Do women hold the secret to eternal life? Given that, as far as I know, all women eventually die, I would say no. But this is not the conclusion reached by Dr. Jekyll in Hammer's 1971 film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. It's a film that mixes in two true stories of murder--that of Burke and Hare and of Jack the Ripper--with Robert Louis Stevenson's concept and, as if that isn't enough, in this version Jekyll becomes a woman when he transforms into Hyde. The result is a confused mess, alternating between empty ideas and embarrassing ideas.
My favourite thing is the music when Jekyll (Ralph Bates) transforms into Hyde (Martine Beswick). Cascading piano and strings, stock "woman" music, a bit like the theme to a daytime soap opera. Look out world, sisters are murdering prostitutes for themselves!
I suppose it's a bit sexist but it's hard to pin anything even coherent as sexism to this movie. Jekyll's not looking for any moral purification in this film, he's just trying to find the key to eternal life, plain and simple--he wants to live forever so he can continue his work finding cures for deadly diseases. That sounds a bit like turning the sun on to find a lamp to me but this guy gets even wackier. His reasoning that the key to eternal life lies in the bodies of women? Women don't go bald and they have "silken" skin.
Why stop there? Why not dare to ask how women naturally grow lipstick and nail polish?
As goofy as Jekyll sounds, it's not as bad as when Hyde turns out to have inexplicably longer and more lustrous hair than Jekyll.
Great Scott, he's isolated the Pantene molecule! After this movie I think the world was definitely ready for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I might almost think this movie was a parody in itself except Ralph Bates plays it so sincere.
Jekyll does have a moment of moral contemplation when he asks the innocent young woman from upstairs, Susan (Susan Brodrick), if it's right to kill a raft full of people to save a whole cruise ship, and she very quickly agrees yes, it is. She doesn't guess he's going about murdering women under some vague notion of it eventually leading to finding the secret of eternal life. It doesn't seem to be very eternal so far considering every transformation into Hyde is temporary, thus requiring Jekyll to go out and murder more prostitutes for parts. At first, Hyde is just a convenient disguise, then she develops a personality that wants dominance.
Director Roy Ward Baker and cinematographer Norman Warwick conjure some oddly gloomy atmosphere for this material that would seem better suited to the saturated colours of earlier Hammer films. But I can't say the film didn't make me smile--how much it did so on purpose I can't say.