The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)
By: Rip on October 12, 2011  | 
Beyond | Region 4, PAL | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 119 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Charles Jarrott
Starring: Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, Leo Genn, Torin Thatcher
Screenplay: Ian McLellan Hunter
Country: UK
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Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novella about good and evil, The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde was first published in 1886. More commonly known today as simply Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, the tale concerns a London lawyer who takes up an investigation involving a series of strange incidents occurring between his old friend Dr Henry Jekyll and a mysterious, misanthropic character by the name of Edward Hyde. The story is commonly associated with the mental condition known (in layman's terms) as, 'split personality', wherein within the same person there are at least two distinct personalities. The novella's impact was such that it has become a part of everyday language, with the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next. In Stevenson's tale, Dr Jekyll becomes obsessed with the subject and seeks to separate the good side of his personality from his darker impulses. Through the use of a potion, he discovers a way to transform himself periodically into a person free of conscience, this being Mr Hyde. However, the transformation doesn't quite work as Jekyll had hoped and thus a second, evil identity is created in Hyde. At first, he is delighted in becoming Hyde and rejoices in the moral freedom that the creature possesses. But eventually, he finds himself turning into Mr Hyde involuntarily, even without taking the potion. As the antidote to change back becomes increasingly ineffective, Jekyll no longer has control of the situation, and with Mr Hyde taking over, murder and mayhem ensue...

Within a year of the novel's publication and subsequent worldwide success, stage adaptations were mounted in London and the USA, and the tale went on to inspire scores of major films, television series' and yet more stage productions. The first known film version of the tale was the silent 1920 production, Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, starring the legendary John Barrymore. The most celebrated version was to follow in 1931 with Rouben Mamoulian's brilliant, Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, featuring an astonishing performance from the great Frederic March, who even won an Oscar for his efforts. The actor, effortlessly playing both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, completely disappears when he becomes Hyde and is aided immensely by Wally Westmore's absolutely hideous make-up. In 1941, came Victor Fleming's unfairly maligned version starring Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman, with countless more to follow over the coming years, from parodies in Bugs Bunny cartoons and 1953's Abbott & Costello Meet Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (with Boris Karloff, no less), to oddball twists on the tale, such as Hammer Films' Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde in 1971, to TV mini-series' such as Jekyll & Hyde in 1990 with Michael Caine, and the more recent BBC production, the excellent Jekyll (2007). But perhaps one of the best and most little seen, is a 1968 television production from Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows and Kolchak: The Night Stalker fame, starring Jack Palance, and going under the novel's original title of, The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde.

This is a very strong production, and given that it's shot on videotape with a period setting mounted on fog-bound studio sets, it all comes off very well indeed thanks to Trevor Williams' excellent art direction. Horror great Dan Curtis produces here and also shares directing duties with Charles Jarrott. But obviously, we're all here for the mighty Jack Palance and he is very good as both Jekyll & Hyde. He gives a wonderfully warm performance as the kindly, though obsessed Dr Jekyll, but as Mr Hyde, he gives us a thoroughly repellent, cruel and sadistic fiend. Much like Dick Smith's convincing make-up, big Jack never goes too far and makes Hyde a frighteningly real being. Aiding Palance, is a very fine support cast, many of them great British character actors whom you'll recognize immediately, such as Denholm Elliot, Leo Genn and a very young and alluring Billie Whitelaw in one of her earliest screen appearances.

This fine television production would have looked terrific shot on film, but as mentioned earlier, and probably due to budgetary reasons, it was done on videotape and looks it. However, don't allow this to put you off. This one ranks high as far as screen adaptations of the book are concerned and it is thoroughly absorbing for its entire two-hour running time.
Being a videotaped TV production from 1968, what you see is what you get. Presented in a 1:33 full frame aspect ratio, it's grainy, sometimes murky and a little soft, but your eyes adjust to it and what you're watching here is so damn entertaining, you won't even care. Colours are a little faded, but otherwise acceptable. The overall quality is more than watchable and, if anything, we're lucky to even get this rare title at all.
The audio is 2 channel mono, but the clarity is good and dialogue is always understandable. Sound effects and the minimal music score (some of which is borrowed from Dark Shadows) is well integrated.
Extra Features
Zero. Rather disappointingly, Beyond Home Entertainment's R4 DVD release doesn't port over any of the interviews from its R1 counterpart, known as The Dan Curtis Macabre Collection, which also features three other TV films from Curtis, including Jack Palance again in Dracula.
The Verdict
If you're a fan of Jack Palance, Dan Curtis or Gothic horror yarns in general, this is a no-brainer really and probably belongs in your collection. It's one of the best versions you'll see of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale, and whilst the picture quality is that of yucky old videotape, it kind of just adds to the charm really. Recommended.
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