Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1920)

JANUARY 25, 2008


I do believe that Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde is the first silent film for Horror Movie A Day. Hurrah! It’s a good thing I like endless, inappropriate orchestral music! What’s that? I don’t? Oh. Well it’s a good movie anyway.

Once I got over the depressing realization that everyone in the film is dead, this one was pretty enjoyable. I have never read the book or seen any of the other 478459 versions of this particular film, so I didn’t really know what it was about other than a guy turning into a monster and back at will. Luckily, at no point did he fight Hugh Jackman or team up with Sean Connery and some other folks, so there’s something. There’s even an impressive scare scene – the spirit of a spider crawls out of Jekyll, and then right back inside, turning him into Hyde. It’s pretty terrifying, because, well, giant spiders are terrifying.

I also got a lot of enjoyment out of things I shouldn’t. Such as the guy who pretty much sets Jekyll on his destructive path. After pondering whether or not he should use his left hand when he always uses his right (snicker), he says that the only way to avoid temptation is to give into it. Clearly this guy has some sexual issues. There’s also the idea that women would be charmed by Hyde, when he is, quite simply, a freak. He looks a bit like Bill Moseley in Chainsaw 2, yet a standard 1920’s movie woman (short curly hair, dark rings around her eyes) is completely smitten with his advances and pawing.

Also, the first time Jekyll becomes Hyde, he almost immediately reverts back to Jekyll. Seriously, maybe 30 seconds go by and he throws in the towel without as much as a single “oh hey look I have super strength now” or whatever scene. Kind of a bummer. I’m also a bit baffled by this image:

How does a horse looking at a drunk on the ground symbolize a free clinic?

And what the hell was with people’s ability to read back in the 20s? I had time to read every title like 3 or 4 times, easily. This movie would probably be about 10 minutes shorter if the editor had any faith in his fellow man’s ability to process “What is wrong, Jekyll?” in less than 20 seconds.

Still, it’s much better than the old Hunchback or Phantom films (also on this set, though watched pre-HMAD). Barrymore is pretty good, and all the actors do a good job emoting what is going on in between the subtitles. And as oft-huh? the music is, it’s pretty good. Also, the makeup on Barrymore is pretty good considering that the film occurred before there was even an Oscar for doing makeup effects!

What say you?


  1. I read somewhere that at one time the Jekyll and Hyde story was the most-adapted tale in cinematic history, and it's not hard to believe.

    I would highly suggest tracking down the 30s version starring Friedrich March. Brilliant FX, great script, and March deservedly won best actor honors for his role(s). In that one the showgirls aren't smitten with Hyde, it's more that they're terrified of him--he's violent and possessive and abusive, and there's actually quite a bit of surprisingly frank sex/id/domestic abuse stuff going on--frank for the 1930s, anyway.

    The 40s version with Spencer Tracy is not as good, but it does have Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner hitched to a chariot being whipped like horses by Spencer, in a dream sequence. So that's something.

  2. You have a great blog!
    I saw parts of this silent film. It is done very well, I love black and white films.

    By the way, Halloween Ressurection is just terrible. How could they?! HOW COULD THEY!? It's like a Halloween from da hood!

  3. YES, the Fredric March version is the very best. As for Barrymore, I'm not even sure there was much makeup involved. Didn't he just kind of create the character with exaggerated facial expressions? Brilliant if true.

    The Vault of Horror

  4. Heathen!
    The title card illustrates the parable of the Good Samaritan. You can't do a '20's horror movie [or any other kind] without a Bible reference. It shows the blue noses that although movies are corrupting America's Youth [and still are 80 years later]the producers know a good religous message is always appreciated.
    Keep up the good work.


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