Monday, January 13, 2014

A Lesson In The Dangers Of Home Brewing

By the time Cowboy ended, the Spencer Tracy version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had started on another channel. I haven't read or watched any version of that since an animated version I watched when I was kid, and it's Spencer Tracy, so why not?

Tracy does a very good job with the role. Mostly I like how completely he shifts his mannerisms when moving between the two aspects. Hyde has that hunched over, shuffling run, his hat tipped at an angle. The leering grin, the way he constantly invades people's - usually Ivy's (played by Ingrid Bergman) - personal space. It's not as though Tracy is a large man, and I don't director Victor Fleming did a lot of camera tricks to make him look larger, but he does tend to dominate any shot he's in. He always seems to be leaning in taking more than half of the screen.

Bergman's performance helps. Once Hyde turns his attentions to her, she's in this state of constant nervous tension. It's done gradually, so that early on, when she's alone in her new place she's happy, but the moment he enters, her demeanor changes. she's tentative, pleading,, trying to find a way to keep him happy with her. Eventually, she's always tense, scared. Even when she thinks she's free of him, she's a drunk, miserable wreck. She can't relax, can't enjoy her freedom. She was even wearing a black band around her arm, but I'm not sure what she was mourning. Hyde's death, her suffering. It's a sad thing, because all the joy and vitality she had at the start of the film, the playfulness, Hyde steadily chokes out of her.

I liked the set design. The first time Jekyll moves from the main part of his house to his lab. The house is this huge, open thing, all shining white surfaces and open spaces. Then he steps into his lab - through two heavy wooden doors - and it's this dark, cramped place, shelves, and tubes, smoke bubbling out of beakers. It's not exactly subtle, the darker side of Hyde's mind. There's another scene where Jekyll and Beatrix (Lana Turner) have been talking at a party, and it's all very proper while they're in her father's house. As they step outside, into the garden, they get a little more passionate, there's some declaration of feelings, some kissing. You know, garden, life and fertility and such.

One thing I wondered was whether this whole thing was engineered by the Hyde part of him, as a way to get out. Jekyll was supposedly trying to devise a way to eliminate the darker, evil impulses within all people, or at least find a way to keep them from taking control. Except, it didn't work that way at all. Hyde got loose, with Jekyll maintaining control for shorter and shorter intervals. And there was no movement in the other direction, where Jekyll transforms into some being made purely of sweetness and light. Sure, he was a pretty swell guy already, real humanitarian, but he still had urges and impulses, which the story paints as being part of the darker side, Jekyll was his normal state, Hyde the evil. There was no strict good persona.

We were discussing why Jekyll makes his initial pitch for his work at a fancy dinner party full of stuffy old people, the sort who would certainly find it gauche to discuss such tawdry matters as urges. My theory was it was that darker side of him, such human impulse for self-destruction. The mass rejection helps spur him into trying his potion on himself to prove the soundness of his theory. Which lets Hyde out, and ultimately gets Jekyll killed. It's interesting, because when the police and his friend run him to ground, Jekyll can't keep Hyde under wraps, when he most needs him to. His friend is trying to claim he, the respected Dr, Jekyll, is actually the murderous Hyde, which seems ridiculous on the face of it. Jekyll could probably have brazened it out, if he kept Hyde under control. But Hyde burst through, and doomed them both.

I want to credit the makeup people before I end this. Hyde looks similar, but he's different in subtle ways. The brow is a little thicker, the dark circles under the eyes, my dad thinks they used cheek pads, and he had false teeth so he couldn't really close his mouth. All those little things add up.

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