As I noted a short while earlier, there have been a great many adaptations of the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This one was a made-for-TV movie, which would normally dissuade me from checking it out, but I decided to give it a chance anyway due to the actor cast in the title role, Michael Caine, who is usually worth watching. And indeed Caine turned in a very solid performance in the movie… unfortunately it seems he was also slumming it a bit, as the movie itself rather let him down in some ways.
It’s not the fault of his co-stars. All of them likewise gave worthy performances in their roles. Cheryl Ladd, probably best known from the original Charlie’s Angels, plays Sara Crawford, Jekyll’s sister-in-law and love interest. In this variation of the story, Jekyll is a widower, having lost his wife to pneumonia. Sara, the other daughter of Jekyll’s father-in-law and scientific rival Dr. Lanyon (Joss Ackland), is a married woman but her husband is off in Singapore, and she feels no love for him; she has always loved Jekyll. Lanyon blames Jekyll for the death of his daughter, and suspects adultery between Sara and Henry (he’s wrong, initially.)
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which oddly lacks an initial “The” in the original release) is one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s best-known short stories, and a cultural touchstone that everybody is familiar with; who hasn’t heard of someone having a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality complex? The case of the good-natured doctor and his devilish alter-ego is one which captivated the imagination of the public as soon as it was published, and has never quite let go.
Having the story in my Nook collection, and a version of it in my Hulu queue, and having seen occasional versions before, I thought it might be a worthy consideration for a “Version vs. Version” treatment. But it’s proving to be an odd one (a neat trick for the second entry in the category), as the question became one of what versions to compare. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most adapted stories in history. I took a look at IMDB, doing searches for feature films and TV movies with “Jekyll” or “Hyde” in them, and eliminating any duplicates and any where it was coincidental (such as “Hyde Park”), keeping only those that were based on the story. I came up with 42 different movies, 3 of which are currently in production. Since 1920, there hasn’t been a decade with at least one; Hollywood has seldom gone more than 5 years without one. And that’s just ones with one or both names in the title, it doesn’t count Jekyll & Hyde stories without the names in title (such as 1989′s Edge of Sanity), or cases where the story was used but the names were changed (such as 1971′s I, Monster, starring Peter Cushing). And given the usual defaults of IMDB’s advanced search, I think it’s only giving me the ones released in the U.S. Wikipedia claims there are 123 Jekyll & Hyde films, and it’s entirely believable.
So it became difficult to pick and choose which versions to compare, until I read the story in question and realized that it might make the most sense to simply compare the story on one hand, and the entirety of its adaptations on the other. Why?
Because it’s quite possible that there has never been a truly faithful adaptation of the short story, and it may be that there never will be. Continue reading