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Kino on Video presents
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

"You're a mysterious man, Dr. Jekyll. What can you, with your presumably clean life, have to do with a vile thing like this Hyde?"
- Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: September 17, 2001

Stars: John Barrymore, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Nita Naldi
Other Stars: Brandon Hurst, Louis Wolheim, J. Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Clovely
Director: John S. Robertson

Manufacturer: Cine Magnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, suicide, drug use)
Run Time: 01h:17m:37s
Release Date: October 09, 2001
UPC: 738329021726
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A+A- A+

DVD Review

Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quickly became one of the most filmed stories in the history of cinema. By the time John Barrymore essayed the role in 1920, at least half a dozen films had already been made of the story. But Barrymore's version is the first to really make a serious splash, and his performance of this tale of the duality of man still holds up with the best of the many iterations since made.

Saintly Dr. Henry Jekyll (Barrymore) runs a free clinic for the poor, among other interests. But he's also interested in experimentation for the betterment of man. At a party given by Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst), father of Jekyll's sweetheart, Millicent (Martha Mansfield), discussion turns to man's dual nature and the possibility of separating the good from the evil side. Sir George, feeling that Jekyll is too saintly, takes him out to a music hall where they meet seductive 'dancer' Miss Gina (Nita Naldi), who stirs lusts in Jekyll that he didn't know he had. But when Jekyll returns to his lab, intent on bringing the good in man to the fore, he instead brings out his evil side, the grotesque Mr. Hyde. Before long, Hyde has embarked on a riotous life of debauchery with Miss Gina, punctuated by beating up small children and murdering Sir George. Before long, of course, Hyde becomes irresistible, taking over poor Jekyll completely.

Barrymore is simply astonishing in this role. At the height of his powers and fame, he was simultaneously starring in Richard III on stage while shooting this film. This led to a complete nervous breakdown shortly thereafter. But even though Barrymore's contemporaries scoffed at him taking part in the low-class movie industry, it's only because he did so that we're able to get a sense of his style and abilities. Through much of the early part of the film, he brings off Hyde as a distorted form of Jekyll, changing the thrust of his jaw, contorting his body and using minimal makeup to give himself a startling appearance. Taking another leaf from Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray (Sir George already having been lifted from Wilde's Wotton), Hyde's evil deeds result in an ever more hideous countenance, until he is a bizarre pinheaded freak that is truly horrifying to look upon. Most of the performance is excellent, with a true air of menace floating over Hyde's scenes. Occasionally, the point-of-view shots of Hyde approaching and grimacing directly into the camera are way over the top and laughter-inducing, but the whole is brought off exceedingly well.

The money shot in any production of Jekyll & Hyde is of course the transformation. All versions up until this one, including the 1920 knockoff starring Sheldon Lewis, use cutaways or Jekyll disappearing out of the frame to accomplish the feat. Barrymore engages in no such chicanery, doing his transformation right on screen, with plenty of gesticulation and grimacing to go with it. This all by itself makes the 1920 version remarkable. The other amazing shot is the nightmare of Jekyll, in which a mammoth spider with Hyde's head crawls up onto his bed and feeds upon him. Few scenes in horror since can quite match this sequence for true loathsomeness.

The surrounding cast can't hold a candle to Barrymore, alas. Martha Mansfield provides a nicely understated performance as Millicent, especially in the late scenes during which she confronts Hyde. Instead of screaming and gesticulating, she becomes rigid with terror, madly trying to think of a way to escape his clutches. Naldi has a few good moments as the dissipated Miss Gina, especially as she and Hyde (impliedly) fall more and more under the effects of syphilis. She can't really dance, which may be a failing or might be a subtle way of informing the audience that her profession is not really dancing as such. Louis Wolheim as the proprietor of the music hall is an imposing presence, though he really doesn't get much to do. Given his prominent part earlier on and role as go-between for Hyde and Gina, it would have seemed appropriate for this relationship to have been developed further or have erupted into some kind of mayhem. Cecil Clovely, as one of Carew's friends, has a devastatingly bad makeup job that is more amateurish than most high school productions. I can't believe they allowed him to go before the cameras looking like this in what was obviously a major production for Paramount.

Comparisons between this and the version previously released on Image by David Shepard will be inevitable. Alas, there's not a clear winner here. Although the source material on this Kino disc is far superior in quality to the blurry and dupey Image disc, it is also missing about five minutes of footage (about half a reel) from the early parts of the picture. The most substantive omission is a 4m:00s segment in chapter 2, where we see Sir George and his relationship with Millicent. Also omitted in this sequence is the introduction of Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn), which makes his later proposal to Millicent seem to come from nowhere and leaves the audience with a headscratcher. The second major omission from the Kino disc is when Gina is telling Hyde about her poison ring, and the old Italian story behind it. In the Image version, this is followed by over a minute of costume footage of the use of the ring at an Italian banquet. Only a few frames of this appear in the Kino version. Kino does provide a little more footage of the music hall sequence and of Naldi's 'dancing' talents. The framing of the Kino version is a little different, with more head room at the top. However, because the Image disc is windowboxed, the other three sides have minor loss to the frame on the Kino DVD. Because of the incredible print quality, however, if you can only have one Jekyll, the Kino is the one to get.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture quality of this 80-year-old film is truly startling. Going back to an earlier generation master of this than I've ever seen, Kino provides a picture that is clear, crisp and full of abundant detail. This is a true joy to look upon, especially in comparison with the murky home video versions of this picture that have previously been inflicted upon the public. There is very little flicker and good contrast. Indeed, the detail is so clear that the Hyde makeup is easily seen through: the finger extensions for Hyde are clearly visible. One of the best silent images on DVD so far.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(silent)no

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is a musical score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, a piano and small band. The score is an amalgamation of period songs and standard issue silent accompaniment, but it works very well. The recording is crisp and has nice immediacy, without distortion of any kind. Though I'm still partial to the old Gaylord Carter organ score on the Image disc, this accompaniment rivals it quite nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride (1925)
  2. Excerpt from Sheldon Lewis version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)
  3. 1908 audio recording of transformation scene
  4. Information re musical score
Extras Review: The disc contains a nifty set of extra materials. Foremost is a lengthy essay on the making of the film, with information about preceding versions of the story. This essay is quite informative and well worth visiting.

Hollywood being what it is, the rival studios knocked off a rival production to Paramount's version, starring Sheldon Lewis, who had long been a film villain. This version was set in modern dress for cheapness' sake. The extras here include a beaten up print of most of the last reel of the film, though the ending is omitted. It would have been nice if Kino had presented the entire film for comparison's sake. However, it's a useful basis for comparison to have this 10m:07s excerpt.

Perhaps the most entertaining extra is Stan Laurel's satire of the Lewis film, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride (1925). Laurel had pretty well developed his persona by this point, and we see a lot of Oliver Hardy's eventual foil here. But Laurel is exceedingly funny on his own, and he does an excellent job here in making a comic version of the story. Mr. Pride is in essence a childish prankster, but his antics are still quite entertaining. Although there are some spots of nitrate decomposition, it is mostly a beautiful print that rivals the main feature.

One of the odder extras is a 1908 recording of a dramatization of the transformation scene, from an old Columbia 78. The sound is surprisingly good, but to aid in making out the dialogue there is an onscreen transcription of the dialogue. Not really well done, it's still an intriguing view of the perception of the story at turn of the century.

For those who are interested in silent film music, there is a complete rundown, chapter by chapter, of the source music. While I found this interesting, this may mean little to casual viewers, but it's still a nice extra to have.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

A classic interpretation of a familiar story, with some truly nasty visuals, presented in a gorgeous transfer with a very nice score and a sizable cache of extras as well. If only Kino had a more complete print!


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