Saturday, September 2, 2023

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, The (1960)

... aka: Den nye Dr. Jekyll (The New Dr. Jekyll)
... aka: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
... aka: House of Fright
... aka: Il mostro di Londra (The Monster of London)
... aka: Jekyll's Inferno
... aka: O Monstro de Duas Caras (The Two-Faced Monster)
... aka: Schlag 12 in London (Strike 12 in London)

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

After their color adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein proved to be formidable international hits, Hammer decided to tackle another famous literary classic: Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The resultant film failed to match any of their previous genre efforts. Not only were most of the reviews poor but the film actually lost the studio money despite a strong global publicity push. As for why the film flopped, there are number of factors that probably contributed.

One could obviously point to the fact it wasn't well received by critics, but the same could be said for previous Hammer hits, which saw mixed reception at the time. One could also theorize that since the Stevenson tale had already been adapted, and adapted very well, countless times prior that audiences were just not all that interested in yet another version. A 1920 silent starring John Barrymore, a 1931 Paramount production with an Oscar-winning turn by Frederic March and a big budget 1941 MGM release starring some of Hollywood's biggest stars (Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner...), which had also been nominated for three Oscars, were just a few of dozens of Jekyll films made in the decades prior.

In addition to the myriad film adaptations, there were also stage plays, radio dramas (including one with Laurence Olivier in the title role) and at least two TV versions (one starring Michael Rennie), that were released in the few years leading up. Not only that, but Hammer had just produced a comedic spin on the story called The Ugly Duckling that was released one year earlier! Still, I doubt overexposure is really what did the film in, especially seeing how Jekyll was no more overdone than Dracula or Frankenstein. I'd say the primary reason for the film's box office failure is the simple fact that it's highly uneven, though there are some fascinating subtextual elements at play to somewhat compensate.

Curiously cast in the lead is the unknown Paul Massie, who was only in his late 20s at the time. Born and raised in Canada and trained in the theater, the handsome and silken-voiced Massie began his short-lived film and TV career in England just two years before landing the starring role here. In that short time, he'd won a Most Promising Newcomer BAFTA Award for his performance in the war drama Orders to Kill (1958), so his casting was clearly a case of Next Big Thing Syndrome... and we know how that usually goes. Here today. Gone tomorrow. Such is showbiz. Hammer, who had a tradition of circular casting, would never use him again and this would be one of the few lead roles he'd ever get. With his screen career floundering, he eventually relocated to the United States and taught acting at the University of South Florida. Based on some of the reviews, his performance here seems to be pretty polarizing. Even some of the Hammer experts on the Blu-ray special features criticize him!

In his "normal" form, Dr. Henry Jekyll is obsessive, sickly, awkward, reclusive, soft-spoken and sometimes cruel; referring to deaf-mute children as "dumb human animals" (!) in one scene. Massie has has been given a fake beard, fake bushy eyebrows and a slathering of pallid make-up to try to make him appear middle aged and weathered but it's not an entirely convincing look.

Henry has been shunned by the scientific community save for a single colleague - Dr. Ernst Litauer (David Kossoff) - who still pops in from time to time to check on him. As with most other mad scientists, he spends his days and nights slaving away in his lab. Usually in these type of films, the scientist has noble goals like extending human life, curing cancer, perfecting limb or organ transplants or something of that sort, but here he's not necessarily interested in the betterment of mankind. His experiments involve creating a formula that will reduce man to a more primitive and animalistic state. Giving the serum to a lab monkey makes it go ballistic, but Henry assures Ernst it will return to normal in 4 hours.

Henry is involved in a cold, unhappy marriage with Kitty (Dawn Addams). While he's antisocial and prefers quiet nights at home, she fancies herself a social butterfly and loves getting dolled up in gowns to (she claims) attend high society functions (actually trips to a disreputable club / dance hall). As for hubby, well, he's not invited. Though she's aware of his physical and mental decline, and shows at least a little concern for his well-being, Kitty has all but checked out of the marriage and swiftly rebukes any attempt to rekindle things. That's because she's already moved on in the romance department with the loathsome Paul Allen (Christopher Lee); one of Henry's supposed friends. When the utterly shameless Paul isn't romancing his wife, he's at their home leeching money that he spends on booze, gambling and ladies.

After Kitty refuses to spend the evening with Henry, he decides to finally inject some of his serum. Instead of turning him into outright monster, this twists the story around by making him take on a dapper, confident and suave ladies man persona. He loses the excessive facial hair, takes on a more youthful appearance and starts craving debauchery. Taking on the identity of Edward Hyde, Henry becomes a regular at the nightclub, where he seems to have his pick of women. He learns his wife and friend have both stabbed him in the back and, since his transformation has made him unrecognizable, he's able to play into that to bait them. However, Kitty seems to be the only woman to reject his advances even in his new and "improved" state! Though Paul is an irredeemable lout, and hardly faithful to her, she's still in love with him.

Several other issues with the drug complicate matters further: The more polished, outgoing and hedonistic new persona comes with a violent streak that finds Henry / Edward abusing and berating women (including one who falls in love with him), stomping out a bum, knocking a little girl (Janina Faye) to the ground, beating a bully (played by a young, uncredited Oliver Reed) over the head with a candlestick and eventually indulging in murder. There's also a physical price to pay here. As the warring personas switch back and forth, and overexert themselves for control over the body, Henry's health rapidly deteriorates.

Norma Marla provides some more adult-oriented material as nightclub entertainer Maria. Dressed in a skimpy two piece costume, she performs an act which culminates with her suggestively putting a python head in her mouth. She also provides some coy, though still risqué for 1960, bare back / side of breast nudity. Surprisingly, the film has even more adult content on offer, like minor profanity, rape and even a scene of Lee and Massie getting high in an opium den! The exotic-looking and thick-accented Marla, who was apparently born in Rhodesia, had been hired by Hammer to do a summer publicity tour, which found her traveling around the U. S. with a sarcophagus in tow to promote their version of The Mummy, though she's not actually in the film herself. She would only appear in two movies: This and the aforementioned Ugly Duckling.

Too many commentators to mention have suggested that Lee should have played Jekyll / Hyde, but I completely disagree. For starters, he's perfect playing the smarmy, arrogant, manipulative supporting character and I doubt anyone in the Hammer stable could have played this part as well. Second, he'd go on to more or less play the part in the later I, Monster (1971), anyway. In a less showy, though no less dramatic role, the lovely Addams matches him. What Massie brings to the table is a bit more uneven. Though he has a tendency to bug the eyes out in the more intense moments, and his alternating the deep, hoarse Jekyll voice with his normal, clear voice is unintentionally funny at times, he does manage to inject a little bit of heart into a film otherwise filled with incredibly unlikable, sleazy and self-interested characters.

As per Hammer's usual, this is generally well-made, nicely shot by the ever-reliable Jack Asher with beautiful saturated colors and boasts sumptuous period production design, with excellent sets, costumes and props to vividly capture turn of the century London. Though the three leads are the only ones really given much of interest to do here, small roles are also played by Francis De Wolff (police inspector who shows up at the very end) and Walter Gotell (an uncredited bit part as a gambler with one line of dialogue).

After playing theatrically in England and other European countries in 1960, this made its way to the U. S. the following year and was released under two different titles: House of Fright and Jekyll's Inferno. The film saw drastic cuts to remove some of the more questionable content in many markets and some of the harsher language was also over-dubbed. It made its belated VHS debut here in 1995 on the Columbia TriStar label, reverting to its original Two Faces title though still utilizing a cut print. In 2008, Sony offered the uncut version for the very first time on DVD in a four film set as part of their "Icons of Horror" collection. In 2015, Mill Creek released bare bones DVD and Blu-ray versions. That was followed by a Blu-ray from the UK label Indicator, who have included archival interviews with Massie and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, a commentary track and various featurettes.

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