Thursday, September 28, 2023

Split Personality

Film: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

The Doctor Jekyll story is one that everyone knows but that almost no one has actually read. It’s sort of like Robin Hood in that respect. We all know the basics—the scientist who discovers a formula that causes a bestial, criminal side to come out. The doctor struggles against his alter ego, torn between his morals and his desires, and is ultimately destroyed by this internal conflict. The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll decides to have a little fun with the basic story, giving us an alter ego that is not what we’re used to.

In 1874, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) works with deaf children, but is detached in his personal life from his wife. Kitty Jekyll (Dawn Addams) feels abandoned by her husband. They fight about Henry’s friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), who is buried in gambling debts. Kitty argues that Henry is supporting his spendthrift friend. In reality, Kitty has run to Paul for affection, becoming his mistress and hiding that fact by pretending to hate him. Meanwhile, Henry has become detached from his wife (and everyone else) because he is attempting to create a chemical potion which he hopes will help him learn the truth of the inner workings of the human mind.

Naturally, the potion works, and the result is the personality of Edward Hyde (also played by Paul Massie). Because this is somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, Hyde looks nothing like Jekyll. We’ll be able to tell them apart as the audience because Jekyll has a full beard and Hyde is clean shaven. They also have completely different voices, and as we will discover later in the film, completely different handwriting.

This version of Edward Hyde is not what anyone familiar with the story will expect. In most versions of this story, Hyde is brutish and terrible, a step or two above an animal and often physically deformed in some way. Not so in this case. Our Edward Hyde is sophisticated and genteel, but is morally corrupted. Hyde is always a sociopath in any version of this story, but in this one, he is a sociopath who finds a way to blend in with society (since those with money in this world frequently use that money to indulge in bad behavior) and who is smart enough to hide what he wants in most cases.

What Hyde wants is Kitty. Essentially, he buys up all of Paul’s debts, and when Paul is ready to default to his creditors, Hyde demands sexual access to Kitty. Kitty, however, is in love with Paul and rejects Hyde. From this point forward, whenever Hyde is in charge of things, he is working to enact revenge against Kitty Jekyll and her lover, while Jekyll struggles against his desires and the will of Hyde. Eventually, he destroys his formula and all of his notes, but discovers that Hyde can manifest himself through force of will. The final act of the film is this struggle—Hyde trying to set up a situation to frame Jekyll for crimes, forcing him to stay hidden and allowing Hyde free rein in the real world.

I genuinely enjoyed this version of Hyde. The brutish, animalistic Hyde is fun in many versions of this story, but I tend to wonder how someone who is essentially a monster isn’t immediately hunted down like an animal. A Hyde who comes across a lot more like a Dorian Gray character—physically attractive but morally reprehensible—makes so much more sense and opens up so many more possibilities. One of those possibilities is one that is taken advantage of here; with a young, attractive Hyde, it’s easier to make other people buy into the lies.

Along these lines, it really is a genuinely good performance from Paul Massie. We’re immediately able to distinguish Jekyll and Hyde because of their physical appearance, of course, but if they looked identical we’d still be able to do this. Massie plays them both completely differently. Both of these performances are scenery chewing, but he chews the scenery in vastly different ways for each.

Not everything works, though. One of the big problems is the revenge plot, which involves setting up someone to be killed by a snake. How are they killed? How does he get the snake to be provoked into attacking? Who knows? This is especially a problem because the snake in question is clearly a constrictor rather than venomous and is also not large enough to eat a person, making its likelihood of attacking someone pretty limited.

It's also the case that there is a lot of promised nudity here and none of it pays off. Now, I’ve never been someone who judges a movie on the absence or presence of skin, but when we’re given a lot of the promise of it and it never materializes, it’s hard not to take that personally. There are a lot of nude backs. I guess, given the year of release, that this is ultimately not that surprising.

There’s a lot here to like, though. The fact that it really goes for a different take on the Hyde personality and genuinely succeeds at it is worth the price of admission.

Why to watch The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll: Takes the story in a very different direction.
Why not to watch: The promise of a lot of nudity is not fulfilled.


  1. Replies
    1. Right? I mean, that's not a make/break for me, but if you're going to hint at them for the whole movie, you need to make good.