Just in time for Halloween, Warner Archive unleashes a couple of new-to-Blu-ray terror titles. One is the definitive adaptation of a classic story. The other is far less essential, but both have been nicely restored.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
1932 / 96 min
Earlier this year, Warner Archive released the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While that film has its moments, overlength and a campy performance by Spencer Tracy tended to undermine the tension. The 1932 version, however, is classic sci-fi/psychological horror. Even 90 years later, it remains the best adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel.
Fredric March is excellent as the title character(s) and won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance (making Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the first horror film to win in a major category). He’s amazing to watch, managing to gain our sympathies as Jekyll and our repulsion as Hyde. The latter is one of early horror cinema's more disturbing creations, not just because of the make-up effects (and still-excellent transformation scenes), but his overt sadism and cruelty toward Ivy (Mirian Hopkins), the object of his animal lust.
Released pre-Code, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was pretty risque and brutal for its time. The film implies more than it actually shows, but it's obvious that Ivy is repeatedly sexually assaulted. There’s an air of hopelessness to her character that’s difficult to shake (which is perhaps scarier than the film’s traditional horror elements).
2 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By screenwriter/historian Steve Haberman & filmmaker/historian Constantine Nasr; 2) By author Greg Mank.
“HYDE AND HARE” - A terrific Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1955.
“THEATRE GUILD ON THE AIR” - Audio only, radio broadcast from 1950.
In a small village where vampire legends loom large, a man is murdered in his house, discovered with a couple of puncture wounds on his neck. The local doctor declares him murdered by a vampire, but Inspector Neumann (Lionell Atwood) thinks that’s hogwash. Vampire expert Professor Zelen (Lionell Barrymore) believes Count Mora (Lugosi) killed the man and now his daughter, Irena (Elizabeth Allen), is next.
Running only 60 minutes, Mark of the Vampire doesn’t overstay its welcome, but despite a few fleeting attempts at creating atmosphere, the film looks and feels pretty stagy, exacerbated by histrionic emoting from most of the cast. Barrymore is kind of fun, while Lugosi generally just stalks around the set in his cape, never interacting with the main cast. And without providing spoilers, the climax shares more in common with a Scooby-Doo episode than horror movies of the day.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Kin Newman (who’s always interesting to listen to) and Stephen Jones.
“THE CALICO DRAGON” - 1935 MGM cartoon short.
“A THRILL FOR THELMA” - An amusing cautionary short from 1935, demonstrating why crime doesn’t pay.