Director: John S. Robertson
Cast: John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Nita Naldi
Screenplay: Clara Beranger
49 mins. Not Rated.
Today we are going to step way back in time to a silent film that is now a part of public domain as it celebrates 95 years of viewings. That film is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one of dozens of adaptations from the original story by Robert Louis Stevenson. This version stars John Barrymore (Grand Hotel, Twentieth Century) in the iconic role as Dr. Henry Jekyll, a scientist who experiments with bringing forth a new personality that dwells within him, a monster of a man named Edward Hyde.
There are a few versions of this silent picture floating around the world of public domain, but I prefer the one that resides on Netflix. It is a slightly longer version of the tale, but the pictures looks as crisp as it can and the horrific transformation between Jekyll’s dual personalities shine through.
Like many of the early silent pictures, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sticks to the crib-notes and tells the basic story so I can’t really tell you that the screenplay is unforgettable, but the story does provide elements reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which has often been compared to Stevenson’s story in the past.
The beauty of this 1920 classic is in its simplicity. It tells the tale of a man who wants what many of us want: to see another side of ourselves. Its morality play works well under the guidance of director John S. Robertson and lead Barrymore, and it has indeed stood the test of time (a lot more that its 1951 sequel The Son of Dr. Jekyll, but we’ll get to that another time).
-Kyle A. Goethe