Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde 1912

Director: Lucius Henderson
"Dr Jekyll secretly puts his theory to the test..."
The earliest surviving example of R.L. Stevenson's story. The eponymous two-faced doctor succeeds in splitting his personality in two, but does not anticipate which side will become dominant...

Dr Jekyll's experiments allow him to separate the good and evil sides of his personality using a chemical potion. His evil alter-ego Hyde gradually becomes the dominant side, manifesting even without the potion being ingested. He assaults a little girl and subsequently attacks Jekyll's fiancee, killing her father the minister in the ensuing fracas. Jekyll realises he cannot maintain the deception and resolves to leave his loved ones, but Hyde gains control one final time...

The Robert Louis Stevenson Archive lists an impressive twenty one stage productions and five films based on Jekyll and Hyde (including parodies) prior to 1910. Thanhouser's is the earliest film version still in existence, a brisk run through the story based on the Thomas Sullivan stage play of 1887.

The main difference in structure is that readers of Stevenson's novel only discover that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person in the final chapter, whereas all of the filmed versions, including this one, abandon the mystery angle completely in favour of the stage play's transformation spectacle. This is accomplished here with a simple dissolve. James Cruze's characterisation of Hyde is a rudimentary concoction of fangs, greasepaint and fright wig, but he attacks the role, and his co-stars (particularly little Marie Eline, 'The Thanhouser Girl') with enthusiasm.

James Cruze as Hyde - or is it Harry Benham?
Cruze spent four more years with Thanhouser before leaving to pursue a career as a director. He continued to work well into the '30's, his best-known film arguably being The Covered Wagon (1923) starring Alan Hale. In later years, his co-star Harry Benham claimed he was the one wearing the Hyde makeup, though this was never proved. Some historians propose that both actors appear as Hyde in different scenes, though in the (admittedly grainy) prints currently available, it does appear to be Cruze himself doing the honours. Who knows?

End Credits:
James Cruze (Jekyll/Hyde), Marguerite Snow (Hyde's Sweetheart), Harry Benham (The Minister), Marie Eline (Little Girl), Jane Gail, Florence La Badie (uncredited).
Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Thanhouser Company, USA
Running Time 12 mins.

The best available print (10 mins approx) on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1913 and 1911 (Retroflix)

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