Director: John S. Robertson
Cast: John Barrymore, Louis Wolheim, Martha Mansfield, Nita Naldi
Length: 79 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Type: Tinted B&W
Audio: LPCM Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English intertitles
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the 1912 Thanhouser version, starring James Cruze (12 min., Courtesy of Film Preservation Associates)
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 15-minute cut of the rival 1920 version, starring Sheldon Lewis, produced by Louis B. Mayer
- “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride,” a 1925 slapstick parody starring Stan Laurel
- “The Transformation Scene,” a rare 1909 audio recording
Stage legend John Barrymore’s performance in the 1920 feature film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1:19:06) is an astonishing great leap forward when compared to earlier one-reel portrayals of the kindly doctor seeking to rid humanity of Evil, but falling victim to its temptations and losing his humanity as the vile alter-ego Mr. Hyde.
Ninety-four years after its release, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continues to enthrall audiences because of Barrymore’s incredible ability to portray simple human decency and utter moral degradation. His physical appearance as Hyde is truly revolting, almost insectile. There are over 123 films based on this classic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, and yet it’s John Barrymore’s towering performance that makes this early cinematic version one of the all-time best. The only other actors I can think of who equal him are Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and Jack Palance in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968).Kino Classics’ new Blu-Ray release boasts a compelling score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and includes five minutes of footage missing from Kino’s previous DVD release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2001.
The restored material has a direct impact on the film’s tragic denouement. The changes are most noticeable in the poison ring scene. Music hall dancer and escort Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) tells Jekyll the story of her Italian ring with a secret compartment for poison, which leads to a hazy historical flashback of the poison ring being used to eliminate a romantic rival centuries before 1853 (the year in which the Jekyll story is set). This makes Jekyll’s use of the ring at the end much more altruistic and hard-hitting.
Mastered from archival 35mm elements and with new color tinting, Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an improvement on their earlier DVD release. Kino tends to favor a minimalist approach to restoration, so here you get all the natural grain and some of the usual print damage too, although the actual film elements seem to be in good shape considering their age. This edition also includes five minutes of footage missing from Kino’s earlier DVD release, and some of this footage looks more like it’s from a 16mm source, though this has not been confirmed (see first screen grab for an example). So, on technical grounds alone, this is another welcome addition to Kino’s growing catalog of silent film classics, with the new color tinting expertly handled.
The film is accompanied by a musical score compiled by Rodney Sauer, performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and the LPCM 2.0 audio track accommodates it easily. No issues with audio.
The extras are not entirely satisfying, consisting entirely of variations on the theme of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Included are The Tranformation Scene, a scratchy 1909 audio recording (Great God! Can it be?); the earliest known film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1912 Thanhouser version, starring James Cruze (13:45), whose performance is so underwhelming he decided to become a film director; a laughable excerpt from the 1920 Sheldon Lewis version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (14:40); and the delightful Dr. Pyckle & Mr. Pride (1925), a 21-minute Stan Laurel comedy in which Laurel plays a highly-respected doctor who discovers a potion that turns him into a compulsive practical joker. It’s one of Laurel’s best solo efforts.
The concept of a kind-hearted scientist experimenting on himself with a concoction that he’d hoped would eliminate his baser instincts but which turn him into a monster of evil is irresistible—the inevitable disaster that occurs when Man plays God. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gets off to a slow start and has its longueurs about love affairs gone wrong, but whenever Barrymore is onscreen he commands the viewer’s attention with his virtuoso performance and the story moves at a steady clip. The acting is uniformly naturalistic, very rare for a film made in 1920 when mugging for the camera was the norm. The supporting cast of long-forgotten, long-dead players, is top-drawer, especially the exotic Nita Naldi. Basically, how many films can you watch attentively that are almost 100 years old?