Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Search for Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde

Among the many unsolved cinema mysteries is the original running time of the 1931 Fredric March version of  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and exactly which provocative scenes may have been cut from the original release print.

Considered by many the finest screen version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel about dual identity, audiences attending special 1931 New Year’s Eve presentations in select American cities may be among the few who witnessed the uncut version.

One of our favorite cinema sleuths and internet film historians, John McElwee, a keeper of the classic film preservation flame at his endlessly engaging Greenbriar Picture Shows site, reveals what he has uncovered thus far while researching this enduring mystery.

There’s nothing so tantalizing as films that go missing. Truant, uncut versions of shows we revere are all the more enticing. Few send pulses racing like reclaimed pre-codes. Bawdy to begin with, what ecstasies await the retrieval of even more intact prints, such as Library Of Congress staffers discovered when they stumbled across the censor-suppressed Baby Face (1933) a few years ago?
As I watch Warner’s DVD of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the question taunts me surely as those lingering effects from Fredric March’s potion --- Is there more? Could there be more? Well, first of all, how much is enough? For most of us, nothing less than every moment exposed before that rolling camera will do. What of Hyde trampling that little kid? We’ve seen stills of it. One turned up in Famous Monsters years ago. Bryan Senn published a shot in his book, Golden Horrors.

The trade ad showing here dates from December 1931. So did they shoot this? Did folks see it? A perhaps-embarrassed Rouben Mamoulian (here with cast and crew at an on-set birthday party) claimed the moment was limited to publicity. They never actually filmed such a thing. Or so he says. I suspect it was shot, but made it no further than those sneak previews Paramount conducted in Glendale, West Adams, and Westwood during mid-December.

And what of the infamous Miriam Hopkins strip scene? Don’t know about you, but I want more. I suspect there was more. But just when did we lose it? Now that Greg Mank has covered the background and production so thoroughly in his outstanding DVD commentary (and in an excellent book, Hollywood Cauldron), there’s little left for the rest of us but to obsess over details, picayune questions that haunt one’s sleep at night.

First, how long is it supposed to be? The DVD clocks at ninety-five minutes and fifty seconds. Footage count in 1931 amounted to 8,863 feet, or 98 and one-half minutes. This included exit music, which continued beyond the cast of characters following the end title. Past confusion over missing footage may not have taken this into account (there’s no exit music on the DVD, though I know at least two collectors who have it).

The official release date was January 2, 1932 (explanation perhaps for an ongoing assumption it opened that year), but there were runs in Los Angeles and Chicago that began during the third week of December 1931, prior to the New York run which started on New Year’s Eve (that ad shown here).

There’s a little over two minutes between what they (presumably) saw then and what we have now. Part of this is the exit music, unlikely to amount to this much footage, so what of the rest? Day of infamy July 5, 1935 found Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gelded for the sake of a Code Seal Paramount needed in order to re-issue it. 85 minutes was left in the butchery’s wake.

Back Issue #18 of indispensable Video Watchdog magazine delineates the cuts. One could cry reading it. 16mm rental house Films, Inc. offered Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in its 1940 catalogue, but none of those prints have thus far surfaced. Based on the description, theirs appears to have been the truncated 1935 version.

MGM would buy the negative outright when they decided to remake the property. That purchase took place on May 14, 1940. Variety said they paid $30,000 for both the 1920 and 1931 versions. The Motion Picture Herald claimed it was $125,000. Studio records indicate the latter figure to be the correct one. Metro put both in cold storage so as to avoid distraction while their 1941 adaptation made its rounds.

I’d love to know if the 1931 Jekyll and Hyde played anywhere between 1940 and 1966. The only sighting I’m aware of was a partial one, as the 1953 Academy Awards ceremony (which was televised) did feature an excerpt of Fredric March as J/H.

The film’s reputation was maintained by way of mouth-watering stills that turned up in late fifties/early sixties publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle Of Frankenstein. Few were aware that MGM now owned the negative. I well remember my mother’s vivid account of seeing the March version theatrically in 1932. It seemed I’d never share that thrill, for we all assumed it was a lost film.

Controversial pioneer archivist Raymond Rohauer unearthed a print during a search at Metro and cleared a single run for a late 1967 tribute to director Rouben Mamoulian, but his was not the first reclamation of Jekyll and Hyde. Once again, it was collector/scholar William K. Everson who led the way with his showing that took place during a regular gathering of The Theodore Huff Film Society. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was thus reborn among a small group of Manhattan film buffs on March 8, 1966 ...

Bill Everson’s program notes read thus --- This long-lost but well-remembered classic hasn’t been screened in the United States for more than twenty-five years. Was he right? Very possibly yes, as I doubt MGM authorized any playdates over that period of time. Everson’s 16mm print likely originated with a Library Of Congress original from which a handful of dupes had been made for in-the-loop collectors (no, I wasn’t one of them --- the best I could manage in 1966 was Castle’s 8mm headline edition of Tarantula). These underground editions were (ironically) far closer to the complete Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than anything MGM would distribute throughout the seventies and much of the eighties.

Everson acknowledged still missing scenes --- There is one very minor (probably censor) cut in the last third of the film; it occurs when Hyde is sitting under a tree in the park. The cut is not at all perceptible, but what is missing is a shot of a cat pouncing on a bird (cat and bird are restored to the DVD). As for that Mamoulian tribute screening, the director himself noted multiple cuts (they'd shown the mutilated re-issue version from 1935).

Alerted now to possible interest in a long dormant property, MGM launched their own re-release. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Never Shown On TV, says the one-sheet shown here) was packaged in a triple Superstars Of Shock package with Mark Of The Vampire (1935) and a similarly cut (racial sensibilities) Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932) for 1972 theatrical bookings. The gaudy campaign implied contemporary chills.

Exhibitors weren’t fooled. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, at 83 minutes (hey, that’s two more minutes than they cut in 1935!) managed only 355 bookings, a lamentable reception from which only $31,079 in domestic rentals was realized.

MGM leased J/H to Films, Inc. for non-theatrical 16mm rental in the early seventies. It was listed among "special" titles in a deluxe catalogue, Rediscovering the American Cinema, published in 1972 by the company. Rates varied on a sliding scale from $50 to $250. The running time was indicated at 90 minutes, a first-time designation for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at that length.

Metro did not make it available for domestic television, although foreign TV showings did yield $44,000 through April of 1983. MGM/UA released a laser disc in 1991 that put back much of the footage removed in 1935, but the Paramount logo and some of Miriam Hopkins’ strip was still missing. It would be interesting to know what elements MGM acquired in that 1940 purchase of the negative. Was the 1935 re-issue version all that Paramount delivered to them? Did they have to use the Library Of Congress materials to fill in gaps for their more recent restoration to DVD?

Fredric March owned a 16mm print of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He acquired it from MGM some years before his death in 1975. It was never easy getting prints out of studios. You had to sign all sorts of pledges not to exhibit them publicly, loan them out, etc. Worth noting is the fact that March’s acquisition was the truncated 1935 re-issue version. A collector friend who knew the actor and visited him on several occasions inspected it.

The 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had been budgeted at $557,000 with a shooting schedule of 44 days, from August 24 to October 13. It ran seven days over that. Fredric March received $1,480,77 per week to play the lead. Miriam Hopkins got $1250 and Rose Hobart $700. Character support included Holmes Herbert ($750), Edgar Norton ($500), and Halliwell Hobbes ($500). All these were per week salaries. Rouben Mamoulian realized a total of $30,769.20 for directing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a guarantee of eight weeks at $3,846.15 per. Cinematographer Karl Struss was paid $400.00 for each week he was there. The Jekyll and Lanyon home exteriors were shot on the Pathe lot, and that park where March observes the bird and cat was actually Busch Gardens.

Latter-day horror fans overwhelmingly prefer the 1931 version over Metro’s 1941 remake. Having watched both this week, I’d say Spencer Tracy’s more believable, but March is more fun. The latter clearly enjoys his opportunity to subvert the kind of performance expected from conventional leads of that period. Distorting a handsome face is something many such men relish (as witness John Barrymore). March's Hyde was one actor’s liberation from what fans and employers expected, while Jekyll, all lip rouge and courtly restraint, represent much of what was stultifying in those Paramount vehicles he sought escape from. Censor correspondence from 1931 indicates a willingness to ease up on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because of its literary pedigree.

This is a movie that got away with a lot more than ordinary horror films could have managed - even pre-code ones.

We can thank Robert Louis Stevenson for that. Censor revisions would again come to call on a new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1941, but we wouldn’t realize it until the DVD (and a vigilant Video Watchdog) brought it to our attention in 2004.

Fredric March recalled, in a 1973 interview, running into Spencer Tracy shortly after the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde opened. I haven’t seen your picture yet, but I hear it’s great, said Fred to Spence. Who the hell do you think you’re kidding? When I made that movie, I did you the biggest favor anybody ever did you, replied a disgruntled Tracy.

He was never happy with his Jekyll or his Hyde. It embarrassed him to play a monster. Trips to and from the stage were made in a closed car.

If horror subjects were held in disrepute during the early thirties, they were just that much more so ten years later. Tracy’s J/H was also a projection of dueling screen images. His Jekyll was Edison, The Man by way of Boy’s Town, with Hyde the scruffier Tracy who’d smacked them around in pre-code days at Fox Film Corporation, an image he was anxious to leave behind.

Although there were stills issued of Tracy as Hyde, few saw publication (most images we see today are frame captures). Posters de-emphasized the horror, tho enterprising showmen often manipulated art to juice up the scare stuff.
Metro’s re-issue of October 1954 took it a step further with a one-sheet (shown here) that smacked more of what AIP and Allied Artists would be turning out for later exploitation thrillers.

Though banned in Memphis owing to Ingrid Bergman’s ongoing scandal, the show managed $185,901 in re-issue rentals.

The 2004 DVD release revealed the presence of two differing versions of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A review in Video Watchdog (Issue #106) was followed by a letter to the editor in #111 that detailed cuts in Warner’s master. Apparently, there were syndicated TV prints containing a minute and fifty-two seconds of content that had been removed prior to the picture’s release in 1941. This had happened before with Metro titles. The Merry Widow and Manhattan Melodrama, both from 1934, have scenes in old 16mm circulation copies missing from video masters made from 35mm. Did these TV prints have material that even first-run audiences were denied?

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, there were portions of the dream montages missing, along with some dialogue in front of Jekyll’s mirror at the end. Hays Office records reveal that a request was made to remove this footage prior to general release in 1941. How a print containing this material survived to make its way to an eventual TV negative is anyone’s guess, but evidently, it does exist.

Beyond all this, there's a discrepancy in running times between the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde released to theatres, and later television (122 minutes) --- and the version available on DVD (113 minutes). This obviously encompasses more than censor trims, but just what scenes remain missing --- and why were they taken out?

(John McElwee extends his thanks to Dr. Karl Thiede for assistance and advice on this posting.)

And everyone here at the Bijou extends our heartfelt thanks and hearty congratulations to John McElwee on the Greenbriar Picture Shows Fifth Anniversary celebration! (over 700 posts since December 2005)  

You can purchase both the 1931 and 1941 versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at  where you will also find the 1920 John Barrymore version. Two rare silent short subject versions from 1912/1913 are available at Movies Unlimited.  

Now sit back and enjoy this insightful and delightful ten minute commentary on the Fredric March 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, courtesy of PhantomReviews ~~~

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