Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)
Director: Lucius Henderson
Cast: James Cruze, Florence La Badie, Marie Eline
Synopsis: Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.
This early version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s oft-filmed tale features James Cruze in the title role (although an uncredited Harry Benham played Hyde in some scenes). Today Cruze is probably best remembered for directing The Covered Wagon (1923), but back in the teens of the 19th Century he was a jobbing actor for the Thanhauser studio. He makes a distinguished, silver-haired Jekyll, but doesn’t quite convince as a man who has a hidden liking for the baser things in life.
The movie pretty much cuts to the chase with Jekyll trying his potion after a brief opening conversation with a guest. The transformation is as crude as you’d expect from a movie made in 1912, with the camera stopped as Jekyll sits in a chair with his head bowed and starting again once he has either been replaced by Benham or donned his Hyde make-up. Although the acting is fairly understated for the era, Jekyll is a whirling dervish of a bestial man who is considerably shorter than his alter ego, as described in Stevenson’s book but generally ignored by filmmakers.
Jekyll’s girlfriend is played by Florence La Badie, who would die of septicaemia after the car in which she was travelling with her fiance plunged over a hilltop in 1917. She’s a minister’s daughter here, rather than the daughter of a gentleman whose status disguises some dubious moral standards, and provides the catalyst for Hyde’s experiments. The scenes in which Jekyll must dash off once the transformations begin occurring spontaneously are the stuff of comedy now, but they’re played straight here and the humour in those scenes is entirely unintentional.
At a brisk 12 minutes long, the 1912 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde doesn’t delve too deeply into characterisation, but provides a whistle-stop tour of many of the story’s key moments.
(Reviewed 24th September 2013)