'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' - Four Film Adaptations Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' - Four Film Adaptations

1 Conversation

In 1886 the classic gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was published. This told the tale of the good Dr Henry Jekyll and his evil counterpart Edward Hyde, although the original novel tells the tale from the perspective of his friend, lawyer Gabriel John Utterson.

Victorian Gothic Body Horror

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde began an era which saw the perfection of the Victorian gothic body horror novel, with a similar artistic movement known as Fin de siècle originating in France. Similar themes are found in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), in which a man leads an increasingly debauched lifestyle, with the consequences transferred to a painting, and The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) by HG Wells, where a doctor changes beasts into men. The most famous novel of the period, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), features an authority figure who transforms his victims into vampires.

All the World's A Stage

In May 1887 Thomas Russell Sullivan's highly influential stage adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde opened in Boston. British-American actor Richard Mansfield had acquired the US stage adaptation rights and hired Sullivan to write the play in a way that would allow him to play both Jekyll and Hyde. This changed the plot considerably so that Dr Jekyll is younger than in the novel, has a wider social network and is engaged to be married. After enjoying considerable success in Boston and New York, on 4 August, 1888 the show came to London. Three days later, on 7 August, the first of the Jack the Ripper murders took place and some newspapers blamed the play, even hinting that Mansfield was the murderer, using his theatrical skill and knowledge of make-up and costume to escape detection. Consequently in London the play was a financial failure, particularly as another, unauthorised stage adaptation of the novel by Daniel Bandmann had opened at the same time.

These were just the first adaptations of the novel. It has since seen numerous further adaptations including radio, novels, television and comics, as well as spoofs and references. Below are listed a few of the film adaptations that have been made.

The Characters

With the exception of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, few of the novella's original characters appear in the film adaptations. The characters created by Stevenson are:

  • Gabriel John Utterson - Jekyll's friend, a lawyer and bachelor.
  • Dr Henry Jekyll - a 50-year-old man who creates a potion to supress his unsuitable urges.
  • Mr Edward Hyde - The smaller, younger, evil side of Dr Jekyll.
  • Richard Enfield - Utterson's cousin.
  • Dr Hastie Lanyon - A friend of both Utterson and Jekyll. He dies of shock after witnessing the transformation.
  • Mr Poole - Jekyll's loyal butler.
  • Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard.
  • Sir Danvers Carew, MP - A kind, white-haired old man.

Where these characters appear in the films, they are shown in Bold. Also mentioned is whether the films pass the Bechdel Test. This can be summarised as whether the film involves two or more female characters who have a conversation together that does not include or mention any male characters.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

DirectorRouben Mamoulian
StudioParamount Pictures

Dr Jekyll is convinced everyone has good and evil sides. After discussing this at a party hosted by his fiancée Muriel's father, Brigadier-General Sir Danvers Carew, Carew decides not only to prevent Jekyll and Muriel marrying early, but takes Muriel away. On the way home Jekyll meets bar singer Ivy and saves her from being attacked outside her home, but manages to resist her flirtations.

As Muriel is away Jekyll plunges himself into his work and develops a concoction that releases his evil side, resulting in his transformation into the violent Edward Hyde. Hyde finds Ivy and keeps her as his mistress until he learns that Muriel and her father have returned to London. Once again as Jekyll, he regrets what he has put Ivy through and sends his butler, Poole, with £50 for her, but Ivy returns to meet Jekyll to thank him. On his way to a party to celebrate a new wedding date Jekyll transforms spontaneously into Hyde, who pursues revenge on Ivy. Can Jekyll and Muriel be together, will Jekyll regret trying to play God and will there be a happy ending?

Length92 minutes
SettingVictorian London
Bechdel TestMrs Hawkins and Ivy briefly discuss tea and newspapers.
Dr Henry JekyllFrederic March
Mr Edward Hyde
Ivy PiersonMiriam Hopkins
Muriel Carew Rose Hobart
Dr LanyonHolmes Herbert
Brigadier-General CarewHalliwell Hobbes
PooleEdgar Norton
Mrs HawkinsTempe Pigott
UttersonArnold Lucy

Fredric March won the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde, making this the first horror movie ever to win a major award. The delightful make-up was by Wally Westmore, second-generation member of the Westmore make-up dynasty1 who the following year did the make-up on Island of Lost Souls (1932).

Robert Louis Stevenson's nephew appears in the film as an extra with a cockney accent. This film is good fun, even if Mr Hyde looked remarkably like Austin Powers without the glasses (apparently the inspiration for his appearance was a Neanderthal).

This adaptation was made before the full enforcement of the Hays Code (1934-68), which means the film has a surprising degree of nudity and sexual references. When the film was re-released five years later in 1936, eight minutes were edited out to allow the film to pass censorship regulations2. It was long believed that this edited material was lost forever, but the scenes were restored when the film was released on DVD.

Femme fatale Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins, who is a revelation in more ways than one), discusses newspapers and tea with Mrs Hawkins (Tempe Pigott), allowing the film to pass the Bechdel test. Such a shame that she never encounters Dr Jekyll's other love interest, Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart).

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

DirectorVictor Fleming
PlotDr Jekyll believes everyone has good and evil sides. He is in love with his fiancée Beatrix 'Bea' Emery. When her father Sir Charles takes her away after refusing to allow their early marriage, he plunges himself into his work. He creates a formula aiming to excise his immoral side. This instead transforms him into his evil counterpart who keeps a barmaid named Ivy as an imprisoned mistress, physically and (it is implied) sexually abusing her, until he learns that Beatrix is returning to London. Once again as Jekyll, and filled with remorse, he destroys his work and sends money to Ivy, hoping to make amends for Hyde's behaviour. He then transforms into Hyde unexpectedly on his way to a party to celebrate his forthcoming marriage.
Length108 minutes
SettingVictorian London
Bechdel TestPass
Dr JekyllSpencer Tracy
Mr Hyde
Ivy PearsonIngrid Bergman
Bea EmeryLana Turner
Sir Charles EmeryDonald Crisp
Dr LanyonIan Hunter
PoolePeter Godfrey
Sam HigginsBarton MacLane
Mrs HigginsSara Allgood
Marcia Frances Robinson

This is a remake of the 1931 film. When MGM made this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde adaptation they purchased the earlier film's screenplay and destroyed all available copies of this version from the then-bankrupt Paramount to prevent unfavourable comparisons. They made some minor tweaks to character names and also toned down the earlier film to make it more in line with the Hays Code, making Ivy a more respectable barmaid, although the theme of Hyde personifying Jekyll's lust and sex drive was retained.

The 1940s version is therefore cosier and much less daring. As for Mr Hyde, the transformation and use of split-screen works well, but Spencer Tracy is disguised as Hyde by a funny wig, a big nose and forehead prosthetic, which is less effective than the earlier film's stunning make-up. Not even someone who is fooled by Clark Kent taking off his glasses to transform into Superman would fail to spot that Jekyll is Hyde. This version does give more dialogue to more female characters so it passes the Bechdel test with ease - though they still have little impact on the plot.

Victor Fleming is best known for directing Gone With the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).

The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960)

DirectorTerence Fisher
StudioHammer Film Productions
PlotDr Jekyll is obsessed with his work, ignoring his wife and not realising she has become his disreputable friend Paul's mistress. When Jekyll conducts experiments on himself aimed at 'freeing the higher man', he instead is transformed into an unfeeling degenerate who revels in the freedom of breaking the rules and longs to experience the debauched side of London that Paul knows.
Length88 minutes
Setting1874, Victorian London
Bechdel TestFail
Dr Henry JekyllPaul Massie
Mr Edward Hyde
Kitty JekyllDawn Addams
Paul Allen Sir Christopher Lee
Dr Ernst LittauerDavid Kossoff
MariaNorma Marla
InspectorFrancis de Wolff
Man in NightclubOliver Reed (uncredited)

This is a disappointing film adaptation. The film's main flaw is that the lead, Paul Massie, isn't strong enough an actor to convincingly play both Jekyll and Hyde, a fact made apparent when he is surrounded by actors of such calibre as Christopher Lee (possibly the definitive Dracula) and Oliver Reed in an early, uncredited film role. Oliver Reed so impressed director Terence Fisher that he was cast in increasingly larger roles in Fisher's next films, Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), launching his career that led to international stardom. Massie's career, on the other hand, failed to take off.

Hyde is portrayed as young, blonde and handsome to emphasise the attraction of evil. Presumably Hyde is named after his high-pitched voice. Jekyll is older, with darker hair and a strange, low voice.

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

DirectorRoy Ward Baker
StudioHammer Film Productions

Dr Jekyll is obsessed with creating an elixir of life that will prevent ageing. He creates a serum using female fly hormones that successfully extends the life of flies. During this time the Spencer family move into the flat above his. This family consists of the elderly, widowed mother, her daughter Susan, who develops a crush on Dr Jekyll, and Susan's brother Howard.

To progress his experiments so that they work on humans, Jekyll needs to harvest fresh female hormones from dead women. At first he visits local mortuaries and later employs the services of Burke and Hare3 to procure him more young, deceased women for his research. He is initially unaware that they are killing the women in order to get the bodies they are supplying, until his research reaches a critical moment where he is ready to use the potion on himself.

This potion turns him into a woman who has her own personality. After Burke and Hare are caught, Jekyll becomes so focussed on his work he becomes Jack the Ripper, believing that as his ultimate goal is for the benefit of all humanity, it is worth the sacrifice of the deaths of a few streetworkers, prostitutes and fallen women. When the police start looking for a tall man seen leaving the scene of the crimes, he regularly uses his potion to turn into a woman he claims is his widowed sister, Mrs Hyde (after seeing 'Hyde Park' in a newspaper headline) in order to escape their detection and get close to his victims. When Howard meets her, he finds her ravishingly attractive.

Hyde resents turning back into Jekyll, wants to live her own life, and begins transforming even without the aid of the potion. Who will win the battle for dominance and how will it affect those around them?

Length97 minutes
SettingVictorian London, particularly Whitechapel
Bechdel TestFail4
Dr Henry JekyllRalph Bates
Mrs HydeMartine Beswick
Professor RobertsonGerald Sim
Susan SpencerSusan Brodrick
Howard SpencerLewis Fiander
Mrs SpencerDorothy Alison
William BurkeIvor Dean
William HareTony Calvin
BykerPhilip Madoc
Sergeant DanversPaul Whitsun-Jones
BetsyVirginia Wetherell

A highly enjoyable Hammer Horror starring Ralph Bates as Jekyll and Martine Beswick as Hyde. Written by The Avengers writer/producer Brian Clemens5 OBE, it owes far more to horror elements from the true life tales of Burke and Hare and Jack the Ripper than the original novel, but blends them to good effect.

Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick look remarkably similar6. The film contains a brief amount of nudity, just enough to convey that Dr Jekyll has, in fact, changed sex.


The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde remains a classic novella that entertains generation after generation. Yet each film adaption of this timeless tale tells us something of the period in which it was made. The 1930s film changes politician Sir Danvers Carew, MP to become a soldier, Brigadier-General Carew, ahead of the military build up to the Second World War. The 1940s present an austere, censored version that is respectable on the surface but nevertheless contains subversive dream sequences showing that American society is not quite as black and white as it first appears, with Hyde's subconscious whipping of Bea and Ivy foretelling the McCarthy witch hunt. It is notable that the women are named after nature, Bee and Ivy, at the time mankind's greatest atrocity against nature, the atomic bomb, was created. The 1960 adaptation has a licentious London full of enticing exciting nightclubs promoting pleasures and sexual promiscuity ahead of the swinging '60s sexual revolution. The early 1970s adaptation highlights gender relations and the changing role of women in society.

1Founded by Isle of Wight-born George Westmore in 1917, this is still active three generations later.2Many pre-Hays films were later edited when re-released in the Hays Code era, including King Kong (1933).3In real life Burke and Hare murdered 16 victims in 1828 in Edinburgh and sold the corpses to Dr Robert Knox for dissection at his anatomy lectures. They were the subject of Jekyll and Hyde author Robert Louis Stevenson's short story, The Body Snatcher (1884).4The Spencer family have several three-way conversations, Hyde talks to unnamed prostitutes but refuses to talk to Susan except when Howard is present, when they also discuss Dr Jekyll.5The great-great nephew of Samuel Clemens, popularly known as Mark Twain.6Actress Martine Beswick was 19 months younger than Ralph Bates.

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