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Wednesday, October 20, 2010



You can watch the trailer here

Dusting off a piece of classic, silent cinema can lead you in one of two directions: it can either be a boring humdrum of work, or it can be one of the best films you've ever seen. Thankfully for me, I found Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which was directed by John S. Robertson, to be of the latter category.

Technically you can call this a horror film (see: the picture above), but obviously by today's standards, there's not much shock or terror value (then again, if you want shock and terror value, you can watch the much less pleasing Halloween remakes, which were drivel at best). Instead, the audience is given a taste of drama this time around, with the necessary thrills and chills needed to make this a legitimate horror classic.

I have a hard time associating the word "screenplay" with silent films, simply because the main storyline is either acted out or told on title cards throughout the movie. Instead, I'd like to refer to them simply as stories because they're really giving the bare necessity for the viewer. Fortunately, the story presented here is rather good, and it's very easy to follow along. In today's culture, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't know the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his famous alter-ego, Mr. Hyde. In a wanton desire to further a scientific train of thought, Jekyll creates a formula that essentially removes the evil element from himself, transposing it into a completely separate body. This creature (Hyde) then goes about and fulfills all of Jekyll's desires that may go against normal, upstanding convention. However, as time begins to pass, Jekyll begins to spend more and more time as Mr. Hyde, ultimately finding great difficulty in staying either one man or the other.

The key to this film's success is the acting of our lead, John Barrymore. While the rest of the cast does a good job keeping up, Barrymore himself steals the show as our Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. The dual role called for two completely opposite characters, and Barrymore nails both of them on the head. However, some of the most convincing scenes are the ones in which the line between Jekyll and Hyde has become more of a gray area than the black-and-white we see early in the film. Barrymore convincingly conveys the struggle within him between good and evil, and at times, it's heart-wrenching to behold. At the same time, his Hyde brings heaps of terror to the screen; I wouldn't want to run into that on the street.

Also, on a brief side note, some of the visual effects are simply astounding considering this film was made in the early 1900s. The transitions from Jekyll to Hyde (or vice versa) are simple by today's standards, but incredible considering they're about ninety years old now. Oh, and I can't say enough about the makeup for Mr. Hyde; it's stunningly grotesque.

Now, I would love to recommend this movie to everyone, but I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who wouldn't want anything to do with a silent film. However, if you're like me and love a bit of classic cinema every now and again, do yourself and favor and take this one in. You won't be disappointed.

Grade: A-
Current All-Time Rank: Best - #126
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