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John Ary's Aint It Scary Reviews #10 Of 31!! John Barrymore In DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE!!

John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews.  Today we join John Barrymore on a quest to learn about the duality of man.

It’s a morality tale that has been filmed dozens of times since Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his famous novella about the benevolent Dr. Jekyll and his evil counterpart Mr. Hyde.  In 1920, the story was brought to the screen in a silent feature film starring John Barrymore as both characters.  It’s a performance that would serve as the basis for practically every film and television version that came after and would cement Barrymore as a movie legend.  

Early in the picture, we’re introduced to Dr. Jekyll, a nice young doctor, helping to give London’s poor proper medical care.  He spends all of his time working on experiments, treating the less fortunate and hob-nobbing with this rich aristocratic friends.  When his future father-in-law talks him into visiting a local music hall to drink and ogle the dancing girls, he gets an idea.  What if he could split man into two distinct individuals, one pure and wholesome and one that is deviant and sinful.  He quickly whips up a formula and presto, he turns into the debaucherous Mr. Hyde.  The more Jekyll gives into his sinful desires, the more powerful and brazen Hyde becomes.  It all leads to psychological torture, child abuse, and cold blooded murder.

Barrymore is brilliant in the role.  Several times during the film, he transforms himself from a dashing good looking guy into this small demon of a man.  What would take Lon Chaney hours of make-up to accomplish, takes Barrymore only a few seconds of convulsions, a wig and a quick camera cut-away.  It’s remarkable what he can do with his body.  His Dr. Jekyll is a bit milktoast and boring to watch, but his Hyde is dangerous, ugly, and fascinating.  In a police lineup, it would be practically impossible to nail Barrymore dressed as Mr. Hyde.

Also I love how both Hyde and Jekyll share the same body, fully aware of and reliant on the other.  Hyde needs Jekyll to fund his escapades while Jekyll needs Hyde to live out his deviant fantasies.  Both men have their own separate lives.  It adds a layer of drama that each chooses to transform into the other when the situation is appropriate.   

Ultimately Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is about the need for balance in life.  It makes its point in an entertaining way, with some nice special effects for the time, a memorable performance from an early icon of cinema and a classic story.  This movie set the bar high for the monster films that would follow in the 30’s and 40’s.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is currently streaming on Netflix.  It’s also available on DVD here.

Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as a babysitter accepts a job from a very tall creepy man that seems too good to be true.


Here’s a look back at a few of the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:

The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#4 Maniac
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons


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Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 10, 2012, 8:22 a.m. CST

    Mary Reilly

    by J

    Actually liked that version...mostly 'cuz of John Malkovich. Just sayin'

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 8:43 a.m. CST

    Great Film

    by B Arnold Quizzling

    A true classic regardless of era. SEE IT NOW. That is all. Please return to your basements and internet porn. I know I already did.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 9:21 a.m. CST

    Brilliant film

    by DrGogol

    One of the great American Silent films. Easily in the same category as The Crowd and Sunrise.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 3:02 p.m. CST

    My favorite version is probably...

    by Terry Powell

    ...the original The Nutty Professor.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 3:02 p.m. CST


    by Terry Powell

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 3:05 p.m. CST

    Jekyl is my favourite

    by tangcameo

    Kind of glad they never tried making a sequel, or a US version of it. But the twist at the end was kind of obvious.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 3:17 p.m. CST

    My second favorite version

    by KanekoFan

    First place honors gotta go to the 1931 version starring Fredric March. That one has a great script, an first rate lead performance, gorgeous direction, and a special effects masterpiece of a transformation sequence.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 4:30 p.m. CST

    @Mr kanekofan, i agree.

    by albert comin

    The opening sequence itself, which simulates Jekyll's own point of view, is a masterpiece of filmmaking, and it must had been imensely hard to achive back then, specially because how hard it was to use sound equipment together with a moving camera. Fantastic movie. But this earlier one also seems to be a must see, thanks to John Ary's glowing review.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 4:31 p.m. CST

    i love to see people in here geeking out on old silent classics.

    by albert comin

    Movie geeks should geek out on movies from all eras, not just the stuff that was made during their lifetime.

  • Oct. 10, 2012, 5:04 p.m. CST

    Great review for a great film

    by vermicelliknid

    Rule no. 3 vindicated at last!