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The Defining Version,
This review is from: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde [DVD]  [US Import] (DVD)
1920 saw the release of two film versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that could not have contrasted more; one polished, thoughtful and kept in period setting; the other a cheap, rushed derivative set in modern America to save money on sets and costumes. The economy class quickie was produced by Louis B. Mayer and featured Sheldon Lewis, best known as the Clutching Hand in many a movie serial such as The Perils of Pauline (1915). Sheldon's Hyde was described in the film's sub titles as "An Apostle of Hell" who begins his life of debauchery by snatching a passing lady's purse. Hyde's dastardly doings do get a little more ambitious, eventually earning him a date with the electric chair. But, as he fries, the trusty Thank-God-it-was-a-Dream cop out kicks in and Jekyll wakes up declaring "I believe in God! I have a soul..." The film closes with Jekyll safely escorting his fiancee to the opera
The audiences of 1920 could only be thankful for Paramount Pictures and their more seminal adaptation starring John Barrymore as both noble Jekyll and a very spider like Hyde. Screenwriter Clara Beranger expanded the romantic element by doubling Jekyll's sweetheart, Millicent, with a lust interest for Hyde; a sultry Italian temptress called Miss Gina whom Hyde shacks up in a Soho apartment and slowly sucks dry of all vigour - the spider and the fly. This externalisation allowed the sexual themes of the story to come more into the foreground and placed the hero between two woman who present different lures. On the one hand, there is the upper class virgin who is only sexually obtainable through the propriety of marriage. She is mirrored by the the lower class woman of easy virtue who exists in the dark underbelly of society; an area which a man like Jekyll would be seen to eschew, but in which Hyde positively revels.
The writer was also able to dispense with the customary Thank-God-it-was-a-Dream ending that had afflicted previous screen verions of the story, and present Jekyll & Hyde as a real story. Beranger's revisionist structure actually owes more to The Picture of Dorian Gray than Stevenson's tale, particularly in the introduction of Jekyll's amoral mentor Sir George Carewe played by Brandon Hurst. The character of Miss Gina also owes some inspiration to Sibyl Vane, an actress who is seduced by Dorian Gray and later commits suicide. But Beranger's approach became the most well known interpretation of the Jekyll & Hyde story, and also provided the model for the cinema's first sound take on the story in that followed in 1932, again courtesy of Paramount.