Friday, October 19, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: * psychological, sociological*

Within the circumscribed "family" of 1950s horror films, Columbia's SON OF DR JEKYLL seems an odd offshoot.  It's the only horror film directed by one Seymour Friedman, though one of the writers, Jack Pollexfen, had written for Edgar Ulmer's MAN FROM PLANET X and would collaborate on a handful of other metaphenomenal films later in his career.  The film looks much like a 1940s Universal horror-film, in that SON is heavier on action than ghoulishness.  1946 was the last year to see a fair number of "follow-up" horror films, including DEVIL BAT'S DAUGHTER, SHE WOLF OF LONDON, and THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK, but this tendency faded in keeping with the downturn of the genre's popularity during the late 40s and early 50s. In addition, such "horror-series" concepts seem to have dwindled once Universal Studios delivered ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948, which essentially ended the studio's long association with its celebrated horror-icons. Aside from SON, not until 1955 did any American studio produce another "horror-serial" film, whether the later film's relationship to a previous opus was formal (REVENGE OF THE CREATURE) or informal (ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY).  Only in the late 1950s did Hammer Films successfully resuscitate the concept of the "horror serial" film.

SON is patently an "informal follow-up" to the last major film on Jekyll and Hyde, MGM's 1941 opus.  SON begins in the London of 1860, showing us an amended fate for the original Doctor Jekyll; having just killed his wife in the monstrous form of Hyde, the rogue scientist flees an angry mob. He attempts to use his potion to change back to Jekyll but the mob sees Hyde take refuge in Jekyll's lab and sets the building on fire. In the form of Jekyll the fugitive falls from a great height and perishes, exposing his secret to all of London.  Two of Jekyll's colleagues, Utterson and Lanyon (characters from the original Stevenson story), learn that Jekyll has left behind an infant son. Utterson conceals the infant's history and raises little "Edward" as his own.

However, when Edward reaches maturity and becomes engaged to Utterson's niece, Utterson reveals Edward's true history and cedes to him the family estate of the Jekylls-- including the late Jekyll's notes.  The London press finds out that there's a new Jekyll in town, and they mercilessly persecute the young man, creating in him a desire to reform his father's bad name.  At the same time, Edward begins to see unexplained sights, such as a young woman who appears at his home and then "ghosts" away.  Is he going insane from the stress?  Or is someone manipulating him-- someone who just may have manipulated Henry Jekyll as well?

The answer should be transparent to anyone who knows the tradition of horror-serial films, which tend to exonerate the heirs of horror-icons, and sometimes the icons themselves as well (as seen in the aforementioned DEVIL BAT'S DAUGHTER, for one example).  To give the game away, Henry Jekyll's experiment was tainted by his false friend Dr. Lanyon, and Lanyon has tried to gaslight Edward in order to destroy his reputation and acquire his property.  Edward foils the culprit without unleashing his inner Hyde (though he does transform briefly during an experiment).  In fact, Edward gets into three or four separate hand-to-hand fights in the course of the film, making SON one of the most pugilistically-inclined horror-flicks of the decade, even taking into account similar tendencies in the Italian horrors.

SON is a simplistic melodrama, particularly in terms of its execution of Edward's daddy issues-- though I was amused at one character indirectly invoking HAMLET by speaking to the hero of his "father's ghost."  However, I give it a fair mythicity rating in the sociological department, because of its emphasis on the scurrilous nature of mob mania.  Edward is less of a monster than London, with its ruthless journalists and scummy blackmailers (the source of Edward's supposed delusion with the girl).  SON does at least imitate a tradition of horror-films seen in many better films, not least the 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and James Whales' two FRANKENSTEIN films, in which the crowd terrorized by the monster becomes a monster in its own right. There's a slight "class warfare" element to the blackmailer subplot, though it hardly compares with the same theme as invoked in the last two major Jekyll-Hyde films.

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