Robert Louis Stevenson’s story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is arguably one of the most popular, or at least well-known, pieces of literary fiction ever written. The original story is available at the Internet Archive (link above; and you can also get it in Esperanto), and there are of course lots of other texts related to it, and also a number of film adaptations.
Far from the first, but the first that became a hit and a classic, was the famous 1920 adaptation Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with John Barrymore in the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde.
Most film adaptations, this one included, are actually not based directly on Stevenson’s story, but on a stage play that premiered in 1887, only a year after the story’s first publication. The play took several liberties with the original, adding and deleting characters and subplots.
There is one problem in particular with adapting the original story. The story builds on the suspense of not knowing that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same, but today every school child knows this even before they have ever read the story. Therefore, the adaptation must rest on other dramatic effects, such as the physical transformations, or the cruelty of Mr. Hyde. The stage play took care of all this, and added a bit of romance as well, which is the reason why it has remained the basis for Hollywood’s treatments of the story.
The copy I link to does not have a soundtrack. Other versions at the Archive do, but none of them is really very good, and they are all of inferior image quality. Therefore, I prefer this one.
This film is best enjoyed for Barrymore’s exceptional performance. Sure, some of Hyde’s vices feel a bit aged by toda’s standards; as Victorian as the original story itself. But even so, Barrymore works perfectly in the dual role, both as the smooth and elegant gentleman and as the degraded brute.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Running time: 1 h 22 min
Director: John S. Robertson
Stars: John Barrymore
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×482)
Best file format: MPEG4 (705 M)