DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (Victor Fleming, 1941)

Surely it is apocryphal that Clark Gable wondered aloud why he couldn’t act as well as Spencer Tracy while he watched his M-G-M co-star in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a turgid, overstuffed, over-fogged big production aiming to remake the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian version, which is better, rather than draw direct inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliant novella. It is doubtful that anyone connected with this dim-witted film, including the director, Victor Fleming, and Tracy, ever read the book—or any book. One would have to go to Parnell (John M. Stahl, 1937) to uncover any performance by Gable as bad as the one that Tracy gives here.
     Fleming engages none of the book’s serious issues, with Tracy totally uninterested in showing any connection between the morally opposed sides of his character’s fissured personality. (What a stupid or perpetually drunk actor like Tracy does is simply play two different characters who are somehow inhabiting the same body.) Nor does it ever cross the minds of either Fleming or his erstwhile star to explore the book’s evolutionism, its monumental and historic attempt to reconcile Darwinism and (in Darwin’s day) the increasingly tenuous idea of a God in whose image humanity had been made. Fleming’s film is just a load of lollipops lollygagging down a yellow brick road.
     No better than Tracy, perhaps because the character doesn’t exist in the book, is Ingrid Bergman as the sluttishly overpainted barmaid who insists on how good a girl she is—and who, given the schizophrenia induced by the production code, could be right. As always except once (her first time at bat, in Mervyn LeRoy’s They Won’t Forget, 1937), Lana Turner is worse than everyone else. But she at least was hired only for her looks.

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