Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (1941) directed by Victor Fleming, director of Gone with the Wind (1939)and The Wizard of Oz (1939)   and starred Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner. The film also features Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, Barton MacLane, C. Aubrey Smith and Sara Allgood. This 1941 MGM film was produced by Victor Saville and adapted by John Lee Mahin from the screenplay of the 1931 film by Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein.  The 1931 film, which starred Fredric March of the same title, was based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novella the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde published in 1886. The novella was actually inspired by the case of Deacon Brodie, who was a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild and Edinburgh city councilor. Brodie lead a secret life as a burglar to fund his gambling and nightly carousing.

MGM acquired the rights to the 1931 film which had been released by Paramount Pictures and ordered every print of the 1931 film located and destroyed in order to keep it out of circulation and from competing with the 1941 version. This search and destroy campaign  essentially made   Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (1931)  a "lost film" for several decades with the exception of a few  clips until  the full version was later found and  restored.

Spencer Tracy originally wanted Katharine Hepburn to play both Bergman's and Turner's roles as the 'bad' and 'good' woman, who would then turn out to be the same woman,  thus making her character a female version of Jekyll and Hyde.  The studio rejected the idea and cast Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner in the roles. Initially Bergman was to play Bea Emery, the fiancĂ©e of Jekyll and Turner was to play 'bad girl' Ivy Pearson.  But Bergman was tired of being cast in the good girl role and was concerned that she would become typecast.  She requested that she and co-star Lana Turner trade roles, allowing her to play a shady character for the first time in her career.  Still Bergman felt miscast in the role of Ivy and the film critics would agree in their reviews of her performance.  Due to the Hay's Code enforcement much of the 1941 film had to be altered from the 1931 version to earn the censor’s approval. The character of Ivy Peterson had to be changed from a prostitute to a barmaid.

Spencer Tracy had hope for a realistic approach to the story, where Jekyll would commit violent crimes in a neighborhood where he was unknown after drinking alcohol or taking drugs. He was disappointed that the producers insisted on using the screenplay from the 1931 version. Tracy reportedly felt his wig and make up used for Hyde made him look "ridiculous". But that did not stop him from showing up at Clark Gable and Carole Lombard's second wedding anniversary party wearing his Mr. Hyde make up. Tracy had at one point tried to back out of the film feeling that he was not suited to play an English doctor. He would later state that of all of his film roles this was his least favorite.

The 1941 film was not near the critical success that the 1931 version had been. Fredric March, the star of the 1931 version, sent Tracy an amusing telegram thanking him for his biggest career boost, as Tracy's performance was savaged when compared with March's version. Tracy was considered lackluster as Jekyll, and his Hyde was not nearly as terrifying as March’s in the 1931 version.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) was a notorious critical failure when released, although it eventually made a profit of $2 million around the world. The New York Times described the film as "not so much evil incarnate as ham rampant ... more ludicrous than dreadful." After watching the film, Tracy confided to a friend that he believed his acting career was over. Despite the critic’s response the film was nominated for three Oscars, Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Film Editing and Best Music Scoring of a Dramatic Picture.


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