Robert Lewis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" has seen several film versions over the years. One of the more interesting early productions is a 1912 one-reeler featuring James Cruze. This short is one of the special features on Kino-Lorber's new blu ray of the 1920 feature version of "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde." It is also, perhaps, the best screen version of the story.
Stevenson's book has undergone many variations on film, including the more serious 1932 and 1941 versions with Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, respectively, as well as animated and comical variations (the 1963 Jerry Lewis feature, "The Nutty Professor" is a notable example). In this 1920 silent version, we not only see an accurate rendering of the story, we're also able to witness the bravura performance of Barrymore whose talent and experience help bring the central character to life.
One can only imagine how much of a challenge such a role would be for any actor, including one with Barrymore's level of ability. Switching from the genteel to the hideous, Barrymore exudes author Stevenson's literary investigation into the personality extremes all people are capable of having. However, the film is much closer to Thomas Sullivan's stage play than an exact re-telling of the book. The depth of the story is sometimes simplified, while a tangential romantic interest becomes a bit obtrusive. Still, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is one of the true pioneers of horror cinema, its darkened images and establishing of shots among the basic ingredients for many subsequent staples of the same genre.
Along with the 1921 one reel version, other extras on this disc include excerpts from MGM's "The Rival," based on the same story, that was hastily produced in response to this superior version, a fascinating audio recording of makeup artist Len Spencer that gives greater insight into the creative process, and Stan Laurel's wonderful satire "Dr Pyckle and Mr. Pride."
The Kino blu ray is outstanding, offering a clarity of contrast heretofore not seen, even in the better prints available. An exceptionally good high-def debut, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is highly recommended for all.