Image courtesy of Cinefantastique Online
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) dir. Terence Fisher
Starring: Paul Massie, Christopher Lee, Dawn Addams
From the vaults of Sony Pictures comes a new two-disc DVD set “Icons of Horror” featuring four b-movie ‘classics’ from the British studio Hammer Films. This includes “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” a watchable piece of pulp with a surprisingly intelligent take on the familiar Robert Louis Stevenson story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.
In this version, which still takes place in the late 19th century London, has Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) as a married scientist on the cusp of breaking through with his mind experiments. His obsession with his work has resulted in a fractured relationship with his wife (Dawn Addams) who has taken up an affair with Jekyll’s best friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee). In haste Jekyll performs the mind-altering experiments on himself. Of course, things go wrong and he is transformed into his diabolical alter-ego Mr. Hyde, with the twist being that Mr. Hyde is not a beast but a good-looking suave other version of himself.
The strongest statement the film has to make is its overt target of the British class system. As the beast, Mr. Hyde is a British gentleman who desires to both, take revenge against his wife and best friend for their affair, and take part in the debaucheries of the big city London underworld. There’s frequent reference to Paul Allen’s status as a gentleman, and his license to commit egregious acts of immorality.
Labelling the film a horror film would be a misnomer as well. No one is killed until the third act when Hyde resorts to physical violence when his psychological games are thwarted. As with the Stevenson novel, the film is also a metaphor about the duality of personality - that Freudian internal conflict or desire vs. social normalcy.
Paul Massie’s makeup is important in visualizing the distinction between Hyde and Jekyll and thus good and evil. When we first see Jekyll, actor Paul Massie is wearing a ridiculously fake beard and bushy eyebrows. It all becomes clear when we see the first transformation scene. Suddenly Massie has a clean face. Truthfully he’s not unrecognizable. And so the fact that Jekyll’s wife and best friend are fooled by his lack of facial hair and slight voice change provides some unintentional humour. But it’s consistent with the theme of class – a British gentleman is never questioned.
Despite this discussion of metaphor and theme “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” is still just a b-picture. Like most Hammer Films, they compensated for a lack of budget with sharp colour cinematography and an anamorphic widescreen 2:35:1 frame (at the time usually reserved for prestigious pictures). The British actors say their lines with such authenticity it masks the bad acting and often on-the-nose atrocious dialogue. If these lines were said by American actors much would be lost in the interpretation. So the film never loses the fun factor of Hammer b-horror. Enjoy.
“The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment