Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1920 American silent horror film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and released through Paramount/Artcraft. The film, which stars John Barrymore, is an adaptation of the 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. John S. Robertson directed the production, and Clara Beranger wrote the screenplay, based on the 1887 stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan that in turn was based on the novel.

The story, set in late Victorian London, portrays the tragic consequences of a doctor’s experiments in separating the dual personalities he thinks define all humans: one good, the other evil.

Original release date: March 28, 1920

Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a doctor of medicine living and working in London in the late 1880s. When he is not treating the poor in his free clinic, he is in his laboratory experimenting. Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst), the father of Jekyll’s fiancé Millicent (Martha Mansfield), is suspicious of the young doctor’s intentions and often irritated by his tardiness and high-mindedness. “No man”, Carew observes, “could be as good as he looks.” Following dinner one evening, Carew taunts his prospective son-in-law in front of their mutual friends and debates with him about the causes and effects of a person’s personality, insisting that every man is fundamentally composed of two “selves” who are in continual conflict. “A man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying its impulses”, instructs Carew. “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

Reflecting on Sir George’s comments, Jekyll begins his research and experiments into separating the two basic natures of man, the good and the evil. Finally, after much trial and error, he develops a potion that rapidly transforms him into a hideous, evil counterpart, a man he refers to as Edward Hyde. When in the form and consciousness of Hyde, Jekyll is not recognizable as himself, so to facilitate his bad side’s access to his own home and adjacent laboratory, the doctor informs his trusty servant Poole (George Stevens) that Mr. Hyde is to have “full authority and liberty” at the residence.

Utilizing his potion, Jekyll literally begins to live a double life: the compassionate and gentlemanly doctor by day, and the lustful, hunchbacked “creature” who ventures out largely at night. As Hyde, he lurks about the seediest parts of London, frequenting opium dens, bars, and music halls—anywhere he can satisfy his “dark indulgences”. He rents a small furnished room in the area and brings Gina (Nita Naldi), a young woman and exotic dancer, to live with him. Soon, however, Hyde tires of her company and forces her to leave.

Although Jekyll has developed a counter-potion that transforms Hyde back to the doctor’s original appearance and character, each time he takes the potion to become Hyde, the beast becomes increasingly more vile and physically more hideous. Meanwhile, Millicent worries about the absence of her fiancé, so Sir George calls on Jekyll, but the young man is not at home. Sir George then encounters Hyde in a nearby street, where the brute has just knocked a small boy to the ground and injured him. To make recompense for his actions, he goes and gets a check which he returns to the boy’s father. Carew notices that the check has been signed by Dr. Jekyll. He confronts Poole, who tells him the story of Edward Hyde.

Hyde now returns to the lab; drinks the counter-potion and changes once again into his original form. Sir George finds the transformed Jekyll in the lab and demands to know about his relationship with Mr. Hyde, threatening to break off his daughter’s engagement to the doctor if he does not answer his questions. The threat enrages Jekyll, so much so that the stress itself triggers his retransformation to Hyde. Horrified in witnessing the change, Sir George flees out of the lab, but Hyde catches him in the courtyard and beats him to death with his stout, club-like walking stick. Hyde then runs to his apartment and destroys any evidence there that might link him to Jekyll. After barely avoiding the police, the creature returns to the lab, where he drinks the counter-potion and reverts to Jekyll.

In the ensuing days, while Millicent mourns over her father’s murder, Jekyll is tormented by the thoughts of his misdeeds as Hyde. Soon, the ingredient needed to make the counter-potion is depleted and cannot be found in all of London. Jekyll therefore confines himself to his locked lab, fearing he might become Hyde at any moment. Millicent finally goes to see him, but as she knocks on the lab’s door, he begins transforming into Hyde. Before he opens the door, Jekyll consumes poison in a ring he wears, one that he had taken from Gina. Now fully transformed into Hyde, he lets Millicent in, locks the door, and grabs her in his arms. Suddenly, he starts convulsing. Millicent runs from the lab and her shouts for help attract Poole, Jekyll’s longtime friend Dr. Richard Lanyon, and another friend, John Utterson. Lanyon enters the lab and finds Hyde dead, sitting in a chair. To his astonishment, he watches the creature transform into Jekyll. Discerning that his friend had committed suicide, Lanyon calls the others into the lab, where he informs them that Hyde has killed Jekyll. As the film ends, Millicent is grieving next to the body of Jekyll.

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