Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Blu-ray Review: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)

Label: Kino Classics
Region: A

Duration: 79 Minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: LPCM 2.0 with English Intertitles

Video: 1080p Full Screen (1.33:1)
Director: John S. Robertson
Cast: John Barrymore, Louis Wolheim, Martha Mansfield, Nita Naldi

Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of the duality inherent to us all received the silent treatment in 1920 from director John S. Robertson starring Hollywood legend John Barrymore as Dr. Henry Jekyll. The doc is a philanthropist who tends to the needs of the poor before those of his own and his pretty fiance Millicent (Martha Mansfield). One night over dinner colleagues make-fun of how good natured he is and speculate that he's missing out on life by tending to the needs of others before his own. The conversation plants a seed that turns into an obsession that he can extract the very essence of evil through chemistry. Jekyll holds-up at his lab for days while concocting a serum which he then drinks. Thus his deranged alter ego Edward Hyde is born, the transformation from good to evil happens onscreen and is one I would put against Lon Chaney's turn in Universal full moon classic The Wolf Man (1941). Barrymore's contortions are superb and done quite simply but effectively, his clawed hands and changed visage are very rather eerie to watch

It's a classic tale and this pre-code silent era classic holds up to scrutiny to a degree. Having grown-up on steady-diet of An American Werewolf in Paris and The Thing may have jaded me somewhat to the antiquated techniques but there's still a lot to appreciate here. A bit of trivia to accompany your viewing, starlet 
Martha Mansfield died shortly after making this film when a match ignited her dress on the set of a film sending her up in flames. A decent exploration of the duality of man as Jekyll struggles to maintain control of the hideous alter ego as his life spirals downward leading up to a tragic end, a high recommend to silent era horror buffs and a cautious recommend to everyone else.
Blu-ray: The silent-era pre-code classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Classics newly remastered in HD from a 35mm negative with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The quality of the presentation varies from scene to scene ranging from very nice to more significant instances of wear and age as you might expect of a ninety-three year old film. The quality fluctuates quite a bit according to the source material but what we have is the best we're likely to see. Screen grabs have been provided below comparing the Kino Classics presentation to the version found on Mill Creek Entertainment's Horror Classics collection, it's a significant jump in contrast, clarity and brightness. The Blu-ray features an evocative score from The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra presented in LPCM 2.0 with English language title cards - the score is quite enjoyable and quite an improvement over organ scores that accompany various public domain versions on various collections. 

Onto the Blu-ray extras we have the inclusion of three versions of Stevenson's story. An early 1912 nickelodeon version plus a 14 minute excerpt of Louis B. Mayer's competing version from 1920. A nice extra is the inclusion of the parody 'Mr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride' starring  Stan Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy comedy duo. The last bonus is a rare 1909 audio recording  excerpt from a Columbia Records presentation of the climactic scenes which is awesome - this track is 104 years-old - presented in English LPCM 2.0

Kino Classics - Top
Mill Creek Entertainment - Bottom 

Special Features:
- Mastered in HD from acrhival 35mm elements
- Musical score compiled by Rodney Sauer, performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the 1912 Thanhouser version, starring James Cruze  (13:48) Courtesy of Film Preservation Associates
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a 15-minute cut of the rival 1920 version, starring Sheldon Lewis, produced by Louis B. Mayer (14:44)
-  "Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride," a 1925 slapstick parody starring Stan Laurel  (21:30)
- "The Transformation Scene," a rare 1909 audio recording (2:42) 

Verdict: Your mileage will vary on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)  depending on your tendencies towards silent-era cinema but for film buffs with a serious interest in pre-code silent horror this is a fantastic watch with the best available presentation and some neat extras. 3 Outta 5