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Jekyll Hyde Barrymore

Savant Blu-ray Review: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1920)

Hyde 5

One can’t get closer to the roots of modern horror than Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Predating modern psychology, Stevenson’s notion of a personality split along moral lines played well in Victorian times, as it rationalized the need for society to repress man’s baser nature. Freed from moral restraints, the benign Dr. Jekyll becomes a soulless hedonist. He defiles women, tramples children and murders men without guilt. The ‘innocent’ Jekyll cannot control his alter ego, who eventually takes over.

The book was almost immediately adapted as a London play by Thomas Russell Sullivan, who added a love interest and hyped Jekyll’s big transformation scene into a shocking showstopper. The popular stage star Richard Mansfield made Jekyll his signature role. Perhaps it was partially a publicity stunt, but Mansfield’s notoriety resulted in his being interviewed about the Jack the Ripper murders. A hundred years later, Armand Assante played Mansfield performing Jekyll & Hyde on stage in a TV movie, Jack the Ripper. Mansfield is seen using special makeup effects to pull off his transformation scenes.

The flashy role was a magnet for flamboyant actors. Eight films on the subject had already been produced when actor John Barrymore, “The Great Profile”, starred in the extremely popular 1920 Adolf Zukor version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Directed by John S. Robertson, this version is based on the Sullivan storyline. Barrymore’s performance retains the theatrical excesses that seem dated today, yet are still quite impressive. Using heavy makeup to give his hands a spidery appearance, Barrymore twists and stretches his face into a series of nasty smiles, glaring wide-eyed (even cross-eyed) at the camera. Additional makeup is added across camera cuts, until Barrymore’s Hyde is a hunched, straggle-haired fiend, with a horrid, half bald pointed head.

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Taken with a proper appreciation of the film’s age, Barrymore’s interpretation is startling and disturbing. The dull Jekyll tends to stare with a vacant, noble look on his face, while Hyde is a repulsive embodiment of evil. Modern impressions of the film have been affected by many parody versions, and the use of film clips out of context for comic purposes. One of the actor’s expressions, with his face stretched out and his eyes staring downward, pops up from time to time in the rubber-face schtick of popular comedians: Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, Red Skelton, even Dick Van Dyke.

The story is the same as the more familiar later versions by Paramount and MGM, minus Rouben Mamoulian’s Pre-code sexuality and the bizarre Salvador Dali dream sequences in Victor Fleming’s tame remake. The conventional Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane) warns Jekyll against pursuing “the wrong kind of science.” As in the book, attorney Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn) drafts the document in which Jekyll bequeaths all of his worldly belongings to Hyde. In the film, Utterson serves double duty as a rival for the attentions of Millicent, Jekyll’s chaste sweetheart. Millicent’s hypocritical father Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) goads Jekyll into sampling the seedy Soho nightlife, advising the innocent young doctor to sow his wild oats while he may. Carewe chats up a female guest at his own party, telling her that she “is Paradise for the eyes but Hell for the soul.” In the original novella Carewe is a Member of Parliament, has no daughter and is one of Hyde’s more mysterious victims.

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One story point neglected by all the screen versions is the question of what becomes of Dr. Jekyll’s benevolent charity ward. Even before the trouble starts, Jekyll is too busy with his research and his clinic work to properly woo Millicent. As in the other versions, it looks as if the ‘indispensible’ Jekyll leaves the poor children in his clinic to rot. Another basic inconsistency is the idea that the Dr. Jekyll character is inexperienced in sexual matters. In Victorian London, a doctor working in a clinic for poor people would soon know everything there is to know about human behavior, of all kinds.

Some of the supporting characters make strong impressions. Hyde’s elderly, cackling landlady is well played by an unbilled, toothless actress. Pug-faced Louis Wolheim (All Quiet on the Western Front) runs the low-class music hall, where performs the seductive dancer Gina. Jekyll is clearly aroused by her embrace. He turns away and excuses himself, but the flame has been lit. A title clarifies things: “For the first time in his life Jekyll had wakened to a sense of his baser nature.”

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The Dancer Gina is played by the legendary Nita Naldi, in her first film role. She’d very shortly become silent cinema’s “female Valentino” in Blood and Sand. Although Naldi wears a daringly low-cut costume, her character isn’t given equal time or billing with the “good” Millicent Carewe. Gina’s relationship with the domineering Hyde is barely suggested: we see no more than the frightened look on her face when they’re introduced. Later on comes a scene meant to depict the rock bottom of Hyde’s vices. He finds Gina in a low dive, compares her to another prostitute in a mirror, and then rejects both for a younger moll brought to him in the opium parlor next door. For 1920 it’s a fairly depraved set-up: while Hyde manhandles the women at the bar, a drug addict nearby hallucinates ants crawling over his body.

Eventually Jekyll’s transformations into Hyde begin to happen spontaneously, even against his will. One of them is handled with a simple, effective dissolve. The most weird by far employs a surreal effect: pure “evil” is manifested as a ghostly spider creature, which climbs onto Jekyll’s bed and merges with this body. The hairy abomination is genuinely disturbing.

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As with other stories about evil doppelgängers, Dr. Jekyll moves a mirror into his lab to assure himself that no Hyde characteristics peek through his mild-mannered normal form. He leads a double life and spends all of his energy hiding his ugly secret from his friends and Millicent. Although all believe Jekyll to be a saint, he is of course highly corruptible, and therefore not really an inverted image of Hyde. The morally delinquent Jekyll even says that his intention is to evade responsibility for his actions: “I propose to do it … to yield to every impulse but leave the soul untouched.” After the final act’s savage murder the guilty Jekyll cannot face being unmasked. As might be expected, Millicent has been kept in the dark about everything. When Lanyon and Utterson witness a transformation with their own eyes, they lie to Millicent for her own good. The last impression is of the handsome John Barrymore, lying still — in facial profile, of course.

The Kino Lorber Classics Deluxe Blu-ray of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a good new transfer and encoding of this 97 year-old gem, billed as the first serious American horror film. The primary source is a 35mm negative with a great many fine scratches, digs and minor damage built-in. The image is reasonably sharp and stable, but no digital cleanup appears to have been applied. We’re told that five minutes of missing footage have been incorporated back into the film. We see some introductory shots in the Carewe household that appear to come from another source, as well as an interesting flashback to the time of the Borgias, to explain how poison is hidden in a special ring. It is difficult to know exactly which scenes are new, if any. Kino’s previous (2004) DVD release carries the same extras. It has a shorter running time, but this 79-minute version may be longer by virtue of a more accurate, slower frame rate. However, it has been noted online that Kino’s edition may not be as complete as David Shepard’s edition, and specifically is missing footage after the intertitle introducing Brandon Hurst as Sir George Carew. The entire show is given color tinting in keeping with original prints.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performs a full score compiled by Rodney Sauer. The music fits the show nicely, working up to some impressive melodramatic climaxes.

As the style of inter-titles changes more than once during the presentation, it’s a sure bet that multiple sources were used to reassemble the movie. Archivist David Shepard’s Film Preservation Associates is credited with the first extra, the 1912 James Cruze one-reel version of the story. Considering its brevity, it is very well made: in his Hyde makeup, future director Cruze looks like a crazed ghoul, with vampire-like fangs. In 1920 at least two copycat productions followed Barrymore’s film. F.W. Murnau’s German Der Januskopf starred Conrad Veidt, and is still considered lost. But Kino offers a 15-minute excerpt from Louis B. Mayer’s version, starring Sheldon Lewis. It’s a polished show in its own right.

“The Transformation” is an audio excerpt from 1909 that appears to be a recording of a stage act. Actor Len Spencer quotes passages from Robert Louis Stevenson as part of his dramatic buildup.

The final treat is a Stan Laurel farce from 1925 called Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride. Laurel’s spoof of Barrymore’s Hyde is very funny; he transforms while his gum-chewing girlfriend looks on, suitably unimpressed. Running loose in the streets, the mirthful “Mr. Pride” pulls off a series of infantile pranks.

Looking into the histories of the cast members, we find that more than a few were personal colleagues of the star. Barrymore apparently encouraged Louis Wolheim to become an actor, telling him that his face was made for the stage. But the story of beautiful Martha Mansfield is a forgotten chapter of silent movie horror. Three years later on the set of The Warrens of Virginia, the actress’s dress caught on fire. Mansfield was so badly burned that she died the next day. She was 24 years old.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Blu-ray rates:

Movie: Excellent

Video: Good

Sound: Excellent

Supplements: two other silent film interpretations of the story (see above), audio record “The Transformation”, Stan Laurel spoof short subject from 1925.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly?
YES; Subtitles: English

Packaging: Keep case

Kino Lorber Classics

1920 / B&W with tints / 1:33 flat Silent Aperture / 73 min. / Street Date January 28, 2014 / available through Kino Lorber / 34.95

Starring John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Brandon Hurst, Charles Lane, Nita Naldi, Louis Wolheim, J. Malcolm Dunn, George Stevens.

Cinematography Roy Overbaugh

Art Director Clark Robinson

Written by Clara Beranger from the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Produced by Adolph Zukor

Directed by John S. Robertson
Reviewed: January 10, 2014



DVD Savant Text Copyright 2014 Glenn Erickson


Savant Blu-ray Review: “More Than Honey” (2012)




If you don’t love honeybees already, you will after seeing Markus Imhoof’s fascinating documentary More Than Honey (2012), filmed on four continents and graced with gloriously beautiful macrophotography. The blurb associated with the title is from Albert Einstein: “If bees were to disappear from the globe, mankind would only have four years left to live.” The quote makes it sound as if Imhoof’s film is yet another alarmist docu, fanning the flames of apocalypse for man’s sin of trifling with Mother Nature. But the unusually even-handed Swiss production avoids that stance, and gives the impression that everything will work out for the better in the world of bees and their symbiotic relationship with the plant world.

More Than Honey is a valentine to the tradition of beekeeping as seen in the story of a 3rd-generation Alpine beekeeper working with a specific black bee acclimatized to the cold of higher altitudes. Throughout the show we see the clever ways bees are tricked into a win-win proposition for humans. They pollinate flowering plants on groves and farms large and small. The beekeepers then raid their prized honey, replacing it with sugar water. In a normal bee life cycle the hive replaces a spent queen by creating another and splitting into two hives. Beekeepers instead pluck healthy queens away, force the bees to create more queens, and then spread those out to multiply the colonies by a greater factor.


The show teaches us a great deal about bees, in the process building respect for them. Excellent microphotography shows honeybees flying about with their furred bodies caked with yellow pollen, serving as cupid-like messengers for plants that cannot reproduce unassisted. The result is a beautiful illustration of nature’s positive attitude toward life. We also learn about the social structure and life cycles of the bees, that work as a kind of ‘multiple organism’ in an organization in which every bee has a function but no individual identity, including the queen. In a healthy hive hundreds die every day, to be replaced by hundreds of new members. Some drones live only to mate, and then perish. The colony is everything.

We watch researchers unlock secrets of the well known ‘bee dance’, discovering that individual bees are capable of making some decisions on their own. The fieldwork is fascinating, as foraging bees with tiny radar equipment glued to their backs ‘check in’ during their search for new sources of pollen.

In California we meet a busy beekeeping millionaire running an enormous company that maintains thousands of bee colonies. A single enormous almond grove has hundreds of hives to be maintained. Without the bees, this agriculture could not survive, but a wealthy grower tells us that he’s not worried that this one region supplies almost all of America’s almonds. We travel to China to observe an entrepreneur painstakingly collecting plant pollen, due to a lack of bees. The pollen is sold in packets like seed. Hundreds of miles away an army of workers move slowly through groves, painting flowers with bits of pollen. The work seems almost absurd… making it immediately obvious how much better the job is done by bees.


All this suddenly becomes crucial because bees have been dying off, in an alarming trend that nobody has yet solved. The California beemaster ships his bees all over the country, only to see a goodly percentage of his hives wiped out. The colonies simply fail — activity stops and the larvae in the ‘brood’ areas of the hive turned to mush. Up in the Alps, the bewhiskered beekeeper prides himself in the purity of his colonies, which are kept free from pesticides, poisons, etc. Just the same, his entire bee house is wiped out by an infection that can’t be traced.

The docu gives us plenty of possible reasons for the worldwide bee die-off. Causes discussed are inbreeding, parasitic mites (these look horrible in the macrophotography), invasive worms, microbial diseases, pesticides, and strains placed on the colonies through forced interruptions of their natural life cycles. The California beemaster ships colonies more than halfway across the country to maximize their usefulness, and receives specially selected larval queens to build new colonies afresh. One argument is that a lack of genetic diversity is producing bees incapable of fighting off infections. But the forced diversity of mass-scale bee management seems to aid the spread of disease. Down in Australia, beekeeping researchers are establishing colonies on isolated islands, to maintain healthy strains should mainland bees suffer a catastrophic kill-off.

Yet no predictions of doom emerge. More Than Honey refuses to draw any particular conclusion, which may be wise considering the present incomplete nature of scientific knowledge. The upbeat final act introduces us to a beekeeper in the American Southwest and his adventures with the Africanized bees that have migrated North from Brazil.


Almost everything we’ve been told about these ‘killer bees’ is false. They are no more deadly than other bees, and they pollinate plants and produce honey the same as normal honeybees. Africanized bees are more aggressive. The beekeepers that work among this new breed have been forced to wear protective overalls, gloves and veils at all times. The talkative beekeeper in the Southwest likes them, however. He has found them to be very hardy, and he believes they adapt to anything. The show also makes the Africanized bees seem resistant to domestication. The beekeeper’s colony soon abandons its hive. He finds that it has regrouped a mile away, halfway up a sheer rock cliff where nobody can get it at it.

If anything is off about More Than Honey, it’s that this beekeeper’s one opinion makes it seem like the world will be saved by the resilient Africanized bees. The truth is that scientists are still gravely concerned about the global bee kill-off and haven’t yet formulated a comprehensive theory for why it is happening. The anecdotal evidence in this picture encourages viewers to conclude that man’s interference in the life of bees, domesticating them on a massive scale and micromanaging their colonies for profit, may have affected the strains to the point that they’re more susceptible to disease and parasites. But the movie makes no direct statement to that effect.

What we instead get in More Than Honey is a marvelous overview of the world of bees, much of it up close and personal with the industrious, attractive insects. I haven’t seen anything on the subject as informative or as pleasant to watch.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of More Than Honey is a gorgeous HD encoding of this digitally-shot documentary marvel, with macrophotography that allows us to penetrate into active colonies, and watch ultra- close-ups of details like the tiny bee tongue in its double sheath. Some flying scenes are special effects composites, but they do not detract from the docu’s realism — none claim to be air-to-air bee cinematography.

The director Markus Imhoof appears in a lengthy interview, explaining among other things that he himself comes from a family of beekeepers. A number of deleted scenes also appear, that flesh out specific areas of the movie for viewers that would like more detail. Two making-of programs are also quite impressive… it takes an expert with unlimited patience to get some of those shots.

The show is presented with two audio tracks, an original German version and an English language track in which actor John Hurt replaces the German narrator Charles Berling. Subtitles are provided, but only for German dialogue, which leaves hard-of-hearing viewers out of luck for a big chunk of the film’s running time.

Glenn Erickson has been reviewing film and video releases since 1997, for MGM, Turner Classic Movies and his own website DVD Savant. A member since 2001 of the Online Film Critics’ Society, Glenn has a background in special effects and film and video editorial, but is still at heart a starry-eyed UCLA Film Student. He’s done a number of audio commentaries for Warner, Fox and Criterion discs. His latest book is Sci-Fi Savant: Classic Sci-fi Review Reader

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
More Than Honey Blu-ray rates:

Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent

More Than Honey
Kino Lorber
2012 / Color / 1:78 widescreen / 91 min. / Street Date December 24, 2013 / 34.95
Supplements: Director interview, BTS featurettes, deleted scenes.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly?
NOT ENTIRELY; Subtitles: English, but only for German dialogue.
Packaging: Keep case
Narrators Charles Berling (German version); John Hurt (English version).
Cinematography Attila Boam, Jörg Jeshel
Film Editor Anne Fabini
Original Music Peter Scherer
Visual Effects Flame artist Thomas Lehmann
Written by Marcus Imhoof, Kerstin Hoppenhaus
Produced by Helmut Grasser, Markus Imhoof, Thomas Kufus, Pierre-Alain Meier
Directed by Markus Imhoof

Reviewed: December 23, 2013



DVD Savant Text &#169 Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson