40×40: Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1941)

Directed by Victor Fleming.

“I know him intimately, and I detest him intimately!”

Why Did I Get This?

This is Side B of the double feature Jekyll & Hyde disc I picked up while dropping stuff off at a charity shop recently (you can read my thoughts on the 1931 pre-Code version here).

Unlike the earlier version, I’ve never seen this one before and my knowledge of Spencer Tracy’s career is pretty limited – less that Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman, and I’ve only seen a few of their movies.

Still, it’s a great story which every new adaptation brings something fresh to, so let’s see how it does…

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

Dr Henry Jekyll (Spencer Tracy)… oh you know the story. The difference is this one’s got Ingrid Bergman as the tragic Ivy and Lana Turner as Jekyll’s fiancee Beatrix.

What a difference a decade makes, eh? Especially when the morality police clamp down on an industry in the years between two versions of the same film.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde by its very nature should border on immorality and explore man’s base desires, but the way this can be put across following the ‘cleaning up’ of the motion picture industry in the mid-1930s with introduction of the Hays Code is undeniably altered.

While the 1931 version revelled in its pre-Code indulgences (bosoms and garters and thighs, oh my!), much of this adaptation – which is pretty much a direct remake – feels a great deal more restrained. Yes, we’re still shown the shabby delights of an East End music hall, but it’s a slightly classier affair. Ivy is no longer suggested to be a woman of ill-repute (though it was never explicit in the previous film), but a poor barmaid who loses her only source of income due to Hyde’s evil scheming and is forced into an abusive relationship with him.

That’s not to say the 1941 film is completely devoid of sexuality, but rather it’s portrayed in metaphor and allegory rather than through breathily-voiced ‘come hither’ lines and bare, dangling legs.

Jekyll’s transformations are accompanied by short montages of lilies rising out of ponds, women beaming in delight and screaming in terror, waves crashing, explosions erupting, and horses (and leading ladies), being whipped by a frenzied Tracy. The less said about the close-up of a corkscrew being twisted into a Champagne bottle with Ingrid Bergman’s face the better – like its predecessor, it’s occasionally unsubtle, but even when tiptoeing around the edge of acceptability, it’s still nudging at the border.

One of the main differences between this picture and its predecessor is in its depiction of Mr Hyde. While Frederic March was plastered in makeup, frizzy hair and jutting, canine teeth, Tracy’s transformation is much less obvious. Instead of the ape-like appearance from the 1931 film, Tracy’s Hyde simply has slightly worse hair (complete with a widow’s peak), slightly grubbier teeth, and a wild, unblinking stare and rictus grin that project madness and desire.

Does it make for a scarier Hyde? I dunno… maybe. Without the bizarre makeup, he certainly seems a little less ghoulish than March’s, but my initial thoughts were that there’s just not enough of a difference for anyone to be confused about his identity. However, that also works in its favour in places.

For example, towards the end of the film there’s a moment where Ivy (Ingrid Bergman), visits Dr Jekyll for advice and her initial reaction upon seeing him is a look of shocked recognition. It was a thrilling moment for me as I wondered whether she recognised him as Hyde, but she quickly clarified she remembered him coming to her aid when she was attacked in the street.

However, as she turns to leave, she tells Jekyll “For a moment, I thought…”, then says goodbye before finishing her sentence. Again, it begs the question – did she recognise Jekyll’s alter-ego? Hyde himself taunts her about this just before murdering her, asking if she thought Jekyll could love her, or if she recognised Hyde behind Jekyll’s eyes – it’s a fascinating twist missing from the previous version, and one I’d be keen to see explored in further adaptations.

Jekyll’s relationship with his fiancee gets fleshed out a little, with Beatrix and her father being given an extra scene or two on their holiday away from London. Jekyll’s keenness to show affection for his bride-to-be before she departs is pretty much the same as in the previous film, sneaking off to kiss her in the greenhouse. But on her return, after he’s supposedly kicked the Hyde habit, his appetites are similar, even if his language is delivered slightly more threateningly.

“If you don’t stop looking at me like that, I won’t be held responsible for what happens”, he tells her during a trip to the museum before giving her a passionate clinch to the disgust of other visitors. In a way, it’s a sweet line, but the delivery and knowing what’s been going on, it’s easy to consider it a subtle intrusion of Hyde into Jekyll’s daily life.

Even better is the eventual unexpected transformation into Hyde as Jekyll walks through a misty park to a celebratory dinner. Unlike March’s thoughtful pause on a park bench, Tracy is whistling as he walks but finds himself unable to stop himself whistling a bawdy music hall tune rather than the classical, respectable piece, before Hyde makes an appearance. It’s a really lovely touch.

As before, the story wraps up quickly, with the murder of poor Ivy, Jekyll’s rejection of his bride-to-be for her own safety, then the murder of her father before Hyde is killed in Jekyll’s laboratory.

Interestingly, Jekyll is accused of committing “the supreme blasphemy” before Hyde is killed. Once he’s dead and his body transforms back to the good doctor, his loyal butler prays over his corpse to make amends to God. A curious addition, but notable and presumably included as a concession to the Code.

And then we’re done, in just under 110 minutes.


Fleming’s remake felt a little slower than the 1931 version to me, and while there are quite a lot of striking similarities, there are plenty of novel twists on its predecessor to make this a whole different beast.

Bergman gives a great performance as the tragic Ivy – not ‘Hollywood idol’, but a little more cinematic than Miriam Hopkins’ performance a few years earlier which felt a bit more natural or realistic to me. That’s in no way a criticism, and Bergman’s performance works well alongside the rest of the cast – her realisation that Hyde will be the end of her plays out clearly and wordlessly at points, while her pleas to Jekyll for help feel less histrionic than in the earlier film.

Turner gets a little more to do than her 1931 counterpart too, though not by very much. She’s perfectly fine, and the interactions between her and March work really well. Her sadness at the lack of correspondence from her beau is sweet and touching while her despair on being left by Jekyll, then looking up to discover Hyde is palpable.

For me, the focus on the psychological elements of the transformation rather than the physical change works really well, but the restraint enforced on the salacious elements of its predecessor mean that it’s just that little bit less thrilling – if there were an adaptation mixing the physical change of Tracy with the tone of March’s Hyde movie, I reckon that’d be a great mix.

Absolutely worth watching, even giving it a go so soon after seeing its predecessor, and definitely of interest to anyone who’s ever enjoyed the story.

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