Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1913

Director: Herbert Brenon
"In the dead silence of the night, Dr Jekyll plans to set free his evil self..."
A pious Dr Jekyll unleashes a comically bizarre Hyde in this seldom-seen version. It bears the proud distinction of being the first real horror movie released by the studio that was later to become Universal Pictures.

When not with his sweetheart Alice, Dr Jekyll devotes his time to his many charity patients, though his real interest lies in his theories about separating Man's good and evil natures. He explains his ideas to his colleagues Utterson and Lanyon, who casually dismiss them; but later that night, Jekyll successfully frees Hyde, his evil self. Hyde soon secures lodgings of his own where he is free to pursue his debauched activities. Later, when he violently beats a crippled boy in the street, angry bystanders force him to pay for the boy's treatment.

Jekyll eventually begins to transform into Hyde without the aid of the drug. He resolves to end his relationship with Alice and write out a will, making Hyde the sole benefactor. But after Hyde kills a visitor at Alice's home, Jekyll begs Lanyon's help and so is obliged to reveal his secret. Hyde narrowly evades capture several more times, before discovering to his horror that he has used up the last of the antidote...

IMP (Independent Motion Pictures) was the film company founded by Carl Laemmle in 1909 in protest against being excluded from Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Trust, which was formed that same year. Laemmle was later instrumental in breaking the Trust's monopoly on film distribution, and was among the first studio heads to establish a base in Hollywood. More significantly, IMP later morphed into Universal pictures, so one can argue that here lies the first ever Universal Horror film.

King Baggott as Jekyll holds the mob at bay
A longer running time than previous quickie versions allows some flesh to be added to the bare bones of the story, but the production rarely rises above the conventional, and is hampered to a great extent by it's star. While the hugely popular King Baggot (IMP's biggest attraction, hailed at the time as "The Most Photographed Man In The World") makes a suitably upstanding and pious Jekyll, his Hyde is a buck-toothed, twitching travesty who spends most of the film bent double as though inhabiting the back of a pantomime horse. It's hard to imagine how even the least sophisticated movie-goer of 1913 would be able to take him seriously.

Nevertheless, this version of Jekyll and Hyde reportedly did well at the box-office. Its Director, ex-pat Dubliner Herbert Brenon, would find greater recognition when his drama Sorrell and Son got a nomination at the first Oscar ceremony in 1929He'd directed Lon Chaney, Sr. in Laugh, Clown, Laugh the year before.

At around the time the IMP Jekyll and Hyde was on general release, a rival British production from Kineto-Kinemacolour also appeared. This version used an early colour system involving two interlocking red and green projectors. The cumbersome equipment required to show it meant that the film received only limited distribution.

End Credits:
King Baggot (Jekyll/Hyde), Jane Gail (Alice), Matt Snyder (Alice's father), Howard Crampton (Dr Lanyon), William Sorelle (Utterson)
Producer: Carl Laemmle, Screenplay: Herbert Brenon. Based on the novel by R.L. Stevenson
Running Time 33 mins.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1911 and 1913 (Retroflix)

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