I thought I wouldn’t be able to come up with a good pun for this post…and I was right. Today, we’re talking about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, one of the stranger concepts when talking about the classic monsters.
The original novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (yes, they really forgot to put a “the” in the title) by Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story of an attorney named Utterson and his encounters with Edward Hyde and Henry Jekyll. Through the course of the story, Utterson comes to believe that the honorable Dr. Jekyll is being blackmailed by the sinister Mr. Hyde, due to Jekyll constantly apologizing and making excuses for Hyde. Jekyll even goes so far as to write out checks to pay for the damages of Hyde’s shenanigans.
It isn’t until near the end of the book that it is revealed that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. That’s right, in the original book, the fact that these two were the same person was actually supposed to be a plot twist. Considering how many people know that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person without having read the book, I think this plot twist hasn’t held up.
The book also reveals that, while Jekyll originally needed a serum to turn into Hyde, he eventually started turning into Hyde randomly without the serum. As time goes on, he has to keep ingesting another serum to prevent himself turning into Hyde. In the end, he runs out of the ingredients he needs for the serum and commits suicide rather than have to live as Hyde for the rest of his life.
The interesting thing in the book is that Jekyll says that he developed the serum to intentionally hide (heh heh) his identity so that he could indulge in some kind of illicit activity. The book never says what Jekyll was doing that warranted creating a potion that turns himself into a completely different person, so that is pretty much left to reader speculation. We do see that Hyde is extremely violent and murderous, so maybe he was taking part in a Victorian-era Fight Club? Nah.
The movie adaptations seem to depict the Jekyll and Hyde concept like how modern media depicts drug addiction, and that’s not a bad analogy considering how the serum works in the book. The doctor originally needs his drug to become the murderous Hyde, but over time he needs the drug just to stay normal. You could even argue that the fact that no one recognizes him as Hyde is similar to how people that are addicted to drugs can become unrecognizable to their family and friends, but that may be stretching the analogy.
Unlike with the other classic monsters I’ve talked about before, the Jekyll and Hyde story did not have a line of films made by Universal Studios. There were a lot of films featuring Jekyll and Hyde made during that same era, but they were all by different film studios and pretty much told the same story. The first five of these films were actually made in the silent film era. I don’t have much experience with silent films, so I won’t be discussing those movies here. Most of them should be in the public domain, so you should be able to find them online if you’re interested.
The first non-silent version was 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Paramount Pictures. The story shifts the focus to Jekyll, and gives a different motive for him creating the serum that turns him into Hyde. In this version, he’s working on an experiment that can releases someone’s evil side. Why he thought it would be a good idea to drink the stuff, I will never know.
The movie adds a love interest for Jekyll in the form of his fiance, and a stalker victim for Hyde in the form of a music hall singer that showed interest in Jekyll before the experiment. They also change the ending of the story here. Where the original Jekyll killed himself because he didn’t want to live the rest of his life as a monster, the film version dies fighting the police. Kind of a sub-standard death for a movie monster, but they can’t all be gems.
The next film was 1941’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by MGM Studios. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to discuss about this film. It is pretty much the same plot and the 1931 film, and the woman that Hyde terrorizes even has the same name in both films. The most interesting thing I can think of is the fact that Jekyll is played by Spencer Tracy, but I don’t know how many of the people that read this blog know who Spencer Tracy was.
Even though there was never a Universal Studios-style film series with a Hyde’s Revenge or House of Jekyll, we did get two films that fit in that same mold: 1951’s The Son of Jekyll by Columbia Pictures and 1957’s The Daughter of Jekyll. Both films are basically sequels to the book, but take a few dramatic liberties.
In The Son of Jekyll, Jekyll’s son is raised by one of his friends after a tragic death. Thirty years later, the young Jekyll is told about his father’s experiments and decides to continue his father’s research. A Hyde-like figure starts killing people, leading Jekyll to wonder if he could be turning into a monster like his father did. It’s revealed at the end that he was being framed, and that the Hyde-like figure was actually just someone that was trying to get rid of Jekyll so that he could get control the Jekyll estate.
The Daughter of Jekyll starts off sounding like it’s going to have the same plot as the previous film; a woman is told that she is Jekyll’s daughter, and she inherits his estate. This film takes a turn for the bizarre when it’s revealed that Jekyll was a werewolf, and that he didn’t truly die because he wasn’t killed with a wooden stake being driven through his heart. Either the makers of this movie thought that vampires and werewolves were the same thing, or they invented the vampire-werewolf hybrid.
There was a film in between these two, and it was also the only Universal Studios film made for Jekyll and Hyde. This film was, you guessed it, 1953’s Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You know, for one of the all time great comedy teams, Abbot and Costello sure made a lot of monster movies.
Jekyll is a much more sinister character in this film, using his formula specifically so that he can murder people. This goes against the popular depiction of Jekyll as a good and kind doctor, but he’s being played by Boris Karloff in this film, and you can’t have Boris Karloff play a character without him being sinister. There are signs of the “werewolf” depiction from the later Daughter of Jekyll film here, as the film ends with the police all turning into Hydes after being bitten by a Costello that was briefly turned into a Hyde.
Like I mentioned with the Invisible Man before, Jekyll and Hyde seem to be included in “Monster Mash” stories merely for the sake of completion. He never seems to have anything to do with the story, and his only role is to transform from Jekyll into Hyde at least once in the story. The fact that we never see the werewolf’s human form in the “Monster Mash” stories is especially odd in this case, since we do get to see Doctor Jekyll. I would call him “the good Doctor Jekyll”, but he never seems to have any problem with hanging around literal monsters in these stories.
This also leads to the same problem as the Invisible Man: why are perfectly ordinary humans hanging around with monsters? Granted, these people are either sociopaths or psychopaths (I swear I used to know the difference between the two), but the other monsters eat people or can tear them limb to limb. It makes a little more sense in the stories that include Doctor Frankenstein, because then you can argue that Doctor Frankenstein, Doctor Jekyll, and Doctor Griffin are collaborating or at least conferring with each other. Then again, that just raises the question of why Doctor Frankenstein is sometimes included in this group.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss a classic monster that never had a movie with Abbott and Costello. Shocking, I know! In the next post, we’ll be talking about The Creature from the Black Lagoon.