It’s Hammer Time again, folks! I’ve covered witches and vampires and demons (insert your Oz joke here), but now we’re going to look within the inner recesses of the soul, where the wicked resides in each of us. Some need a little pick-me-up to bring out that worst however, and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) finds evil not only in the lab but around every shadowed corner.
Released by Columbia Pictures in the U.K. in late October, with an A.I.P. rollout stateside the following spring, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll was not a moneymaker for Hammer and the reviews were mixed at best; no doubt in response (at least on the part of audiences) to the more muted approach to the material, and quite removed from the ribald textures that usually came from the Hammer stable at the time. Regardless, it remains an intriguing character study of man’s duality.
As the film opens, we meet Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie – Call Me Genius) as he hosts a group of schoolchildren for a tour of the garden on his estate. A kind and benevolent scientist, Jekyll is married to Kitty (Dawn Addams – The Vault of Horror), a seemingly faithful wife who informs him that his friend, raconteur Paul (Christopher Lee – The Wicker Man) is back to borrow more money, presumably for gambling and other ill-gotten delights. What Jekyll doesn’t know is that Kitty and Paul have been cavorting behind his back, and Kitty has been funding Paul’s activities for some time as well.
Meanwhile, Jekyll’s experiments with bringing malice to the surface has worked well with chimps, and being the go-getter he is, tries the serum on himself. Who (or what) he becomes is Edward Hyde, a smooth talking, confident playboy, with nary a trace of Jekyll in him, be it his sullen demeanor or scraggly beard. Hyde decides to hit the town, and comes across Kitty and Paul whooping it up at an upper class establishment; naturally he devises a plan to put an end to the love birds’ tryst. But is there enough left of the compassionate Jekyll to stop Hyde from carrying it out?
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (also known as Jekyll’s Inferno when it was released in the U.S.) puts a very interesting twist on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella: not only does it deal with Jekyll’s transformation, it also shows the masks worn by those around him. Kitty, his supposedly devoted spouse, and Paul, her rapscallion lover, certainly present themselves in a purer light to Henry; not to the rest of London, mind you, but rather the one person they perpetually feed off, their duplicitous nature drawn to the surface with the greatest of ease.
This is Henry’s dilemma as well; the more he adopts Hyde’s persona – bon vivant with a vicious streak – the further he falls and disconnects from his original identity. But here (and later adopted by Jerry Lewis for The Nutty Professor), unlike most other adaptations of the work, the ugliness of man is concealed behind beauty. Insidious and cynical it may be, but much closer to real life and less on the nose.
Director Terence Fisher was already firmly ensconced as Hammer’s go-to by this film; having helmed The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein (both ’58), The Mummy (’59), and Brides of Dracula (’60, directly before this one), Jekyll offered him different challenges, as it doesn’t lean into the lurid as much as the previous films. No transformations are shown, no blood is spilled, and deaths are few. And even though this is a 1800s period piece, bosoms do not heave in as great numbers as previous efforts. (Sorry, me.) But Fisher ensures the other Hammer hallmarks are in place: gorgeous Technicolor cinematography from Jack Asher (The Curse of Frankenstein), a sharp and witty script by Wolf Mankowitz (Doctor Faustus), and strong performances.
So a move away from the pulpy fringe forces Fisher to focus strictly on character and let the horror bleed from that, resulting in a talky but engaging thriller. Fisher still moves it along like it was filled with action, each exchange between the love quadrangle structured to build to the finale, with only the occasional strangling and Massie’s superb take on Hyde to remind you this isn’t Peyton Place.
Actually Massie is effective in both roles, his Jekyll dejected and lonely, with a fake beard and electronically lowered voice that works well enough to offer a passable take on illusion. His Hyde however is filled with a grinning ferocity, a suave malevolence that should have had him recognized as one of Hammer’s greatest villains. (I mean, he beats a young Oliver Reed within an inch of his life, c’mon.)The lack of makeup surely kept audiences at bay, expecting a physical manifestation and who were instead left to roil in inner turmoil. Tough titties, as my pappy used to say. What it lacks in viscera it makes up in witty contemplation.
As for the rest of the cast, Lee was Hammer’s Main Man, and his Paul is a definite slimy scoundrel; a left turn from Dracula to be sure, Paul seduces women with an oily opportunistic charm even as he tries to play sympathizer to poor Henry, a proto Toxic Male if there ever was one. Addams oozes equal parts beauty and contempt as Kitty, a gold digger chasing the money wherever it lands. What I’m saying is that Henry is either too trusting or too naive with the company he keeps.
Perhaps that’s why The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll still resonates today: in a time of two bit carny morals and unfathomable dread, it’s cold comfort to realize the dance of the beguiled was begun long before our time, and that the music will probably never slow.
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll is available on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment as part of a Hammer Film Double Feature with The Gorgon.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: DEATH SHIP (1980)