Sunday, October 21, 2012
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)
Edgar G. Ulmer, how come you made such good movies and still never became the super-star you deserved to be? I can't get that into my head! A while ago I had a popular week only with reviews of Ulmer's work, one of the classics I missed then was Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, made late in his career and reminiscing of the horror movies of the forties. Shot in six days and with a superior quality to everything from script to special effects. I've always loved movies sit in a small space, short running time and with a good small ending rather than a big silly one (well, that depends of course!). So what's it about? I'll tell you...
Janet (Gloria Talbott) and George (John Agar) is about to get married and everyone is happy. She wants her guardian's blessing to get married and he, Dr Lomas (Arthur Shields) is happy to give that, but first she needs to know a secret, what happen to her deceased father! It turns out that her father was Dr. Jekyll, who killed a lot of people during one of this experiments. Janet is terrified, and soon she starts to feel the urge to kill and she gets visions during the night that she's outside, killing innocent people! How can they stop the terrible legacy she got from her father? Is it even possible, or is there something else going on... an even darker secret...
That didn't sound too exciting I guess? But it is, I promise! This is for once a fun and smart version of the Dr Jekyll story with a couple of amazing details. First of all, setting the story more or less in one house all the time gives us an excellent chamber play, manipulation of characters and three brilliant performances by Gloria Talbott, John Agar and Arthur Shields. Talbott is both weak and frail, but very self-dependent and kinda keep the big macho Agar on a short distance. She can handle stuff herself and when she finds out the shameful family secret she refuses to be with Agar. She wants to handle it herself. The dialogue is witty and smart and leads up to a clever twist that I didn't see coming at all.
On a technical level it looks good. Some of the stock footage, I think it's from James Whale's Frankenstein, is in terrible shape - a lot more blurrier and with very little detail, which during those moments takes away the atmosphere for a few seconds until the eyes got used to the change of quality. What's very impressive is the transformation scene and I have no idea how they did it. The character is in frame and is transforming in front of our eyes. This is of course intercut with reaction shots from other characters, but still - we see a character transform right in front of us, and this person is moving at the same time - so it's not one of those static shots of Lon Chaney Jr. sitting in a chair with layer upon layer of hair and make-up added to his face and limbs. This is not a spectacular make-up, but it looks damn realistic! To be honest, this film could have been called Daughter of the Wolfman also, because there's a lot of hints to werewolfs, full moons and stuff like that.
There's another fun detail, and I don't want to tell you what it is because it could ruin and spoil the movie for you - but it's a brave thing to do and I'm surprised they got away with it! They fooled me! Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is another budget-masterpiece from Edgar G. Ulmer and I recommend all of you who enjoys vintage black & white horror movies to see it and I hope it will give you as much entertainment as it gave me!