After dealing with the less than exciting exploits of Dr. Jekyll’s so-called children, it’s time to go back to the original Robert Louis Stevenson story. And who better than Hammer Films to put their spin on it with a small dash of romance and sex appeal. The year is 1960 and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz (1967s Casino Royale) puts a few new spins on the core story in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll.
Our story opens in the year 1874 with Dr. Henry Jekyll having been married seven years to his wife Kitty. He’s been neglecting his wife, home and lively hood to devote 100% of his efforts to his studies of separating the evil and good believed to be present in all humans. Jekyll’s friend Dr. Ernst Littauer (David Kossoff) is concerned and encourages Kitty that they both need to help Jekyll as he is engaging in troubling experiments. However, Kitty is not as concerned as she lets on as she is having an affair with his friend Paul Allen (played by the legendary Sir Christopher Lee). Paul is also bleeding Jekyll of money to feed his own personal habits. After a failed attempt to reach out to his wife, who quickly rejects his advance in favor of a social gathering, Jekyll injects himself with his serum rather than waiting for further studies or another round of animal subjects.
Here is where the key difference between this version and most others presents itself. Dr. Jekyll is a relatively dull fellow, sporting a beard and bushy eyebrows (not the best makeup job from Hammer) that make him out to look like a boring college professor. Rather than turning into a visually hideous beast, as most other adaptations depict, here Jekyll turns into the dashing and handsome Mr. Edward Hyde. It goes with a theme in many movies of the day that evil men can often be charming and attractive, hiding (no pun intended) their evil intentions under a veil. However, this Hyde is very much a beast beneath his charming visage, as quickly becomes evident. As he engages his friend Paul to introduce him to the seedier parts of London, and after his ultimate rejection by Kitty, Hyde decides to punish Kitty and Paul for their misdeeds. This Hyde is both fascinated and repulsed by the vile side of humanity.
Paul Massie headlines our cast in the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Despite the fact that he is playing this quite differently than it was originally written, he does a really fine job of playing boring Jekyll and man-about-town playboy Hyde. This is Massie’s only genre film as he would abandon his film career in the early 70s in favor of becoming a drama teacher. Dawn Addams (The Vampire Lovers, The Vault of Horror) is the lovely Kitty Jekyll, who is certainly not the charming woman seen in previous versions. Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein) turns in a unique performance as the somewhat slimy drunken friend Paul Allen. Lee is an incredibly versatile actor when it comes to his Hammer roles but this one tends to be overlooked by his more prominent films. Ironic considering it was supposedly written for him and is one of his personal favorites. The exotic dancer and snake charmer Maria is played by Norma Marla, who starred in only one other film, the virtually forgotten Hammer flick The Ugly Duckling. We also get a chance to see a young Oliver Reed (Curse of the Werewolf, The Shuttered Room) in a small role as a scam artist in a nightclub towards the early part of the film.
The key problem with this film is the lack of any appealing characters. They are quite the degenerate lot and it’s hard to find a hero to cheer for. Even Jekyll doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and that plays against the overall enjoyment of the film. During production, it went over budget and several scenes were cut for both time and money. An intriguing finale originally had Hyde being executed and reverting back to Jekyll on the gallows. Sadly, we never got to see that ending. It had a lackluster box office under several titles, which also included Jekyll’s Inferno and 80-minute censored version from American International Pictures called House of Fright.
This was my first time viewing The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll and I enjoyed it for the fun diversion it was, though not overly impressed. I wouldn’t rank it as one of favorite Hammer films nor my favorite Jekyll and Hyde version. But it is from Hammer and that gives it an immediate nod in my opinion. It’s readily available as part of the four-film Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films on Amazon. Meanwhile, check out the trailer on YouTube before you place an order.
When it comes to learning more about Hammer Films, there are countless websites and books devoted to the topic. However, at the top of the list is The Hammer Story written by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes. This is a must-read and will be a fine addition to any film library. It’s available from the usual sources, including Amazon. And if you’re looking for a podcast on all films Hammer, check out 1951 Down Place. This is a great, monthly podcast from my friend “Brother D” Derek Koch, along with Scott and Casey. Tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you.
Next stop, we see what Jack Palance does with the role in an interesting version from 1968.