a gentleman like you.”

      Once he has begun his outside adventures, he speaks to Muriel in a manner that suggests something far deeper than a man having nightly intercourse with a prostitute: “I’ve walked a strange and terrible road.” To several people he reports, he was not quite himself, he was “ill.”

      As the reliable Stevenson figure Poole comments about his master’s disappearance, “It’s very queer that he’s not here.”

      After he has revealed his true nature to Lanyon, the stunned observer comments: “You are in the power of that monster you have created.” It is no longer a man speaking of his nighttime “other self” indulging in cruel sexual relationships or even what a murderer might say when he responds: “I’ll fight, I’ll conquer it.”

      Predictably Lanyon answers: “It has conquered you.”

      But again, Jekyll answers neither like a heterosexual philanderer nor a man caught up in a web of murderous behavior: “No. No. No. I’ll fight it. I know it will not happen again. Help me.”

      And once more, Lanyon refuses to be involved: “This is preposterous and I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

      Jekyll’s words might indeed be those of an alcoholic or a drug attic, but we know that is not the case. His Hydean self may drink and smoke opium, but that’s not his problem. In fact, in this film we do not observe Hyde drinking or partaking of drugs. To me, his desperate utterances sound more like a gay man attempting to convince himself that he can give up his sexual desires, and that even for having participated in such behavior he is not longer worthy of Muriel’s love and must give her up as well.

      His final words are to Muriel are those of a fundamentalist who is convinced that his sexual actions have gotten the best of him but may still be possibly controlled, like one of the believers in “conversion therapy,” a solution we now realize is not only unnecessary but offers the patient little but demonizing. And even at this point Jekyll knows he cannot return to life without carrying Hyde with him. When Muriel offers to help him, he answers: I’m beyond help, you hear. I’m in Hell. I have no soul. I’m beyond the pale. I’m one of the living dead.”

       Today, might we be able to imagine someone like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, or Jeffrey Epstein—all heterosexual monsters—speaking words like these, especially if they lived in the utterly patriarchally controlled world of the Victorian era, where girls of 12, 13, and 14 years of age might easilyx be purchased for sex?

        In Jekyll’s words I hear the echoes of a closeted gay man attempting to redeem a life which he knows deep within will no longer permit his existence. The movie offers the only solution that the heterosexual society of the day could offer these men. Wipe away the self you have hidden, Edward Hyde, and put on the face that we can remember you by now that you are dead.

Los Angeles, December 1, 2021


*

the end of the rainbow 

John Lee Mahin, Percy Heath, and Samuel Hoffenstein (based on the fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson), Victor Fleming (director) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1941

Victor Fleming’s 1941 rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde finally succeeded when none of the others had in wiping away nearly all references or even residual hints of Stevenson’s carefully wrought queer story. No mentions here of even “odd,” “queer,”  “gay,” the latter used just once squarely put into the traditional context, or even “strange.” Just to make sure that no one would even suspect Stevenson’s tale had queer goings on, they bought the rights to Mamoulian’s version, destroying most of the prints of the 1931 edition and disallowing the projection of any of those prints which might have survived. For years no one could know just how truly bad Fleming’s film was in comparison with Mamoulian’s far more interesting attempt.

     Spencer Tracy as Jekyll is completely in love, so their kisses announce, with Lana Turner’s Bea Emery, and even her conventional thinking father, Sir Charles Emery, seems just a little more flexible than Brigadier-General Danvers Carew, although in this case his refusal to permit Harry to marry Bea immediately is quite clearly responsible for his son-in-law’s experimentation with his “evil”   chemical transformation. Old men should never stand in the way of young love seems to be the morale of this story. Certainly Poole (Peter Godfrey), Henry Jekyll’s always likeable butler, is more free-willing than Emery, suggesting that his master might try out the musical show at the Variety which is very comical and “very daring sir if you follow my meaning.” 

      Jekyll does indeed follow his meaning, hurrying immediately back into his laboratory to finish up his experiments so that he can become the bad guy Hyde and try out that daring show. But then who can blame him for preferring Ingrid Bergman as Ivy Pearson (spelled differently from the previous film) over Lana Turner. If I were a heterosexual you can believe I’d choose Bergman any day; besides her acting his always better, and the film’s creators even something fun to sing instead of the church hymn Lana is forced to warble. 

      But it’s slow going until the plot gets that far with very little to show for it. And once the script writers and Fleming have clearly established that this is utterly for heterosexuals only, the film even allows itself to play with a few early pop art pin- up images, revealing, as Harry begins to finish his potion that will turn him into Hyde, the image of Bergman’s heaving breast atop a  flowing mass of volcanic lava (foretelling Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 dropping of her into the landscape of Stromboli) and permitting the sexually impatient Jekyll of few licks of her spirit as he pops her out of champagne bottle. Frankly, these are among my favorite frames of this otherwise utterly boring movie.

     

      From then on Percy Heath’s old script kicks in, but without any of Jekyll’s insistence that he might be able to be cured when he discovers that a wild scratch of a romp in bed with Ivy is far more diverting than proper dinner party with Lana’s golden curls and her pappa’s and fustian-pronouncing friends. In Fleming’s telling Jekyll, even though he knows he’s done wrong, doesn’t even feel he needs to admit to having been involved in Ivy and old man Emery’s murder. As he keeps repeating to reassure himself just before he transforms back into that horrible Hyde again, “I’m Henry Jekyll, I’m Henry Jekyll,” insisting to himself and the others that as a member in good standing in the heteronormative patriarchal club of Victorian society that he should be save from the silver bullet of the gun held by that fuddy-duddy moral idiot John Lanyon (Ian Hunter). After all wasn’t it Sir Charles’s gout that kept him from fucking his girlfriend proper?; and who cares about a girl who goes about singing “you can see my bustle swaying when I turn my body round”?

       Fleming and his crew felt so good about their cleaning up Stevenson’s little allegory that they could even spare a couple of jokes as Hyde first picks up Ivy to take her away to her as his S&M assistant. The first, when he jokes to her he’s on his way to the end of the rainbow is, of course, a reference to Fleming himself, who directed most of The Wizard of Oz before leaving it early to take over the direction of Gone with Wind, when, legend has it, Clark Gable complained about working with “that faggot” George Cukor.

        Little could have he or anyone else involved with that plug have guessed what “following the rainbow” or even being a “friend of Dorothy’s” would mean by the end of the century. So without even their knowing it a queer reference did find its way into their otherwise sacrosanct text. And just for good, a few seconds later they knowingly threw another such reference, as Hyde tells Ivy, “A botantist knows a lovely a flower when he sees one,” she replying, “O, are you one of them?” Any member of the good ‘ole boy’s club would have known that a “botanist,” someone who spent their time with flowers, meant that you were queer. But since he’s just picked up Ivy, even if she be an English Ivy which is a flowering plant, he’s clearly not gay. Obviously he wants a woman quick before the night is out.

      And Tracy always played along with the desires of the studios. Despite his regular enjoyment—if Hollywood sex wizard “Scotty” Bowers is to be believed—of a good male blow job, he grumblingly permitted studio publicists to hook him up in the public’s imagination with that badly complexioned lesbian Katherine Hepburn. It was enough to make a man drink, which apparently he did most nights when he wasn’t on the set. Perhaps in this case he should have drunk while acting; it certainly might have resulted in more fun, a perhaps even some real terror. 

Los Angeles, December 3, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).


* 

seven cartoon jekylls in six to seven-minute waltzes 

Don Christensen (writer), Norman McCabe (director) The Impatient Patient / 1942

John Foster and Tom Morrison (writers), Mannie Davis (director) Mighty Mouse Meets  Jekyll and Cat Hyde / 1944

Joseph Barbara and William Hanna (writers and directors) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse / 1947

Warren Foster (writer), Friz Freleng (director) Dr. Jerkyl’s Hide / 1954

Warren Foster (writer), Friz Freleng (director) Hyde and Hare / 1955

Warren Foster (writer), Friz Freleng (director) Hyde and Go Tweet / 1959

Michael Maltese and Chuck Jones (writers), Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble (directors) Is There a Doctor in the Mouse? / 1964

From 1942 to 1965 filmmakers from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Brothers, delivered up five animated cartoons based on the Robert Louis Stevenson Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. With Daffy Duck, Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Sylvester and Alfie, Bugs Bunny, and Sylvester and Tweety as their central characters, the films included The Impatient Patient (1942), Mighty Mouse Meets Jekyll and Cat Hyde (1944),  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947), Dr. Jerkyll’s Hide (1954), Hyde and Hare (1955), Hyde and Go Tweet (1960), and Is There a Doctor in the Mouse? (1964).

     Most of these are simply written in response to the notion of the creator and his inner monster, a different kind of Frankenstein in which a potion is involved. In the Mighty Mouse cartoon, the only real connection with Stevenson’s tale is that the mice find their to escape a storm into the old, abandoned Jekyll house wherein sleeps Jekyll’s hungry cat who turns into a kind of monstrous Hyde to attack the intruders.

     In general, these works involved simply the discovery or creation of a potion which radically changed the size and destructive capabilities of the mouse, cat, bird, or rabbit, who intimidated his usual enemy but in the constant transformations back and forth to normality altered the torturer and tortured. Arguably Tom the cat and Alfie the bulldog suffered the worst for these Hulk-like transformations. In Hyde and Go Tweet Sylvester is more frightened and intimidated by the size and appearance of a giant yellow bird that actually beaten up in the process. But in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse Tom falls to pieces and basically goes hungry, as he does in Is There a Doctor in the Mouse? when Jerry whips up his own formula for turning himself into a kind of “Mighty Mouse” as he spins around the house consuming everything in sight. His motions are so sped up that Tom cannot even visually perceive them and is forced to film the mouse’s consummations of a chocolate cake and watch it slow motion in order to prove his suspicions that the menace is his old friend and some new imported villain.  

     Although it is hard to feel sorry for the bulldog Alfie, who not only chases after Sylvester, but bullies his best buddy Chester. But in this case, after getting battered not only by Sylvester and a pesky mosquito who sips on some of Dr. Jerkyll’s serum, and—after Chester successfully challenges and beats up Sylvester who has transformed back into his everyday self—is forced to change roles with his puppy-sized friend, tagging along with the now apparently stronger Chester, one can only have a little pity for the Cockney-speaking bulldog. One might argue that this 1954 cartoon is one of the earliest tales about the besting of homophobic bullies, since it’s clear that Chester is a loving slave to his macho friend. And, at least, this cartoon insinuates by the sign hanging in the doorway and Dr. Jerkyll resides inside—a subliminal message to children that the two men live together without bothering to explain they exist in one body.

       In the earliest of this group, The Impatient Patient Daffy Duck, a Western Union telegraph deliverer finds his way Dr. Jerkyl’s lair in the Ookaboochie swampland where’s he arrived to deliver a message to a Chloe. He visits the doctor to cure his hiccups, and in his attempts to scare the hiccups away, Jerkyl takes the serum becoming a gigantic woman who simply wants to dance the night away with Daffy. Exhausted by her chases after him, Daffy quickly concocts is own serum which turns Chloe into a baby, the likes of Baby Snookums, dangerous in a different way. But Daffy’s prepared, knocking the sense out of the stroller-bound child with a huge mallet, with cuckoo-clock announcing, “He dood it.” At least director Norman McCabe imagined Hyde as something out of the normal, and even a bit queer in the fact that the a powerful female figure has evidently been transformed out of the nerdy Dr. Jerkyl’s body. 

       With the exception of Hyde and Hare, however, the others represent simply further opportunities for Jerry to get the better of his conniving frenemy Tom and little Tweety to outwit the dimwitted Sylvester. They relationship with Stevenson lies only in the laboratory-concocted potion and the unpredictable limits of its alternating transformations.

       Three of these works, Dr. Jerkyl’s Hide, Hyde and Hare, and Hyde and Go Tweet by the same team of Friz Freleng and Warren Foster, yet the Bugs Bunny work could not be more different from all the others. In Hyde and Hare Foster and Freleng appear to actually comprehend the queer implications of Stevenson’s original, as they present a gentle, soft spoken, smallish man in the park who regularly brings carrots to feed to Bugs. Tired of playing the game of the timid rabbit, Bugs, jumping into his lap and suggests that he adopt him, which the gentle Dr. is most happy to do, quickly taking him into his home where Bugs immediately likes the look of the comfortable surroundings, settling down at the piano, topped with a candelabra,  to play Chopin’s Minute Waltz as he quips, with a slight lisp—almost in a gay coded lingo—“I wish my brother George was here.”

     The reference, presumably, is to the kitsch queer piano performer Liberace, who often spoke of his brother George.

       Meanwhile, the gentle doctor, attempting to find a carrot in his laboratory attempts to resist a glass of the formula sitting on the countertop, but, unable to keep his resolve, returns to drink it up, observing in his quiet, reserved, slightly fey voice, “Oh I am so ashamed.” Quickly becoming a larger green colored figure in his now ill-fitting suit he presents himself to Bugs, not presumably as in the other cartoons to chase, beat him, or put his tale in a waffle iron, but to sexually attack him, perhaps murdering him in the process; and for one of the first times Bugs really does seem to be terrified, running off as he calls for the Doctor, suggesting that the man holding an axe in his hand behind him, is a “mental case” in need of a cure. This is not quite the usual Bugs who seems to have a solution for every situation.

       A moment or two later he encounters the gentle doctor, who startled to find an axe in his hand, tosses it away in his thin reedy voice (read gay effeminate) reacts, “Oh dear, I hope I didn’t hurt someone.” Bugs tells him about the monster, handing him back the axe to help him protect himself.

       When it happens again, Bugs finds the Doc, and to protect him drags him into the storage room, handing him a gun as he boards up the door. The Doctor comments, “I wish he hadn’t given me this,” before turning back into the monster shoots a hole in the door through Bugs’ ears.

       As Bugs runs off to hide in another closet, he again encounters the Doctor who he invites to share the closet, but once within realizes the monster has returned. Escaping yet again, Bugs runs off to the laboratory, while the Doctor leaving the closet worries “Oh my, I hope I didn’t frighten my bunny away.”

       When they encounter one another in the laboratory, Bugs argues that he’s off since the monster seems to appear everywhere. The Doctor, pleading with him, assures him, “If you stay, I can assure you, you’ll never be bothered by him again.”—Jekyll’s assurance in the 1931 film to Ivy, Hyde’s distraught mistress. “I’m going to pour the whole formula down the drain.” Finding the glass and beaker empty, the Doc asks, “Did you drink this?”

      Insulted, so he proclaims, Bugs ends their friendship, vowing to return back to the park where there is question of his integrity. By the time he reaches his former haunts, he has turned green, scaring away all the elderly women feeding the pigeons, Bugs wondering “What’s up with them. You’d think they’d never seen a rabbit before.”

      Here is another obviously coded movie of the 1950s. It’s interesting, in hindsight, how Bugs Bunny, through his rabbit species the symbol of sexuality and fertility, is the cartoon figure who most often was chosen to encapsulate gay themes. 

Los Angeles, November 30, 2021


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           *


enjoying being mr. hyde

Gore Vidal (teleplay, adapted from the fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson), Allen Reisner (director) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / 1955 

The CBS live dramatic series, like several others on TV in that industry’s often described “Golden Years,” presented regular live dramatic productions of new and classic works on its “Climax!” series sponsored by Chrysler, hosted by Bill Lundigan.

     For this Jekyll/Hyde production, Gore Vidal wrote the teleplay, so I imagined given his homosexuality that I might find some vestiges in this version of the original Stevenson work with its coded gay references.

     At first it appeared to follow the pattern of the dozens of dreary films I had been watching, although this did get the final scene—in this case where Hyde (Michael Rennie), found in Jekyll’s laboratory is shot to death—immediately out of the way, shifting our attention from the plot to the issue of how Hyde might be caught to the dilemma of Jekyll’s transformations. Here too Jekyll, after creating and drinking his accidental potion—as in some of the versions, it was a manufacturing error that had provided the serum with its horrible effects and ability to permit the transformation from one personae to the other—goes on a wild heterosexual spree, visiting Soho dives and molesting women, in particular one girl (May Sinclair), whose fiancé Hyde later kills when he physically attacked by the man.

       Vidal also restored the work’s original narrator, Mr. Utterson (Cedric Hardwicke), this time playing the role of narrative mind by reading Jekyll’s journal which outlines for us the story.

       But I soon begin to realize that while obviously in 1955 there could have been no way around associating the “wicked” Hyde (perhaps the “wickedest man in all of London”) with champagne, low-life bars, and women—drugs, homosexuality, Sadomasochism, and any other vision of devilish behavior was absolutely forbidden, particularly on the family-oriented TV set—the video demonstrated very little interest in outlining what precisely Hyde did with women other than ordering them about and perhaps manhandling them, let alone how he had established his reputation. Mostly he seemed simply to want to sit down, have a drink, and growl a bit over the girl’s beauty.

        No, the heterosexual incidents here are no more part of the real story than were Cary Grant’s romances with Katherine Hepburn or Irene Dunne. What truly matters in this version of the story is what was happening within himself and regarding his good friend, in this case, as opposed to his arch-enemy in other productions, Dr. Lanyon, who Jekyll describes as an “innocent” who as performed by Lowell Gilmore, is quite attractive.

        Indeed it is his visit to Lanyon as Hyde that might be said to be the central scene of this dramatic version. Having given a box of the chemicals to Lanyon ahead of time, Jekyll has prepared for just the situation he faces after committing the murder.

         Having already established that Jekyll perceives each man as carrying within him both an angel and a monster, and that in taking the drug with which he hoped to release the angel from his soul, that he has succeeded only in rousing the monster from its pit, in his conversation with Lanyon after transforming himself back into Jekyll, the doctor still admits: “I could not help myself. I enjoyed being Mr. Hyde.”

       No other Jekyll until that moment has described himself as enjoying the role of Hyde; various Jekylls cannot resist the serum and some are determined to continue the experiments simply out scientific interest, but not one has previously admitted to “enjoyment,” which the dictionary defines as “the action of state of enjoying,” the possession and use of joy, or “something that gives keen satisfaction.”

        Lanyon, who cannot believe the transformation he has seen with his own eyes and can hardly believe the words he is hearing—words if we listen closely are very much those of a man coming out to a friend, admitting his homosexuality—asks his friend: “Who are you? How can you be two men?

       Jekyll repeats his belief: “Each man is both a monster and an angel.”

       Lanyon asks outrightly, “Is it like a drug? Must you become Hyde despite of your better self?”

       And Jekyll quickly gets to the crux of the problem: “There’s something in me that craves to be Hyde and I can’t stop,” even while admitting “I know that if I do it again I shall die. I’m being torn apart.”

       Unlike what I have described as the “residual language” of the homosexual that is retained in the 1931 film production, a language of regret and a deep belief in conversion, these are the words of a man who has discovered his true identity, or least part of it, and cannot deny himself that being.

      Lanyon’s words, those of a true homophobe or perhaps in this case a self-loathing homosexual, safe in his innocence from knowing of his own nature, utterly shocks and hurts the suffering Jekyll: “Then Jekyll I think it better that you die”

       Their further conversation says it all:

 

      Jekyll:    Can I help what this Hyde does?

      Lanyon: You are Hyde and you chose of your own will to be Hyde.

                     Never see me again.

      Jekyll:    We are old friends. Every man has a Hyde in him.

      Lanyon:  I have kept mine caged.

      Jekyll:     I experimented in innocence.

      Lanyon:  Innocence? You reek of Hell. Get out.

 

    If the superficial elements of the plot would convince the average viewer that these two men are discussing the impossible transformation of a man who has just murdered another man into an old friend who admits he rather enjoys being the womanizing murderer—in other words, a gothic horror contrivance—it sounds like a very realistic conversation to me of two men in a time in which gay men were condemned to never speak of their hidden desires and the lives they lived to satisfy those desires. The love hate relationship between the gay individual and his supposedly sensitive, perhaps closeted friend, seems quite realistic, even with its occasional Victorian moralist aphorisms.

     When a supposedly re-converted Hyde determines to test himself by returning to the scene of the crime nearly a full year later, it is inevitable that he will again become Hyde and in recognition of this run from the place in shame, returning home knowing that he must now face his death. Vidal clearly knew long before Vito Russo so brilliantly explained it to us that gay men in films and fiction mostly had to die.

     Despite Rennie’s excellent acting and his threshing around as the suffering doctor as he turns into his other self, this television drama, with its crude technical capabilities and experiments in early TV video techniques to suggest the bodily changes Jekyll and Hyde must suffer (even though this Hyde, as Jekyll admits, is much younger and more daring that he is—closer to the Hyde we will encounter in Terence Fisher’s 1960 remake of the story which I describe below) this work is generally clumsy and unconvincing—except in its language and its excellent musical score by Jerry Goldsmith.

*

This 1955 Jekyll & Hyde was only a way-stop in the ever ongoing list of Stevenson-influenced movies since I left off in my description up until 1941. That same year 1941 the Italians made a propaganda film, Il Dottor Churkill portraying a cartoon version of Churchill as Jekyll and Hyde, a two-faced demon killed by Nazi and Fascist bombs, with animations by Lugi Liberio Pensuti. In 1949 CBS had also presented a 60 minute dramatic production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Robert Stephens for their “Suspense” series. In 1950 there was an Italian production directed by Mario Soffici, El Hombre y la Bestia (The Man and the Beast) and another TV version produced by Fred O’Donovan, perhaps earlier that year presented on BBC, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What may have been a road safety documentary, Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde was released that same year.

       Basil Rathbone starred in further episodes of Robert Stephens CBS “Suspense” series of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1951. And that same year director Seymour Friedman made what has been described as a “incredibly dull” film with a “comic-book plot” titled Son of Dr. Jekyll. In Charles Lamont’s Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 1953, the comic duo become detectives trying to foil the evil activities of not only Jekyll and Hyde, but Frankenstein and Dracula, with Boris Karloff starring. That same year Indian director Amal Kumar Basu made Sad-Kalo / Shada Kalo.

       In 1956 BBC presented another Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Philip Saville, broadcast in six parts. And the following year, in a film often described as the nadir of the offshoots, Edgar G. Ulmer directed Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, in which another doctor friend of Jekyll’s tries to convince Jekyll’s daughter of her father’s secret actions to emotionally disturb and accuse her of actions he’s actually committing. Also in 1957 Douglas Montgomery acted in yet another television, this time NBC, version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as an episode in their Matinée Theater.

      In another female transformation into a bestial-like Hyde, Mexican director Alfonso Corona Blake helmed La mujer ye la bestia in 1958. And that same year Robin Day directed a Hammer production, again starring Boris Karloff, Grip of the Strangler, which referred only to aspects of the original Jekyll and Hyde story.

      1959 saw another comic variant, Lance Comfort's The Ugly Duckling, somewhat close in spirit to Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor. And in that same year, Jean Renoir created his fascinating Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (The Testament of Dr. Cordelier, aka The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment and Experiment in Evil), which I write about below.

Los Angeles, December 10, 202

 

*



 
queer by definition 

Jean Renoir (screenplay, based on Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Lewis Stevenson, and director) Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) / 1959

Jean Renoir’s exploration of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde story takes the previous Hollywood motion picture route of creating his Hyde, named Opale and his Jekyll, Dr. Cordelier, to be heterosexual fiends. His is not, as I see it, a LGBTQ movie.

     There is a moment in his film, Le Testament du docteur Cordelier, when the mother of a young man brings his case before the famous psychiatrist—just after Cordelier (John-Louis Barrault) has narratively admitted his “immoral” attraction to his young nurse—explaining that her 18-year old son has been behaving perversely because he has been sleeping with their maid, that we wonder whether or not the doctor is, in fact, toying with the possibility of finding a way to further corrupt the boy through his own sexual involvement. The “crime” seems so absolutely ridiculous, even by 1959 standards of moral rectitude, that when the doctor arranges for a time to meet with the boy, we have to wonder what he might be planning, particularly given his own backroom activities. Why arrange to see a boy who seems to be a perfectly healthy heterosexual kid? 

       But it comes to nothing. We never find out what happens or even if he actually meets with this “patient.” Does the good doctor actually believe he needs “curing?” That his actions are indeed “perverse?”

       In fact, Cordelier’s problems seems to be that he is so psychologically confused that he has mixed up normal heterosexual desire with perverse desires that must be kept under control, despite the fact that the nurse is far more ready to have of sex with him than he with her gives us some idea of the delusions which lead to his attempt to develop of a formula for releasing all feelings of transgression.


       And the crimes this Jekyl, Cordelier commits as Opale, are so truly monstrous that they make that the S&M-like scratches and whip-marks of the Hyde of the 1931 and 1941 US films seem almost benign. Even the murders of Hyde in the Hollywood films are far more logical representing as they do women and men that stand in Hyde’s way or may possibly expose him.

       Except for the case of his psychiatric competitor Docteur Séverin (Michel Vitold), a man nearly as possessed as Opale, Opale kills seemingly a random men or women, even in the terrifying early scene in this film, attacking a young child—a scene that could never be realized in a US film of the period, not even perhaps in 1959.

       But perhaps, just for that very reason, because Opale is so absolutely wild and uncontrollable, he is, particularly as Barrault performs him, almost comic. If in the US films there is an odd sense, left over perhaps from the Stevenson work, of Hyde being a still compelling being—even if he appears as a hairy monster—in Renoir’s work Opale is not all “attractive,” but somehow charming and oddly appealing, nonetheless.       

   In his complete “freedom” from all sense of moral duty he stands almost a healthy alternative to the people around him, the ordinary street people who gang up for moral retribution and Cordelier’s circle of friends whose views are so narrow that the seek to protect each other from even seeming to be involved with the real world, particularly working to keep their friend Cordelier’s name from in any way being connected with Opale, to whom his lawyer Maître Joly (Teddy Bilis) fully knows Cordelier has left his entire estate.

      If nothing else Opale serves as a wonderful counterbalance to a world in which everything is a sin and all behavior must be controlled.

      Opale, is Renoir’s hands, is almost a Beckettian fool, behaving so very bizarrely that all normal people naturally avoid him; it is he who comes after them just because they are so absolutely terrified of anything out of their narrow limits of defined normality.

      It appears that most critics read this work as a sincere lecture by Renoir of the disaster when the natural is separated from the intellect, raw desire is segregated from rational decision-making.

      From this perspective it is understandable why some critics might perceive Barrault’s performance as being extreme and “lacking balance” as film commentator Tom Milne ends his  otherwise quite perceptive description of Barrault as “prancing, twitching, moving with the animal grace of a dancer...creating an extraordinary, chimerical figure whose intrusion into the real Paris streets lends them a bizarre, unsettling air of menace.” For him and others, Barrault takes those qualities, however, beyond characterization. But for me that is just the point. Opale is outside the limits and definitions of the world in which discovers himself. He is so far beyond rationality, that no one can even begin to make sense of his actions, let alone explain his possible whereabouts, or even remember what he looked like.

      Moreover, except for the physical pain Opale seems to suffer, this variation of a wolfman seems perfect happy in his perfidious behavior, almost pleased with himself, a bit cocky in his seeming imperviousness. Barrault looks truly more pained with the suave smile of Cordelier at his dinner party than he is walking like a mad Charlie Chaplin down the city street, ready to knock the first person he encounters over the head as many times as possible with his cane.

      In short, his behavior almost seems to be justified by the tightly restricted beings who surround him, forever attempting to impede his motions.

      In that sense, finally, although this Hyde, Opale and his Jekyll-like creator Cordelier seem to be locked into normative heterosexuality, we can certainly agree that Cordelier is closeted and Opale is the figure he has released. Indeed the closets of Cordelier’s own studio are constantly being open and closed, just like the doors to various rooms of Séverin’s clinic. Trucks and cars arrive en masse upon which the doors are opened to show policeman exiting and entering. Clearly, this is a world in which things are kept behind doors, and letting them out generally represents danger.

       Whereas the friends and staff in all of the Anglo variations of Stevenson’s tale behave with incredible restraint and rational behavior, here people gang up in groups demanding justice, the police are called the moment danger is sensed, and even while their master suffers locked away in his laboratory, his servants all seem to be having their own mental breakdowns, unable to simply stand up and do something about the screams and shouts they hear emanating from the outbuilding. Everyone in this works seems be suffering from a kind of hysteria, certainly Docteur Séverin and, at times, Joly. Only Opale, despite his utter unpredictably, seems slightly sane, able to carry through with action. 

      If there is no question that his actions go beyond social, political, and cultural bounds are they are at least actions, not the gestures of individuals unable to imagine even how to move or proceed. They are certainly queer, but liberating by that very sense of being apart from all normality.

      In short, if Renoir’s version of Hyde is not sexually queer he is in every other sense. And, in that fact, he at least is interesting. Joly’s final insistence that Cordelier, lost in the body of Opale, must suffer his fate in punishment for his deeds speaks volumes for the society that has forced Cordelier to seek out such an alternative in the first place. And even the would-be obedient Docteur defies Joly’s dictum, destroying Opale so that he will die looking at least like the man he desires to be even if that version of himself could never live up to what was expected of him.

      And in that sense only, Cordelier “gets away” with all of his crimes. He has freed himself from the consequence of having attempted to escape.  

      In the end, we have to wonder whether the “horrible experiments” to which the English refers were not less horrific than the terrible restrictions the society itself has put upon its own existence. Even before Opale’s manifestation, Cordelier’s world was one where nearly every kind of variance in behavior was queer by definition 

Los Angeles, December 26, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).



                                                                                                        *


this perfect eden

Wolf Mankowitz (screenplay, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson fiction), Terence Fisher (director) The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / 1960

The 1960 Hammer Film Production of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll directed by Terence Fisher came after remakes of Frankenstein, Dracula, and other horror features for which they were famous. Surely they felt given the success of both the 1931 and 1941 versions that the Stevenson work was a sure-fire way of making money. They were mistaken.

     One of the reasons for this was that they quite thoroughly recontextualized the original story. Although retaining its female figures and the seemingly heterosexual context into which Hyde is thrust once Jekyll gives him permission to appear in society, screenplay writer Wolf Mankowitz completely altered both characters. In this film Jekyll (Paul Massie) is no bachelor seeking a way to experience sex within a society that prohibits it before marriage, but an unhappily married man whose face on which makeup artist Roy Ashton and hairdresser Ivy Emmerton graft appliances and a shabby beard to make the actor so plainly unhandsome that we almost feel sorry for his beautiful wife, Kitty (Dawn Addams). Jekyll, moreover, is not just a freethinker determined to experiment on with the unknown, but firmly stands as recluse who not only believes that man is at base a beast—he even describes the deaf and mute children who weekly gather by invitation in his yard to play as "dumb human animals"—but that man should be free to act without social restrictions...if only, he pretends, so that he might be able eventually to permit our better natures to rid itself of the internal struggle within.       

      This Jekyll not only neglects his wife and friend—only one man in this case, the replacement for John Lanyon, Dr. Littauer (David Kossoff)—but appears to be a knowing misogynist who is ready to take on the whole of the human race. Is it any wonder that Kitty has found love in the arms of a truly weak gambler, Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), who relies on endless loans (more like gifts) from his disinterested friend Jekyll. Allen is a sleazy womanizer who presumably Kitty loves simply because she can control him, at lease financially through her husband’s wallet. Even Allen seems to recognize that it is his very villainy that attracts her to him, at one point commenting, “That’s what your kind of woman wants in a man Kitty, complete and utter freedom from shame.” In short, she also seeks a kind of freedom even within the social structure in which pretends to still enact her affair.    

      In short none of the figures are at all likeable, so one can only wonder what this film might become with the sudden appearance of a totally despicable Hyde. But here is where director Fischer and Mankowitz have left themselves some fun. When finally the dour Jekyll finishes whipping up his serum and takes the short, the Hyde that emerges is the matinee-idol handsome, beautifully spoken Paul Massie in which cinematographer Jack Asher’s camera immediately falls in love. Fischer and Asher, as Tim Brayton observes on the Alternate Ending blog is “constantly framing Massie's face to occupy the center of all his dialogue scenes.” As he summarizes the role: 

“This is a happy monster, not a raging one, and even as he beats and rapes and murders, he seems to be very pleased with himself. It ends up being so much more unnerving and scary than the more openly ape-like, animalistic Hydes of most screen performances that for the only time in the character's cinematic career, he seems genuinely dangerous.”

       Part of the reason for that feeling of endangerment has to do with the fact that even though this beauty of a Hyde seems to follow the path of the Hydes of 1931 and 1941, going after a buxom prostitute (although this one seems far more ready and willing) to torture before finally murdering,  we remain uncertain that Massie’s character is really interested in women at all. The only woman he appears to have sex with, the low-life club dancer Maria whose skit consists basically of doing a belly dance with a python dangling round her neck, seems to attract him more for because of the snake than her derriere. He nearly rises out of his seat when she drops the snake’s mouth into her  own.  While she falls madly in love with him, he admits to her after one of their sexual get-togethers, “I can’t love. I know nothing about love.” This Hyde appears to see women as things just for the taking, not even for pleasure. Having sex with women seems to be merely the conventional thing which freed men do.

       His central focus appears to concentrated fully on Jekyll and his determination to free himself from him and his control. Unlike the previous transformations, in this film they simply wear off after several hours, leaving Hyde gasping for the “free air” he’s been enjoying. And more than having sex with any woman, he seems to get far more enjoyment out of seducing Kitty’s lover and Jekyll’s old acquaintance Allen. The scene, when Allen finally reveals to his new friend Hyde that  Jekyll has for the first turned down his request for another loan, is a remarkably homoerotic scene as the two men toy with one another about being put under the control of the other. Massie almost drools at the possibility of an intimate relationship with Allen, as the complete sensualist Allen pauses in consideration of what Hyde seems to be offering him. The language between them is suddenly entirely transactional, but they and we are not certain what precisely is beings transacted.

     Hyde offers to take over Allen’s gambling debts as they come in up to 5,000ℒ.

     Allen, however, cannot comprehend what his friend wants in return.

                   Hyde: Sell you soul.

                   Allen: No takers.

                   Hyde: I will take it over.

         Nearly willing, Allen pauses however in trying to imagine what that might mean, just as we too are forced to ask that question as the camera again zooms in on Massies’s handsomely smiling face. To relieve the tension, Hyde himself suggests that his soul wouldn’t be worth much to him either. But he then opens up the possibilities yet again, as if we might have missed what the writer and director are suggesting through their coded words:

                  Hyde: There are other ways you can repay me.               

Allen himself now moves directly to a more sexualized language as well: “London is an oyster and I am the one who can open it for you.” We recall that when Hyde first entered a dance hall in a previous scene, he announced: “London and I are virgins to one another.”

      Hyde’s response is equally suggestive of entering virginal anal territory: “ Open it wide. Break the hinges. Rifle its pearls.”

      If you might imagine that the very next frame might show us the womanizer introducing his friend to even more willingly corrupt females, you’d be mistaken. Instead the camera cuts immediately to two males boxing and wrestling one another, truly an emblem of male/male eroticism. And in the next scene the two are taking in a mostly male inhabited bar where a group of drunk singers are serenading their stone-drunk, passed out, companion. The lithe Hyde stands,  slithers over to them, and pours a mug of beer down the drunken lug, orally intruding this time liquid in his tankard that further poisons a man already near death. The final territory to which Allen takes him is an opium den, where Hyde sits alone sucking upon and stroking a long opium tube as if it were an instrument like a clarinet.


     When Allen has finally run out of  places to which he might imagine introducing his still greedy friend, having also run up a debt over the limited amount, Hyde invites him and his lover Kitty to meet with Jekyll at the Sphinx dance all

      Since Kitty now wants a divorce and Jekyll has seemed to have disappeared, the couple agree.

 They are met at the club door by a woman with her tied in a tight bun dressed in a variation of a man in his dressing coat, clearly a lesbian, knows precisely where they can find Hyde. We have now finally entered a world to which this Hyde has taken us outside of heterosexual desire.


       When soon after Kitty arrives, Hyde rapes her, representing neither love nor pleasure, but with violence and hate, knowing given her still conventional notions of morality she will behave precisely as she does, defenestrating herself from the room’s balcony, crashing through the glass topped dance hall to her death at the dancer’s feet below

       When soon after Kitty arrives, Hyde rapes her, representing neither love nor pleasure, but with violence and hate, knowing given her still conventional notions of morality she will behave precisely as she does, defenestrating herself from the room’s balcony, crashing through the glass topped dance hall to her death at the dancer’s feet below.

        Having made it clear that he has no desire for women, he can now joyfully strangle Maria after he has again “taken” or raped her.

        The only female left in the film is the lovely young deaf and mute child of the first scene, which the still convulsing Jekyll, coming to from his Hyde personae, pushes to the ground. It is now up to the men, the police and Littauer to bring down the man who has committed these unspeakable crimes, not the good looking and sweet natured Hyde, but the reclusive, wife-hatting Jekyll. And Jekyll, finally a totally broken man realizes that truth while staring into a mirror where he sees his Hyde mocking him.

       If one has previously failed to noticed just how Massie has calibrated his voice in order to portray Hyde we now have it clearly demonstrated for us. In their campy dialogue, Jekyll grumbles  out his complaints in a low baritone voice, while Hyde challenges and dismisses his threats in a tenor almost effeminate voice, a scene that reminds me of something right out of Charles Ludlam’s performances for the Theater of the Ridiculous.

       Quickly calling in a man to lug away Maria’s body, hidden in a chest, Hyde kills the worker, sitting him at Jekyll’s desk to as he sets fire to the place just as the police pound down the door, he expressing his appreciation for being saved from the madman’s suicidal pact. 

     The courts rule Hyde guiltless and the presumed dead man, Jekyll guilty of all crimes, as the beautiful boyishly grinning Hyde begins his walk to true freedom. But once again as in Jekyll and Hydes gone past, Jekyll manages one final transformation of his visage, having not, as he claims, won the battle between him and evil, but in fact assuring his sentencing to death. This time round, Jekyll is punished for having made his hidden self, like Stevenson’s Hyde a man fearful of his sexual identification, invisible. If you can read coded films, this movie certainly has no longer hidden the truth about Hyde.

     Without saying any of this or perhaps without fully realizing that the film is not just, as the critic Brayton posits “getting away with something” that he suggests makes it a “top shelf Hammer horror film,”  he arguing, it is inexplicably undervalued. We surely shouldn’t surprised, however, that in 1960 audiences might make sense of all the open immorality Fischer’s work embraces. It just didn’t look anything like the fans of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movies could have expected. Thank heaven. 

Los Angeles, December 6, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).


*

entering a strange land without a destination

Brian Clemens (screenplay, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson), Roy Ward Baker (director) Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde / 1971

Roy Ward Baker’s Hammer Production of yet another transformation of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde myth, this titled Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) is a holy mess of a movie that retains issues that are truly at the heart of Stevenson’s tale, but also takes it into completely new territory.

      Here, as one might suspect from the film’s title, the dedicated Doctor (Ralph Bates) shares his split personality this time around with a full bodied and voluptuous woman (Martine Beswick)  named Mrs. Edwina Hyde, who is far stronger and more sexually interested than the timid experimenter whom his upstairs neighbor, Howard Spencer (Lewis Fiander), suggests may be “impervious to women.”

      Actually, the good Doctor—and he is a “good” man compared to all the womanizers around him such as Spencer, the doctor’s friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim), and the local sailors and low life males of the Whitechapel area in which Jekyll resides—is very much interested in women, but simply for “other” reasons. Having done away with all the added plot contrivances added to Stevenson’s tale through the years, writer Brian Clemens focuses on Jekyll and Hyde him and her-selves as Jekyll seeks out an elixir that might make him live longer so that he can find a potion that might prevent all infectious diseases from Cholera, Smallpox, Typhoid, Malaria, and had it been around in those days, Covid. Robertson suggests he will need more than a single lifetime to solve the riddle of so many diseases, and Jekyll, taking him quite seriously, seeks first, accordingly, a potion that might help him live longer than the usual man. Don’t women live longer?

      Clemens has jerry-rigged a plot in which Jekyll becomes convinced that female hormones are the answer, but accordingly he must eviscerate the bodies of woman to protract the needed material.

      For a period of time he is able to find, through a local coroner, bodies of young girls who have recently died. But running out of fresh bodies, he is forced to turn to William Burke (Ivor Dead) and William Hare (Tony Calvin), invoking the names and stories of the famous Irish duo who did away with numerous ill and not so indisposed individuals in order to sell their bodies to medical institutions. Indeed, the tendency of this film to take on and assimilate other stories is one of its biggest flaws. For it soon also establishes Jekyll as the real Jack the Ripper. But for the moment we’ll overlook that.

      In any event, after even the flow of whores and other “road” kill that Burke and Hare provide runs out upon their being found out and captured—Burke hung by the mobs and Hare blinded in a vat of lye—Jekyll is forced, after pondering his moral scruples, to stalk prostitutes himself, kill them, and cut out the specific gland that produces the needed hormones. Hence the designation of “Ripper.”

      In so doing, however, we discover this time around that it is not Hyde—at least not yet—but Jekyll himself who is the true monster, in this case showing himself to be a horrific misogynist out to murder nearly anyone the opposite sex. One could hardly describe this Jekyll as being “impervious” to women since he is utterly obsessed with them, seeking out their deaths in order to create his elixir for eternal life.

     But then Ms. Hyde appears and everything changes. As Robertson has advised his young friend:   

“Put a woman  in your life, and one day you’ll wake up a changed man.” Indeed, Jekyll has done just that, and waking as a woman he later describes as his sister, Edwina.

     So does this ambitious film begin to tackle the far more profound theme of gender transformation, a subject which it first takes on rather rambunctiously without knowing precisely where it might end.


 When Jekyll first seems himself in the mirror he is amazed by the lovely woman he sees before him. The scene is actually quite well conceived as Jekyll discovering his own female breasts, at first tentatively, but then seriously explores them, carefully and yet deliberately coming to realize they are part of his/her own anatomy, the realization which begins as slight amazement, shifting to astonishment, and finally joy. Moving her hand soon to her hair, then to her face, as if fearful that it is all just an illusion, she hints at feelings which soon turn to what we might describe as relief and liberation.

      All too soon, Jekyll’s hairy hand appears to be stroking her shoulder, and she realizes just as suddenly that the transformation has been only a temporary one, and she shall soon be back in a male body. And in that moment we glimpse a sense of the issues if transsexuality, dysphoria, and hormone replacement therapy all in one fell swoop.

       It takes no time at all before Edwina Hyde realizes that she is the stronger of the two, daring to take on the sissy-like Jekyll by secretly ordering up dresses—all in red—and before long taking over the necessary murders and dissections, particularly since it has become dangerous for Jekyll, who is more likely to be identified, to undertake them.

       But that, alas, is also the rub. Edwina loves the violence and is quite obviously motivated by the purloined hormones to which she owes her survival. But the writer and director also have the audacity to also make her into an “evil” woman, like almost all of those represented in this film. The only innocents are Howard Spenser’s virginal sister Susan (Susan Brodrick) and her mother, who with Howard live above Jekyll’s laboratory. One might simply chalk Edwina’s character up, accordingly, to the film’s general demonstration of all things misogynistic.

       Yet we cannot but realize that in her evilness Edwina is also powerful, and her character, set against all the simpering, drunken, and harassed women and the womanizing and weak-willed men of this film, she becomes almost a beacon, strangely enough, of feminist values.

        And the film suddenly becomes great fun as Edwina sets her sexual sights on Howard at the very moment that now terrified Jekyll finds himself vaguely interested in Susan, he agreeing, in his most spontaneous moment of the film, to join her at a concert.

        Howard, meanwhile, absolutely lusts after the woman of whom he has caught a glimpse of feeling breasts in a mirror, and the two soon get together for what might almost have been a porno scene were it not interrupted by the arrival of Susan. As the two women meet one another for the first time, Edwina immediately wonders aloud in her internal struggle between her and Jekyll—a brother and sister within a single body (which further calls up the myth of the siblings of the House of Usher)—who will win the love the real brother and sister, Howard and Susan, neither of whom of course can imagine what she might truly mean by “winning.”

       The film delights in the fact that its audience knows that Howard and his sister are equally sexually aroused by the very same being. As Robertson earlier on, inspecting the murdered bodies, notes:  “It’s a queer business sergeant. Very queer.” In fact, he is soon done away with by Edwina for his growing knowledge of the truth.

        Baker and Clemens seem to absolutely delight in the sexual confusions they have created through their character’s indeterminate gender. At one point when Jekyll unexpectedly comes into contact outside his door with his neighbor, Howard, they exchange the following conversation:

howard: How is your sister.

jekyll: Fine. Fine. ....I am in excellent health.

howard: Oh no, you misunderstand me.

jekyll: (Reaching out to touch his neighbor’s face, and purring the word) Howard.       

     Ultimately, Edwina almost does get her wish, or perhaps we should say, Jekyll is almost able to complete his gender transformation as he, dressing for the concert with Susan, reaches into his closet to pull out an overcoat but instead grabs Edwina’s red dress. Naturally, he fails to show up for his date.

     Yet the conventions of the day (this film was, one must remember, made in 1971!) and even more importantly the established traditions of Jekyll and Hyde stories, encourage the film’s creators to reestablish the good Doctor’s credentials as a male of moral credence as he struggles away the knife from Edwina’s hand at the very moment she is about to stab her female foe, Susan, in the back. Like so many other Jekylls, this one scurries back to his laboratory to finish scribbling down his diary entries so that everyone will know that “he done them wrong.”

      If we imagine that he, like other Jekyll’s, might swallow a vial of poison, we are wrong, however, as the Edwina in him just wants to live! He goes scrambling like a squirrel up the side of a building, crossing over on a ledge as thin as Edwina’s dainty feet, and jumps across the street to slide down the slope of a mansard roof, hanging for life on the rain gutter, only as he once more transmogrifies into Edwina and losing strength, falls to her death.

     Baker’s film dared to enter a strange land without knowing the destination that might have made his work transcendent. 

Los Angeles, December 21, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).


                                                                                                         *


hyde’s son

David Wickes (writer and director, derived from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson) Jekyll and Hyde / 1990

David Wickes’ production was televised by Patricia Carr for King-Phoenix features along with London Weekend Television, broadcast on ABC in 1990. Although by this time the writer/director had strayed far from Stevenson’s original—suggested in his credits wherein they describe the teleplay as “derived” from the original—you have to give it to this production, starring Michael Caine as Jekyll/Hyde, for its attempt to take on several of the numerous strands of the other versions.

      Indeed, as several commentators have suggested, this version is unafraid to explore all sorts of different genres in one grand mix-and-match movie. Overall, one might describe this work as the first real attempt at turning Stevenson’s all-male story into a romantic heterosexual love tale, albeit a strange one. In this case Dr. Jekyll’s former wife, whom he dearly loved, has died before the picture begins of pneumonia, leaving behind Jekyll, his bitter father-in-law, Dr. Lanyon (Joss Ackland)—a repurposed figure from other Jekyll/Hyde films—and his younger daughter Sara (Cheryl Ladd), who in love with Jekyll, married another man for recompense, safely out-of-sight in Singapore throughout this film.

       It is Sara, visited by Utterson, the name of the original narrator who this time is simply the executor of Jekyll’s will, who becomes Wickes’ Utterson, retelling the terrible tale.

     If in the other films, the fathers of the various Jekylls’ loved ones were ultra-conservative, recalcitrant about their views, and resistant to their daughter’s marriage, in this version Lanyon is a mad opponent to all aspects of Jekyll’s existence, convinced that his chemical experiments on his daughter ended her life, not the pneumonia with which she was stricken; terrified that his remaining daughter is having an affair with her former brother-in-law; and furious for Jekyll’s attacks on him in the classroom about his attitudes toward medical science.

      In this film Jekyll is not just an occasional lecturer, as he was in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version, but a full time teacher in the hospital who weekly challenges all of Lanyon’s conservative attitudes. This Jekyll is a firebrand, attempting to convince his often skeptical students (one who reminds me very much of the whining contrarian early in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein) that the mind controls the body and that chemicals inform the mind. Today it’s still a very current theory by many doctors in the field, who virtually do away with all things psychological by insisting that all actions and motives can be comprehended by the chemical make-up and stimulation of the mind.

      In this film Jekyll is not just an occasional lecturer, as he was in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version, but a full time teacher in the hospital who weekly challenges all of Lanyon’s conservative attitudes. This Jekyll is a firebrand, attempting to convince his often skeptical students (one who reminds me very much of the whining contrarian early in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein) that the mind controls the body and that chemicals inform the mind. Today it’s still a very current theory by many doctors in the field, who virtually do away with all things psychological by insisting that all actions and motives can be comprehended by the chemical make-up and stimulation of the mind.

     Is it any wonder that a Victorian moralist such as Lanyon would perceive someone who insists “Evil is not a scientific term” is the devil himself and might wish to forbid his beloved daughter from even seeing this creature?

      Of course having cleared out his film of all psychological perspectives David Wickes simply cannot be bothered in the post-Stonewall era-picture he is creating to imagine that the beast that lives within Jekyll’s body—completely chemically-induced as it is—might represent a dangerously evil queer, from the Victorian perspective, trying to come out. Nor evidently is Hyde even a macho, misogynistic heterosexual monster. Indeed when not on the Hyde-producing drug, Jekyll is a gentle man very much in love with Sara once he finds out her feelings are mutual and her father, convinced she is already having an affair, kicks her out of his house. The couple go shopping, redecorate the mansion, attend musical concerts, and even dine, upon invitation, with the Prince of Wales—all while shocking the Victorian world around them for brazenly demonstrating their deep love in public. This film might have been a first-rate rip-off of something that Henry James or Edith Wharton might have written—it certainly has beautiful Merchant-Ivory-like sets—were it not the fact that it also wishes to be a real horror film.

       With no real motive to his madness, the Hyde of this film goes stomping about the city throwing men and even little girls out of his way and mindlessly and meaninglessly raping and scratching all the women he can get his hands on, including Sara. In a clever switch of transformations, this director sees Hyde’s victims as yet another opportunity to demonstrate Jekyll’s remarkable sense of decency and talent as he operates on the young child he has almost killed in his nightly forays and nurses his dear Sara back to health. You might say it allows our “hero” to get his victims “coming and going.” 

      But even actor Michael Caine, who’s quite wonderful as Jekyll, doesn’t quite comprehend what his Mr. Hyde is after. And sensing that he has no motivation—you’ll recall it’s just a chemical reaction—the film’s creators spent the rest of their budget on appliances and makeup in order to show the horrific transformations of Jekyll’s handsome body as he suddenly develops boils and pustules as his face, arms, and hands pulse and pound in their mutation into the ugly monster made up of elements of several human diseases such as porphyria, epidermodysplasia verruciformis, proteus syndrome, and leprosy. Not a pretty picture. 

      The police stalking the easily describable but forever vanishing monster are disgusted by what they discover in this rented room. Did I tell you, this Jekyll and Hyde story also wishes to be a kind of detective story complete with clever-quipping cops and a sleazy journalist as we watch both spend several hours stalking and lying in wait for their quarry. As Sergeant Horby, Snape the journalist, and the wacky purveyor of the brothel wherein Hyde keeps a room, Mrs. Hackett, Kevin McNally, David Schofield, and Miriam Karlin are all quite memorable.

      And there’s that important figure who links nearly all the Jekyll and Hyde manifestation, Jekyll’s trusted butler Poole, here played by Frank Barrie.

       Caine’s monster is so purposeless, however, that he even kills his beloved father (Lionel Jeffries) on a midnight visit to his pater’s wine cellar for some brandy. Is it any wonder that our new Jekyll does not feel guilt as much as he does complete disgust for the very existence of the man he has trapped inside his body who is increasingly attempting to get out with or without drugs.

In a classroom lecture, Jekyll predicts the future—and here’s where the film attempts to embrace the science-fiction genre as well: 

“One day, it will be. Tall, short, strong, weak, like grafting roses. ...Yes, it will happen. Science will control our shapes, our intelligence, even create new breeds of men.  Violent men to fight our wars. Docile men to do our work.”

Yet he finally concludes:

“Hell on Earth, and I, I want no part of it.”

     But obviously he has created it, made it possible. And if there is any real mystery in this good man and monster myth it is why he has continued to invoke his Hyde once he has witnessed his pointlessly destructive actions. In this film, the Hyde we see is mostly the monster he has long before unleashed; we never witness his early motivations and reactions. And in refusing to explore those issues, the film loses its entire meaning. Everything else going on around Jekyll’s original motivation is simply the aftermath of what his actions have wrought, like so many broken vials and tromped upon human beings and social values simply to be cleaned up by either the imagined figures who do so in Wickes’ fiction or by the filmmakers themselves. As Gertrude Stein might have said of this film: “There is no there there.” In some respects this monster takes us back to the “child run amok” figure of the 1912 version. Is it any wonder that, tired of such a being housed in his own body, the struggling Jekyll doesn’t even chance it with another poisonous drug, but points a gun to its head, shooting thrice.

      Finally, having told her empty tale, Sara turns to Utterson to present that figure with the son produced by the details of her own utterance, a young boy who looks every bit like Hyde, not her lover Jekyll. One wonders whether they weren’t planning a sequel, like The Omen II, III, IV, V.

Los Angeles, December 9, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (December 2021).


There are been numerous other adaptations of the Jekyll/Hyde myth on film other the ones mentioned above, and I have not pursued any of the others, such as Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963) and others who seem focused on the further heterosexual developments of the story created in the movies—although Jerry Belson’s 1982 satire Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again does seem somewhat promising. Some other time. I feel I’ve had my say and my fill of this amazing story.