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February 5, 2014

Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, Blu-ray)

Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has had seen several variations over the years with actors like Fredrick March and Spencer Tracy doing their version of the Jekyll and Hyde character. One of the earliest versions from director John S. Robertson (Captain Hurricane, Our Little Girl) has an equally talented actor in the roles of both doctor Dr. Jekyll and his menacing alter-ego with the casting of John Barrymore (Romeo and Juliet, The Invisible Woman). Kino Classics has taken this 94 year-old silent horror classic and put it onto the high-def format with all sorts of tender love and care.

Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a genius among his peers, not only admired by his fellow colleagues but respected by the many people he helps. There really isn't too much to dislike about a guy that goes out of a way to create comfort for those suffering... or is there. Like many people, Jekyll has urges and one of them to get a little crazy and feel nothing from the consequences. He creates an alter-ego who he can live vicariously through after making a potion that transforms him into the sinister Mr. Hyde.

As you'd expect, even this great mind and accomplished man of medicine loses control of his other half, who becomes so out of control that he inevitably terrorizes everyone around town. Hyde’s shenanigans start simple with some heavy drinking and smoking in a bar but soon escalate to the unimaginable. At one point Hyde even attacks a young child and smothers him on a street until he's eventually pulled away. This scene would not fly in today’s cinema, or at least in America. It definitely adds a disturbing element too this wonderfully moody piece of horror history.

 Kino Classics has done a nice job with including some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde themed extras such as some rare silent short films that consist of these goodies -- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1912 Thanhouser version, starring James Cruze (12 minutes), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 15-minute cut of the rival 1920 version, starring Sheldon Lewis and produced by Louis B. Mayer, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride, a 1925 slapstick parody starring Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy) and finally The Transformation Scene, a rare 1909 audio recording. Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride was indeed the highlight for me of all the supplementary material as it’s actually pretty funny. Laurel works just fine on his own in this goofy tribute to the classic story. The quality of the shorts look very good for their age as does the sound. Overall they definitely deserve a watch once you’ve watched the feature.

 With this Blu-ray release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kino Classics has assembled an excellent time capsule with their fine restoration and the strong assemblage of some truly quality Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde themed bonus features. If you’re a fan of the silent era or the horror genre be sure to grab a copy of this prime example of 1920's genre cinema.

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