The final days of March means time is running out on March Hyde Madness. However, there are still a few more flicks we need to take a look at. In the early days of television, weekly anthology series were common. They were hour-long dramas or comedies featuring the stars of the day; a carry-over from the golden age of radio and such programs as the Lux Radio Theater or CBS Radio Workshop. On television, there were shows such as the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and Climax!, which genre fans know as being the home to the first James Bond, Barry Nelson, in 1954’s Casino Royale. In 1955, they attempted their adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in their one-hour timeslot. The results were a little mixed.
For starters, we must acknowledge that this was the early days of live television. Production standards were sketchy at best. Furthermore, many of these live programs made prior to 1956 no longer exist unless a Kinescope recording was made of it. This was essentially an early form of a VCR. A camera was set up in front of a video monitor and used to film the picture. The visual display will seem a little off but, again, is the only way these programs can still exist today. This 1955 production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is indeed in Kinescope, so allowances must be made for quality.
Michael Rennie heads up our cast in the lead role. Rennie had already made his mark on the sci-fi genre with his role of Klaatu in 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still. He also became a bit of a fixture at Climax!, appearing in eight different episodes between 1955 and 1958. From the first moments, we immediately see this presentation is going to be different by offering up the death of Mr. Hyde first and then presenting the story in flashbacks. Jekyll, who is once again pronounced as “jeekul”, serves as our narrator as his journal is being read. It more closely follows the original story, which was a unique way to present the tale considering the countless versions that had been done by 1955. The story plays out quickly with little to help it stand out. Rennie does very little with the role and left me somewhat disappointed considering the amazing performance he gave a few years earlier as Klaatu. Minimal makeup is used here, with apparently some bushy eyebrows, different hair style and a fake set of teeth serving as the key differences between Jekyll and Hyde. The transformation sequences are accomplished by a wavy effect and a pre-filmed transition. Interestingly, Rennie looks more hideous in those sequences and appears to have a fake nose, something that he doesn’t appear to have during the actual production. Surely timing was of the essence here due to the live production. Rennie does little else with the role though, as he comes across as quite stale and wooden.
The rest of the cast is underwhelming as well. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Things To Come, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) stands out as Utterson and, in my opinion, gives a much better performance than Rennie. However, his role is quite limited here. Mary Sinclair (Peter Gunn, Border Patrol) is billed simply as “The Girl”, Hyde’s love interest. Veteran character actor John Hoyt plays Poole but is better remembered amongst Star Trek fans for his role as Dr. Phillip Boyce in the first pilot episode “The Cage”. The sets and lighting are disappointing but, again, comparable to live television shows of the mid-50s. So again, you have to be forgiving going into it. One highlight is that the screenplay was written by a young Gore Vidal. Vidal is better remembered for the 1979 cult classic Caligula amongst many other early television shows, such as Suspense and Sunday Showcase.
That said, it really doesn’t offer anything different or better than other superior productions and should be viewed only as a curiosity. It is readily available on the Internet Archive for free or on DVD through various sources. Go for the free offering as I really can’t recommend it as a must-have for your collection.
Finally, just a few quick mentions of some other fun appearances in film shorts and television over the years.
- The most notable would be 1955’s Hyde and Hare starring Bugs Bunny. It’s a hilarious classic take that ends up with Bugs turning into Hyde after being chased by the real Hyde. It can be found on the 1931 and 1941 double feature DVD as well as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2. Highly recommended!
- Tom and Jerry offered up their version in the 1947 one-reel cartoon Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse. This was nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to Tweetie Pie, which was the first pairing of Sylvester and Tweety. Here, Jerry turns the tables on Tom after drinking a poison Tom created to rid himself of Jerry. Jerry grows and torments Tom with the usual shenanigans following. This is available on the Tom and Jerry Golden Collection: Volume 1 and is also highly recommended.
- In 1970, Scooby Doo and the gang tangled wits with Dr. Jekyll in the episode “The Ghost of Mr. Hyde”. Hyde is seen as a green-faced figure who, no surprise here, turns out to be Jekyll under a mask. A fun episode from the golden age of Scooby, this is found in The Complete First and Second Season DVD set.
- Finally, we go back to 1925 to a young Stan Laurel just before he teamed up with his famous partner Oliver Hardy. In Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde, Laurel plays Dr. Stanislaus Pyckle who uses his drug, “Dr. Pyckle’s 58th Variety”, to transform himself into Mr. Pryde. It was really more of a parody of the early silent film versions. That said, it is a lot of fun and worth checking out. It is available on The Stan Laurel Collection DVD as well as YouTube. A definite must for Stan Laurel fans.