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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (August 26, 2010)

Ingrid Bergman was born in 1915 in Sweden and had a career as a film actress in her native country in the 1930s. In 1936, she made a film, Intermezzo, where she played the young protégé of a married concert musician with whom she fell in love. A Swedish elevator boy who worked in the building where producer David Selznick’s New York offices were, told Kay Brown, Selznick’s New York representative, about how his parents were overwhelmed by the twenty-one-year-old heroine of Intermezzo. Brown reported back to Selznick that Bergman was “the beginning and end of all things wonderful”. Selznick bought the story and signed the actress. In 1939 Selznick produced a remake of Intermezzo in Hollywood with Bergman opposite Leslie Howard. It was the beginning of her American career.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. This story of the good and evil aspects of the human personality was an instant success, and spawned theatrical adaptations almost immediately. Thomas Russell Sullivan’s 1887 stage play, which opened in Boston, introduced love interests for Jekyll which had not been included in the original story. The 1931 Paramount film, starring Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins, and directed by Rouben Mamoulian, followed the Sullivan story.

MGM bought the rights and Victor Fleming made this film for that studio from February to April, 1941. It was released the following August. The love interests – the good girl and the bad girl – were retained from the Sullivan play. Ingrid Bergman was slated to play the good girl, and Lana Turner the bad girl, but the two actresses arranged to switch roles. The 1931 film had more critical and popular success than the 1941 remake. Spencer Tracy was not happy with his performance or his makeup. The New York Times of the time wrote, “Faced with the choice of creating hokum unabashed or a psychological study of a man caught in mortal conflict with himself, the producers have tried to do both—and failed by nearly two hours of pompous symbolism. As a result there were a good many giggles in the house—and at the wrong places—when Spencer Tracy, as the experimenting Dr. Jekyll, downed the bubbling elixir and, after gasping like a fish out of water, gradually assumed the shape of the bestial Mr. Hyde.” The same reviewer, however, noted the film’s strengths: “It has, for instance, one Ingrid Bergman: as the luckless barmaid pursued and tortured by an evil she could not understand, the young Swedish actress proves again that a shining talent can sometimes lift itself above an impossibly written role. There is also at least one superbly photographed chase of the maddened Hyde running amok through the fog-bound London streets, his cape billowing behind him like a vision of terror. The film has, finally, the extraordinarily polished production that only Hollywood's technical wizards can achieve.”

The film did get three Oscar nominations, Joseph Ruttenberg for black and white cinematography, Harold F. Kreiss for film editing, and Franz Waxman for musical score. And as an introduction to Miss Bergman’s imperishable Hollywood career, it isn’t a bad place to start. I hope you enjoy watching the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with me tonight.