Monday, October 17, 2016

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Year 8, Day 291 - 10/17/16 - Movie #2,469

BEFORE: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello carry over from "Hold That Ghost", and after tonight, I'm done with them, at least for a while.  Or at least until TCM decides to run a few more of their movies, the ones I may not have seen when I was a kid.  Their movies ran frequently on Sunday mornings on the Boston UHF stations, but as an adult I feel the need to parse their whole filmography out, and make sure I didn't miss any of them. 

Two bumbling American cops hunt for the mysterious Mr. Hyde in London, England.

AFTER: It looks now like I won't get to the Spencer Tracy version of "Dr. Jekyll & Mister Hyde", not this Halloween season, anyway.  But this comedy film, with Boris Karloff as the title split-personality doctor, at least gives me some insight into the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson.  (We also went years ago to see the Broadway musical of the same name...)  What I can discern here is the exact type of monster that Mr. Hyde is - not just a killer, but I'm betting he's also a sexual predator.  He represents the urges that a gentleman of the Victorian era is not supposed to have, or at least the ones he's not supposed to display.  (Oh, I get it, "Hyde" means "hide", the base instincts and evil thoughts that society demands we keep hidden.  How come I never noticed that before?)

But now I wonder if the transformation is like hypnotism - they say that a hypnotist can't make you do something you don't want to do.  This could mean that Dr. Jekyll is just repressed, and this potion that he takes not only transforms him into a monster, it's releasing a side of his personality that was always there, but kept in check by the need to conform to society's rules.  But there's more to it here, and that brings me around to the sexual predator thing, a topic which is all over the news this week, after people finally figured out that Trump's been giving interviews for years about his sexual escapades, and I guess some intern finally hit pay dirt while cataloging the archives of the Howard Stern show and the entertainment tabloid shows.  

Now, Victorian London was a different time, for sure.  It's got a reputation now as a bit of a backward time, where British people were well-mannered, perhaps a little snooty, but generally polite and probably sexually repressed.  It was the age of the corset, for example, but this film suggests there were also leggy dancing girls, similar to the "Can-Can" girls of France, and of course since it was also the age of Jack the Ripper, we know there were plenty of prostitutes.  But interestingly, it was also the time of woman suffrage, so apparently women were gaining rights on one front, but probably losing on several others at the same time.  

Here we see the male lead sign a petition for women's voting rights, and when the woman with the clipboard asks him for his address, he also asks for her address.  OK, that's maybe a little creepy, but again, it was a different time.  This did lead to a relationship, so maybe his being forward was a little more acceptable than it would be now.  The woman, Vicky, is a singer in the dance hall, but she's also Dr. Jekyll's surrogate daughter of sorts, and when Jekyll sees that someone is interested in her, he turns into Mr. Hyde to hunt him down and kill him.  Vicky, of course, has probably been wondering for years why she never gets a second date, as all of her boyfriends seem to turn up dead after the first one.  

Even creepier, Jekyll eventually reveals that he raised Vicky from a small girl, in the hopes that one day, maybe she'd fall in love with him.  OK, that's even creepier than stalking her, we're into some real Woody Allen-type stuff here.  Next we'll find out that Dr. Jekyll's been brewing up some potions in his lab that make women fall asleep, or that he owns the dance hall and he gets to go backstage while the women are changing clothes...

Abbott and Costello are sort of reduced to supporting roles here, as American policemen who've been loaned out to the U.K. bobbies so they can learn about different policing techniques.  But after being kicked off the force, they decide that the only way to get back on is to track down the monster who's been killing people in London.  My question, which is good enough to serve as a NITPICK POINT, I suppose - how does everyone seem to know it's a monster?  They freely admit, it could be a man, it could be a woman (yeah, as if...) or it could be an animal, like a wolf that got loose from the zoo.  So how come everyone's convinced it's a monster, when that's the most unlikely of all the possibilities?  

During the chaos, Slim (Abbott) and Tubby (Costello) go looking for Dr. Jekyll's lab, Tubby gets turned into a giant mouse, and later a monster himself, which leads to a wacky chase scene across the London rooftops.  Yeah, because that was the problem with the Jekyll & Hyde story, there just wasn't enough slapstick in it as originally written.

Abbott and Costello, having previously "met" Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, Captain Kidd, and "The Killer" (also played by Karloff) in other films, would later go on to meet the Mummy, while Jekyll and Hyde would later inspire such monsters as The Incredible Hulk (who's half Jekyll & Hyde, half Frankenstein's monster, if you stop and think about it.)  

Also starring Boris Karloff (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Craig Stevens (last seen in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), Helen Westcott, Reginald Denny (also last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), John Dierkes (last seen in "Macbeth"), with a cameo from Henry Corden (last seen in "Made in Paris")

RATING: 5 out of 10 wax dummies    

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