Books and Movies Reviews

Jekyll and Hyde

Mamoulian’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is widely regarded as the greatest film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,first published in 1886. Much of the success of the film is the result of Mamoulian’s technique. The film is full of both obvious and not so obvious point of view shots, allowing the viewer to get a sense of the subjective view of certain characters as well as allowing us to view the scene through a camera freed from some of the forced restraints of limited movement that are typical of early sound filmmaking and classical Hollywood cinema. It is in this respect that the film is often most complex.
The opening shots of the film take us from Jekyll playing piano in his house, through the streets of London, and into a lecture theatre. All of these shots are subjective: the edges of the frame are fogged giving us the idea of a kind of ‘true’ optical viewpoint; other characters directly address the camera; and we don’t directly see – except as a reflection in a mirror or as hands playing on a piano – but only hear Jekyll. This opening performs a number of key functions. First, it helps us recognize the esteem within which Jekyll is placed (as policemen, colleagues and servants all bow or respond to him respectfully). Second, by using this point of view initially the film suggests a degree of involvement between Jekyll; and us as if the future of his fate and his strange behavior might not be so different from our own. At various points, we seem to see the perspective of another character or observe, as a character looks straight back at us. The most appealing and unsettling instance of this occurs in thefirst scene between Ivy and Jekyll. As Ivy undresses, she looks straight into the camera, throwing her garter past it and onto the ground next to Jekyll. Though seductive and playful, this seeming light-hearted scene becomes, in retrospect, deeply di…

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