Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” won an Academy Award for Best Actor, Frederic March.
The fate of the first sound version of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of naughty self-exploration suffered a fate not unusual for movies from the early 30s, that straddled the Production Code's moralistic dos and don'ts: based on the 1931 stage play, Paramount's popular and highly regarded film was subsequently trimmed for its 1935 re-issue (having already been snipped in spots by prudish local censors), and vanished into the bottomless pit of Lost Films for over 25 years.
The irony is that the '31 version's disappearance was part of MGM's buy-out deal: along with the rights to remake that film's screenplay in 1941, all prints and negatives were taken out of circulation by the new owners, only to find light when Raymond Rohauer found a print years later, and was subsequently screened in 1967 for a MOMA retrospective of Rouben Mamoulian's work.
Author Greg Mark provides a lively, highly informative commentary track, hitting bases for many actor bios, sketches of director Mamoulian's boy-wonder ascension during the 30s, and key production minutia. Of particular interest are highlights of the restored scenes, trims and dialogue that were shorn and missing for decades, and specially restored for this excellent Warner Bros. DVD. During the 1970s, author Richard J. Anobile pioneered a series of photo-books, using frame blow-ups and edited dialogue of classic films, and his 1975 edition for the '31 version offers a shocking comparison to the serious deletions made by Paramount.
Never missing a historical footnote, Mark also uses the film for regular discussions on the quirks of the Production Code; the naughty bits, back where they belong, are still quite shocking. The integration of the lost footage is also fairly fluid; if there are segments suffering from added grain in an otherwise flawless transfer, the seams are obliterated by Karl Struss' bravura cinematography, and the fine performances that drag the viewer into Stevenson's dark, nasty little tragedy. Equally effective are the early sound effects, which an innovative Mamoulian himself created for the transformation scenes.
Warner Bros' DVD also includes the trailer for the '41 MGM remake (with Spencer Tracy's Hyde visage gauzed over to keep the surprise), and the 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon “Hyde and Hare” (less outrageous than the studio's 40s creations, but still entertaining).
What's rather unique about this particular double-bill is that Mamoulian's version is given top billing – a classy nod to an impressive classic still deserving the kind of praise and admiration that have kept it high on film buffs' top list of must-see films.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan