Even though I haven’t read Stevenson’s novel in some time, I was immediately aware that this adaptation had taken a lot of liberties. The first detail I remember from the novel is Hyde trampling a small child, and that doesn’t happen until the end of the film. Some of the changes make the story more film-friendly. Jekyll and Hyde the novel is (again from what I recall) told a great deal in retrospect through embedded documents (a common device of the Gothic novel). That wouldn’t work very well in a silent film. Much better to tell the story in order and in dramatic action.
However, other changes transform Jekyll into a far more sympathetic and innocent person, and I’m not sure I care for . I don’t mind transformative adaptations as a rule, but the changes also seem to result in the promotion of some problematic ‘MERICAN stereotypes–or am I way off here? From what I recall, Stevenson’s Jekyll is a fairly typical mad scientist type figure. He wants to experiment with his savage side. However, in this film, Jekyll is a sort of male ingénue (interesting that there is no male equivalent of that term). Although there is no indication that Jekyll is American, he seems a symbolic American to me, especially when his charitable works amongst the poor are juxtaposed with scenes featuring the corrupt British dandies enjoying their cigars and brandy. (And Barrymore would have been known as a famous American actor, later the grandfather of little Drew.) Moreover, Jekyll is much more innocent in this version, falling victim to the temptations of Sir George Carew, the more worldly aristocrat. It’s a common enough trope–innocent New World American corrupted by Old World aristocratic figures–employed in a variety of early American works. But I’m surprised that it remains necessary in 1920.
According to a friend of mine, Barrymore, who had just done some Shakespearean work, said that he imagined Jekyll as Hamlet, Hyde as Richard III. That seems to come through quite well.
Anyway, I’ll end there and leave room for other people’s thoughts, but just some quick comments:
1) Am I the only one who thought that Gina’s dancing fell far short of intoxicating?
2) Why add Millicent? In the book, Jekyll has a friend who tells the tale, right? And isn’t she just a snore? And what kind of father encourages his daughter’s beau to become more corrupt? What the what?
3) How terrifying was that spider?
4) I think it’s safe to say that Hyde’s cane is a phallic symbol, no? Jack?
5) No pinhole fades in this film as in Caligari. Think it’s just a stylistic difference?