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Hyde the Vicious Charmer

Jack Palance makes an exceptionally fearsome, charming, and loathsome Hyde in 1968's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. With a cast that also includes Denholm Elliot and Leo Genn, it's one of the more impressive productions, with great production design. Its biggest flaw, and it is a pervasive one, is that it was shot on videotape instead of film, though at times this makes it even creepier.

Seemingly influenced by The Nutty Professor and perhaps, to a lesser extent, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, the primary difference between Jekyll and Hyde in this film is inhibition. Unlike the novella and film versions prior to The Two Faces, this is a Hyde who is intensely charming--everyone at the music hall loves him. He even jumps on stage to perform a bit, much to the crowd's delight.

Poor Dr. Jekyll is shy and awkward by contrast--no fiancee for him in this film--Lanyon (Leo Genn) even remarks on Jekyll's lack of experience with women. I wonder if this movie was an influence on Jim Carrey's film version of The Mask--the Hyde makeup here even calls it to mind.

Unlike the suave dandy from The Two Faces, this Hyde is a boisterous, hearty rogue. There's a prostitute character in this one, a descendent of the one in the 1920, 1931, and 1941 versions, in this case named Gwyn (Billie Whitelaw). Unlike the versions played by Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman, it's clear that Gwyn is attracted to him and it makes sense when they move in together. When he does assault her and her initial defiance turns into a frightened denial, it feels much more disturbingly credible.

He's quite vicious with men, too, and few Hydes come off as so zealously sadistic. One of the more effective moments comes when Hyde corners a victim and a full body shot of Hyde snap zooms onto his face after he smashes a globe with his cane.

The cane is important in this version, too, though it's for yet another reason--in this case it's a cane sword, a rather thick one that looks like it would be pretty effective as a cudgel even without the blade. We see Hyde taking fencing lessons, a surprisingly disciplined endeavour for him, emphasising again the concept here is mainly about boldness.

Denholm Elliot plays the Utterson character, for absolutely no apparent reason renamed Devlin. There's certainly nothing devilish about him and Elliot exudes warmth, sympathy, and determination as only he can when he tries to advise Jekyll. Though this is another version that misses that key bit of characterisation from the novella, that Utterson is more tolerant than Jekyll.

Jekyll starts off with the idea to separate the good and evil in people into pure components but after his first taste of life as Hyde he comes more around to the Two Faces Jekyll's point of view of might makes right and living amorally, though it doesn't get deeply enough into the philosophical argument for flaws in it to be obtrusive. Palance does a good job as Jekyll, adding a stiffness to his manner that communicates his shyness. But its in his fantastically malevolent Hyde where he really shines.
Tags: denholm elliot, dr jekyll and mr hyde, horror, jack palance, leo genn, movies, robert louis stevenson, television
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