Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Monday, June 20, 2011

On the Perennial Rebound: DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971)

This ingenious 1971 Hammer film, long unavailable on DVD in the States, acts as a kind of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN Victorian era all-star murderer cast, with the implication that the Jack the Ripper got started when Burke and Hare were lynched by an angry London mob, thus depriving Dr. Jekyll of fresh girl glands for his experiments in prolonging life, so somehow... naturally, he switches gender. Directed swiftly and smartly by Roy Ward Barker, it stars Ralph Bates as the Jekyll side, who reasons that in order to prolong his life, so he has time to cure all diseases in the world, it's okay to murder prostitutes for their glands, cutting them up so it's not easily apparent what organ he was after, Ripper-style. That's two of the London Victorian Age House of Horrors tableaux down right there!

In the true Hammer tradition, DJASH has a cynical detachment from the evil he doth. We root for the result of his glandular tests since it means he gets a sex change and morphs into the fabulous Ms. Hyde, played by Martine Beswick, who at least is open about being a cold, calculating sexy killer and not merely some deluded hypocrite with a yen to make it in the history books.

Martine Beswick was one of my dad's favorite science fiction actresses growing up. She was the hot Neanderthal rival of Raquel Welch in 1000 YEARS BC (1967); She was a hot CIA agent working with Bond in THUNDERBALL (1965); she tore it up as a bitchy queen in PREHISTORIC WOMEN. She was everywhere sexy British cinema needed to be. Her sexuality was robust and uninterested in flattering or teasing weak men. And woe to her girl rivals! She is what I love best about imperious British (and Commonwealth) women, as seen today in Kate Beckinsale, Kate Winslet, and Judy Davis,

As Ms. Hyde, her astonishment at her awesome breasts during the first transformation is hilarious, reminiscent of Ellen Barkin's first scenes in SWITCH. And when s/he notices her hair's grown substantially longer in the few minutes of transformation you feel her conveying a slight comical mirth about the nature of fantasy, shrugging it off as the whims of her unseen director. Why bother explaining how one's hair can grow six inches in a matter of seconds? And be shiny, sexy, and well combed, make-up on perfectly? Drag queens who labour for hours to look pretty must be miffed at the ease with which pasty old Jekyll becomes this bombshell. Imagine just drinking your hair long and silky smooth!

Adding to the all-Victorian splendor is a Nicholas and Kate Nickelby style family upstairs, with the elderly mom (Dorothy Allison) at the piano, and the hot sister Susan (Susan Brodrick), longing for the cold Jekyll while Nicholas-y Howard (Lewis Flander) longs for Hyde, who is "a widow," as Jekyll explains, passing his alter-ego off as his own sister! She gets a big Italian soap opera piano cue when she materializes, like it's love at first sight in the mirror. Meanwhile his professor mentor (Gerald Sim) tells Jekyll "get a good woman and one day you'll look in the mirror and see a changed man." Haw Haw! Alas, rather than the hoped for lesbian seduction, Hyde's desire leaks over into Jekyll, resulting in Bates making a kind of unconscious pass at Howard. Right there, that's four stars. Now get thee to Blu-ray!


  1. One of my favourite Hammer movies. I love early 70s Hammer stuff in general.

  2. Anonymous20 June, 2015

    Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was far and away better than 1995's Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, with Tim Daly and Sean Young. However, the original story by Stevenson is an ageless one, touching as it does on scientific hubris, the difference between public and private personae and the nature of compulsion, and even more so when you add in the "sex-change" conceit, with its potential for commentary on gender politics and male-female relationships. I'd love to see what a gifted writer and a modern studio with an up-to-date effects department (and better actors than Daly and Young) could do with that.

    I see that a new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is due out this fall (October, 2015). Maybe Sister Hyde will be next!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...