Monday, July 15, 2013

Review - "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960)

The Poster Featuring its American Title
I've returned to Hammer Horror here on the Consulting Detective with "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll," an inverted take on Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novella. By the time that Hammer got around to filming the story in 1960, the story had already been adapted a number of times, most famously in 1922 with John Barrymore, 1931 with Fredric March and 1941 with Spencer Tracy. The three of these films followed Stevenson's plot more-or-less, so Hammer's updated version changed the plot around.

Set in 1874, Paul Massie stars as Dr. Henry Jekyll who is experimenting with separating the good and evil in a person. His experiments climax by the doctor creating a drug which will turn him into his evil alter-ego, Edward Hyde. Taking on the guise of Hyde in London's lower-classes, he discovers that Jekyll's wife, Kitty (Dawn Addams) is carrying on an affair with Paul Allen (Christopher Lee) a close friend of Jekyll's. Thus begins a twisted series of events as Hyde (and Jekyll) plans his revenge...

"The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" released in America as "House of Fright" is an interesting horror film, mostly because of its inverted plot. It is Dr. Jekyll who is the unattractive character - a recluse who shuts him away from society to conduct his experiments. Jekyll also labours under a thick, brown beard, showing he doesn't care for his outward appearance at all. When Jekyll takes the drug, he suddenly becomes a youthful, attractive young man. This is usually the opposite as it is Hyde who is portrayed as the unattractive one. This idea is at first rather gimmicky, but Paul Massie pulls its off rather well. His dual performances are the highlight of the picture, especially as Hyde, who is increasingly evil as the film progresses.

The other interesting thing about the movie is that the three main characters all have "two faces." It's quite obvious when it comes to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but Jekyll's wife, Kitty, has two faces when she begins to carry on her affair with Paul Allen. Allen masquerades as Jekyll's friend, but carries on an intimate relationship with his wife behind his back. This makes all three of the main characters rather unlikable, and their eventual comeuppance is most welcome.

The movie is rather downbeat and features a peculiarly ambiguous ending, but it is a good picture. This film is part of the "Icons of Horror: Hammer Studios Collection" featuring four films previously unreleased on DVD. You can look forward to more reviews of those films coming soon. "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" receives a 4 out of 5 stars from me.  

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