It took John Barrymore to bring class to the American horror film, at least in the eyes of the industry. Dignified and virtuous as Dr. Henry Jekyll in this 1920 silent, Barrymore transforms into id incarnate as the lascivi... more »ous Mr. Hyde. With almost no makeup beyond his gnarled, knobby fingers and greasy hair, Barrymore relies almost solely on a bug-eyed grimace, a spidery body language, and pure theatrical flourish. He tends to be hammy as the leering beast of a thug but brings a tortured struggle to the repressed doctor, horrified at the demon he's unleashed, guilty that he enjoys Hyde's unrestrained life of drinking and whoring, and terrified that he can no longer control the transformations. Martha Mansfield costars as his pure and innocent sweetheart, and Nita Naldi (the vamp of Blood and Sand) has a small but memorable role as the world-weary dance hall darling who first "wakens" Jekyll's "baser nature." --Sean Axmaker« less
Not the first film version of the great Robert Louis Stevenson story, but one of the best. This version closely follows the 1887 play based on the story, rather than being a direct adaptation of the book itself. Dr Jekyll's fiancée's father is not the prude he is portrayed as in later film versions as he is the one who first introduces Jekyll to the "red light" district. This was done in order to convince Jekyll that indulging oneself is perfectly OK, if done in moderation. Jekyll likes it, but is afraid he will be controlled by the baser human drives creates and elixir in order to create two separate selves. And you know the rest.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Stylistically Dated But A Landmark Nonetheless
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 03/20/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by John S. Robertson and starring matinee idol John Barrymore in the dual title role, 1920's DR. JECKYLL & MR. HYDE is sometimes described as the "first American horror film." That description is more than a little problematic, but whether it was or it wasn't, DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE certainly put the horror genre on the Hollywood map.
Whether or not you happen to like this particular version of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson tale will depend a great deal upon your tolerance for the change in acting styles that has occurred between the silent and the modern era. Some silent stars--Lillian Gish, Ramon Novarro, and Louise Brooks leap to mind--were remarkably subtle and worked to create a new style of acting appropriate to the screen, but most actors played very broadly. John Barrymore, considered one of the greatest actors of his day, is among the latter, and was noted for his larger-than-life performances on stage. He brings that same expansiveness to the screen, where it inevitably feels "too big" to the modern viewer.
At the time, Barrymore's transformation into the evil Mr. Hyde was considered shocking in its realism, but today these celebrated scenes are more likely to induce snickers than thrills--as will much of Hyde's make-up, which seems excessive to the modern sensibility. Even so, there are aspects of the film which survive quite well, scenes in which one is permitted a glimpse into the power this film once had. For Barrymore's Hyde is, for all his bizarre ugliness, a remarkably seductive creature--and Barrymore uses his hands and eyes in a remarkable way. One feels the sexual pull as much as one feels the revulsion.
The 1920 DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE is available in several VHS and DVD releases. Some of these are quite good, but I particularly recommend the Kino version, which offers a good picture, good soundtrack, and several interesting bonuses. Other release versions should be approached with caution, and you should avoid releases by the likes of Alpha or Madacy as you would the plague. They may seem attractive in terms of price, but frankly... in this instance you get what you pay for.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
A good silent movie
Jeffrey Leeper | Seattle, WA USA | 03/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film was originally done in 1920 with John Barrymore (one of the classic monster actors) in this adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. It is a silent movie, but this production by Kino Video is well put together.Many silent films that have been converted to video bring with them the hiss and pop of the old movies. They also bring in the various elements that keep you from having a clear picture of the action. This is not one of those. There is no hiss. The music of the organ is very clear and fits the movie. You still have the floating element, but just enough to give you the feel of an old movie. Some of the backgrounds for the words don't seem to be consistent, but the story is not hampered at all.The transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is on screen. It may seem too easy in the day of the "Terminator" movies, but back then, this was cutting edge.At the end of this edition is an old nickelodeon version done in 1911. It does seem choppy (and the notes before the movie explain why), but it is still an interesting story. There is also an excerpt from the 1920 silent film by a competitor company. When you watch the transformation scene here, you will appreciate the one with John Barrymore.For horror fans who love watching the terror staples, here is another must-see."
DREW'S GRANDFATHER GOES MAD
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 09/07/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Louis Stevenson cranked out finely plotted, freshly original stories like clockwork. He was the Stephen King of his time and, like King, excelled at horror. John Barrymore was perhaps the most famous stage performer of his time. Known more today as Drew's grandfather and at the end of his short life, a sad alcoholic reflection of his former charisma. In this terrific 1920 version of "DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE," Barrymore's early brilliance is showcased in this first great American horror film that holds its own in the 21st century. In fact, it even has an enhanced, eerie period feel that amps up the dangerous and ill-fated experiment by the curios doctor who discoverz the shadow side of civilization and self. The Mont Alto Orchestra delivers a fine score and the DVD bonus material features a rare 1909 audio recording of the transformation scene, a 1925 one-reel parody starring a goofy Stan Laurel, an excerpt from a rival 1920 version and more."
Barrymore shows genius
Andy Altevers (email@example.com) | 11/03/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Brilliant adaptation of Stevenson's short story. While not true to the book, it maintains enough elements to be recognizable. Barrymore is fantastic. His transformation into Hyde is spine-tingling and completely realistic, especially considering that it is initially accomplished without makeup.The worst part of this film is having to watch Martha Mansfield attempt to act. She's not very good at emoting ala Kevin Costner, which is a very unfortunate drawback in silent films."
The birth of the horror genre - a must for collectors
P. I. Johnson | Cape Town, South Africa | 02/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It may be surprising to audiences with modern movie-going sensibilities, given both the absence of well-established genre conventions and the obvious limitations imposed by the absence of sound, that most of the more prominent early movies of genre interest are rather good. The 1920 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, directed by John S. Robertson, for example, remains a solid entry among the many film versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale, arguably only eclipsed by Rouben Mamoulian's 1932 version starring Fredric March (mainly because of the latter's unintentional comedy). John Barrymore, originating the role of the ill-fated gentleman doctor and his beastly alter ego, is on top form, overcoming the limitations of silence with some superb physical character work. Proving the adage rather early though that Hollywood only knows about four good stories, at least six more versions of the story would be filmed before the advent of sound in 1928."