Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, Miriam Hopkins, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner
Extras: Commentary Track, Bugs Bunny Short, Trailer

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 horror novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" has been filmed by Hollywood numerous times, pretty much since the dawn of movies. Yet the two most enduring adaptations are the 1932 and 1941 versions, produced by Paramount and MGM, respectively. The ‘32 uncensored version especially has been long sought by aficionados and collectors. Thanks to a promotion held last year by Warner Home Video, Turner Classic Movies and AOL, both now reside on a brand new, double sided DVD.

Starring Fredric March in an Oscar-winning performance, the 1932 version benefited from striking direction by Rouben Mamoulian and a pre-Hays Code environment. Between Mamoulian’s myriad camera tricks (subjective camera shots, partial transformations on-camera without dissolves, and a multitude of suggestive shots of Miriam Hopkins‘ figure) and Wally Westmore’s Neanderthal make-up design, many fans including myself have considered this the most effective dramatization.

Spencer Tracy’s interpretation downplays the prosthetics and amplifies the psychoanalysis, all the while nestled in a typical 1941 MGM all-star vehicle. Watching it in direct comparison to the ’32 version, Victor Fleming’s direction is much more subdued but still packs some punch. Also, it always helps to have Ingrid Bergman on-hand, as the helpless barmaid snared in Hyde’s malevolence. The MGM version also spawned one of the great old-Hollywood stories: when author W. Somerset Maugham visited the set, he took one look at Tracy’s Hyde and exclaimed: "Which is he now?"

Both films are presented in their original 1.33 aspect ratio. Of the two, the ‘41 version looks better with sharp, clear images, balanced grayscale and contrast and the source print in better physical shape. The ‘32 version at times looks even sharper, but still exhibits instances of source print damage, soft images at times and varying contrast. Given its own dramatic history (at times censored, buried and even absent from circulation for decades), that such a good copy exists is all the more reason to celebrate.

The mono soundtracks for both versions is on par for their time. The ‘32 version shows a little more age with a greater presence of hiss and crackle but they are adequate for hearing the dialogue with little distortion.

There are exactly three supplements, contained on the side with the 1932 version. Author/historian Greg Mank gives a feature length commentary with the Mamoulian film, providing illuminating tidbits and making comparisons between both versions. The theatrical trailer for the 1941 version is presented in full-screen, but doesn’t look nearly as good as the feature. Finally, on the lighter side, a 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hyde and Hare" examines the more humorous aspects of the tale, long before Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy made their "Nutty Professors."

Warner Home Video has done a great service to film collectors with the release of these celebrated horror films. A word of advice: I strongly suggest laying off the sauce when viewing!