AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dr. Henry Jekyll dedicates his life to the curing of all known illnesses. However, after his lecherous friend Professor Robertson remarks that Jekyll’s experiments take so long to actually be discovered he will no doubt be dead by the time he is able to achieve anything, Jekyll abandons his studies and obsessively begins searching for an elixir of life, using female hormones taken from fresh cadavers supplied by murderers Burke and Hare, reasoning that they will help him to extend his life since women traditionally live longer than men and have stronger systems. He mixes the hormones into a serum and drinks it. It not only has the effect of changing Jekyll’s character [for the worse], but also his gender, transforming him into a beautiful but evil woman….
The Americn poster for this film claimed that: “The sexual transformation of a mn into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes”, which is a bit of a lie really, but never mind. So Hammer finally made a third Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde-inspired effort following The Ugly Duckling and The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll. The latter was an interesting take on the story with some originality, though this one tops it for sheer audaciousness, not only providing a variant on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale which was re-used a couple of times later, but also bringing in Jack the Ripper [it’s odd how Hammer made two Ripper-orientated pictures which were not only released within a few weeks of each other but were both shot at exactly the same time], plus Burke and Hare the famous grave robbers. Writer Brian Clemens even seems to borrow a bit from Hammer’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death. He handles his cheeky mixing [there’s even a quick reference to Sweeney Todd] of several characters combined with a bit of gender bending with a well balanced tone that is sufficiently light to accommodate all the daftness [and this is one really is campy] while not veering into out and out comedy and making us sufficiently involved in the proceedings. It feels rather rushed in places and only skirts around the edges of some of the daring elements, but it’s probably one of the most sheerly entertaining of the ’70’s Hammers and its two leads, who do indeed look rather like each other, are perfectly chosen and perform their roles with gusto.
Clemens had been the main writer on The Avengers, with which Hammer shared studio space at Elstree. When that show was cancelled, he mentioned the idea of Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde to Hammer head James Carreras, who told him to come to his office for a meeting two days later. When Clemens attended the appointment, as he walked into the office he saw that the poster for the potential film was already made up and that he’d got the job to write the screenplay, with Clemens’s usual partner Albert Fennel producing. Rank were unsure about it, so EMI took it, while Jimmy Sangster, Peter Sasdy, Alan Gibson and Gordon Hessler were all considered to direct until Roy Ward Baker, now well in to the second phase of his filmmaking career in which he was mainly a horror director, got the job. Caroline Munro was the first choice to play Sister Hyde, but she declined due to the nudity required. Martine Beswick then took the part but then objected to having to do some full frontal shots, something which caused her and Baker to not speak to each other for a week. The BBFC requested cuts to three of the murder scenes, one of which intercut a shot of a rabbit being gutted, but once Hammer re-edited the stabbing of Professor Robertson to comprise largely of flash shots of earlier killings, the BBFC passed the film with no further cuts. It was double billed with Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, but did only average business. No matter how hard Hammer were trying to bring some freshness to their product, the public was no longer that interested – despite the US release through AIP being rated ‘PG’, with the nudity removed and the gore lessened from two minutes being cut.
As with Hands Of The Ripper, we open in typical Ripper movie fashion with a murder, though this time we build up to it first with a hooker being stalked and cuts to a butcher doing some rabbit skinning. After the murder it’s revealed that our ‘hero’ is the killer and we then flashback to how he got to this state as he writes his diary. Jekyll really does seem to have good intentions, though the early part of this film is rather like watching one of Hammer’s Frankenstein movies as Jekyll obsessively works and works and begins to use morgue assistant Byker, who has rather too much liking for dead female bodies, and then Burke and Hare, to supply him with bodies, soon to become freshly murdered bodies when the other kind run in short supply. He fails to notice that a fly who’s life he prolongs has also changed sex until his friend Robertson points it out. He also fails to properly notice Susan the pretty girl who lives upstairs with her brother and mother. It’s nice to have the woman be the one to break the ice and do some gentle pursuing for a change. Then Jekyll himself takes the potion which he’s made from the hormones, and we get quite a startling sequence despite us not being shown any actual transformation here – or indeed anywhere else, possibly a good thing as I’m not sure Hammer special effects would have been up to the job [the makeup department doesn’t even pull off very well the final shot of Jekyll’s face being a combination of his and Hyde’s]. Instead, we see Jekyll almost choking to death before we get a close-up of his back and the back of his head as he crawls towards a mirror, in which we see Sister Hyde to a glorious bit of piano on the soundtrack. Martine Beswick is quite astonishing as she shows Hyde’s freedom and comfortableness in this great new body.
We soon get a twisted though also amusing variant on a love triangle, as the liking of Susan for Jekyll is echoed by Howard’s lust for Hyde whom Jekyll has been passing off as his sister. However, Burke is then hung by a mob and Hare blinded, so Jekyll, who still seems to believe that his actions are justifiable as they’re for the greater good, becomes Jack the Ripper as he murders prostitues for their hormones. Anyone familiar with the actual Ripper killings will find loads of inaccuracies, though come to think of it didn’t Burke and Hare do their grave robbings in the 1930’s, five decades before the Ripper hit town? It’s obvious that you’re not supposed to take none of the goings-ons in this film with total seriousness so I guess it doesn’t matter too much. At one point Hyde knocks up a semi respectable-looking evening gown out of an old pair of velvet curtain in a few seconds. Soon Hyde begins to take over and even commit some other killings, though this is a slightly tamer film than Hands Of The Ripper on the gore front – blood is certainly spilt and plentifully, but the most gruesome details are usually avoided. You just know that virginal Susan is eventually going to be in danger, though in the end it’s the Hyde side of Jekyll which proves his undoing as he tries to escape police by climbing along the outside of a building. The third act does seem to hurtle through events, with some things only partially shown as if they ran out of money to shoot everything in full, and requires one character to conveniently say something which connects the dots in a pub at just the same time as a passing copper.
The kinky aspects remain quite subdued, though there’s a funny moment when Jekyll begins to come onto Howard for a couple of seconds then leaves, after which Howard realises that Jekyll was looking at dresses in a shop window. It’s possible to see Hyde’s freedom from Jekyll and her doing exactly as she wants as symbolic of women’s liberation, and it’s also possible to see the story as being about somebody struggling with their sexual identity, even if Clemens never intended these interpretations. Of course it’s now almost part and parcel that a Victorian-set Hammer film do a bit of ribbing of Victorian society for its hypocrisy and misogny. A great deal of the film takes place on London streets constantly containing copious amounts of fog while mouthy, drink-sodden whores constantly fall out of pubs. The fog helps provide the proper atmosphere as well as aid in disguising the cheapness of the sets which still seem to be a bit more expansive than normal for Hammer, designer Robert Jones no doubt stretching his meagre budget as far as it could go. I’m no expert, but it also seemed to me that the fashions are all the place – but then again considering the liberty taken with the time of certain events, this was probably intentional. As with The Vampire Lovers though, Baker seemed to enjoy making this one and, backed up by cinematographer Norman Warwick, directs quite stylishly in places, from low angles, to a distorted view of Jekyll’s face through a stainglass window, to a set piece in a prostitute’s room with a flickering red light.
Bates, his rather fey features appropriate for a man who may just prefer being a woman, does very well in the scenes where Jekyll’s trying to fight off Hyde’s influence, and is convincingly ruthless when he goes out murdering, but it’s really Beswick, who never did anything as good again, whom you remember. She just evokes evil and totally owns the part, even managing to pull off things which might have seemed silly or awkward in the hands of others, such as when she gropes her own breasts. The moment doesn’t come across as gratuitous or stupid, instead it seems like something Hyde would do at that moment. Gerald Sim is amusing as the sex-mad Robertson,and Susan Brodrick rather sweet as Susan with her growing love for this strange man who tirelessly works in his room and is as likely to suddenly chuck her out as he is to welcome her. The score for this movie is by David Whitaker and is the first of three he did for Hammer. The title theme is an elegant waltz which is an odd choice and only heard once during the film, the main theme being another, darker waltz, a theme for Hyde musically evoking both her beauty and her dangerousness. Whitaker is great at the barnstorming moments and even the suspense cues often carry a slight sophistication about them. If you think about it Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde could have ended up as rubbish, it could so easily have gone horribly wrong, but the conviction of its writer, director and its two main stars make it succeed rather well indeed.
Studio Canal again come up trumps with what is possibly the best looking out of the four Hammer Blu-rays from them I’ve reviewed so far. I couldn’t spot a single flaw. The clarity of the picture really shows what a fine job of photography Norman Warwick did throughout [this really didn’t come cross so well on the DVD], and I think overall that these are exemplary restorations – they still look like old movies, just the best they have probably ever looked. Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde is the usual featurette featuring the usual four suspects. They dig out some new background facts, and Beswick herself appears to talk about the film including the controversial nudity situation. Barnes points out an Oliver influence in the sets, which I’d admit I didn’t pick up on but is obvious now he mentioned it. Everyone seems to really like this one though I wish these featurette’s were a bit longer. Owners of the Anchor Bay DVD may want to keep their copy for the Baker/Clemens/Beswick commentary. For me though this film ties with two others as Hammer’s best ’70’s effort, so I’d say that this particular release is a must buy for casual and obsessive Hammer aficionados alike.
*New Featurette – Ladykiller: Inside Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde