VHS: Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1973)

May 12, 2013 | By

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Film: Weak / DVD Transfer:  n/a / DVD Extras:  n/a

Label:  Sony / Region: NTSC / Released: n/a

Genre: Horror / Thriller / Musical / TV

Synopsis: Musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, filmed in Britain and originally broadcast on NBC.

Special Features: n/a

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Review:

It’s hard to know from where the concept of transforming the Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous tale into a musical TV special stemmed, but David Winters’ production has aged rather well, perhaps due in part to the success of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the horror tale set to music which premiered in 1979, and was made into a film in 2007.

Winters, who also directed, could also cite precedence with prior live TV specials in which prose was set to music, such as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1954) and Sondheim’s own grisly yet discrete Evening Primrose [M] (1966). There was also the perfectly drawn structure of the 1935 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film which has formed the basis for subsequent feature and TV productions. Like the more famous 1931 and 1941 films, the 1973 teleplay retains Dr. Jekyll’s love interest, and the doomed prostitute he locks up like a sex slave – characters reportedly wholly absent from Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – but screenwriter Sherman Yellen compacted the story for a tighter pacing, and to accommodate musical numbers by Lionel Bart (Oliver!). None of this would be really shocking or cultish were it not for the eponymous characters being played by tough guy Kirk Douglas, whose company co-produced this oddity.

Perhaps a need to stretch himself after years of stereotypical roles, Douglas isn’t bad as Jekyll and Hyde, and the teleplay could’ve succeeded as a mediocre translation augured by a supporting cast that’s heavily comprised of top British theatrical and filmic talent, but although the music is beautifully orchestrated and quite lyrical, the lyrics of almost every song are inane. Worse, Douglas clearly can’t sing, so harmonic parts are either delivered by surrounding characters, or Douglas mutters words in character. With two rare exceptions (and those songs were likely dubbed by a professional singer), Douglas doesn’t croon anything, but the writers’ contrivances to make Jekyll / Hyde sing are oftem very, very silly.

A bicycle song between Jekyll and fiancee Isabel (Susan Hamphire) is moronic, although the worst offences are an intro piece involving three speculating fellow doctors conjecturing outside of Jekyll’s home; and a lengthy perambulating camera that follows Jekyll and Isabel as they move down a detailed Pinewood street set. Most of the lyrics in these two sequences are nonsensical – a child could’ve scribbled the rhyming passages during a jelly bean high – and they break up any gravitas Douglas is maintaining.

There’s also the innate edginess of Robert Louis Steven’s tale which is almost neutered by the cheery tenor of the score’s first half. There’s simply no reason to carry on the bucolic nature of merry local folk when Hyde progresses from murderer to sadist, child abductor, and woman-beater. There’s also an emotional discontinuity between the prostitute (clearly a sex slave) and a merry dance the pair have near the end.

Susan George is fine as hooker Anne, but she has little to do, even with brief scenes featuring new character Fred Smudge (Donald Pleasence), Hyde’s lowbrow assistant who acts as bouncer, enforcer, and Anne’s jailer.

Like the 1941 Spencer Tracy version, Douglas sports a similarly designed Hyde face – widened eyes and mouth instead of more simian features – and it works fine, but ultimately it’s the terrible lyrics that doom this production. The plus side is that at 78 mins., the show’s easily digestible, but this Emmy Nominated production (Costume Design, Makeup, and Music Direction) is really a curio.

More ‘straight’ TV adaptations that followed include a 1968 production with scene-eating Jack Palance, a 1981 version starring David Hemmings, Anthony Andrews essaying the role in 1989, and a 2-part 1990 mini-series with Michael Caine.

Former choreographer / actor David Winters also directed Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare (1975) and The Last Horror Film (1982), whereas Sherman Yellen’s other classical literature adaptations include the TV versions of Great Expectations (1974) and Phantom of the Opera (1983).

Kirk Douglas’ other forays into TV include Mousey (1974), Victory at Entebbe (1976), Remembrance of Love (1982), Draw (1984), Amos (1985), Queenie (1987), Inherit the Wind (1988), The Secret (1992), and Take Me Home Again (1992).

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB Composer Filmography

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