Among the string of films that the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (London, 1886), by Robert Louis Stevenson, has given rise to from 1908 until today, this is one of the most outstanding, by the Canadian John S. Robertson (1878-1964), premiered on 18 March 1920, and of 67 minutes duration. Robertson’s film emphasizes the climate of terror present in the novel, converting the images of the film into unforgettable exhibitions of what silent film understood as terrifying celuloide, always with German expressionist film as a model. John Barrymore (1882-1942) gives an unforgettable performance, and his double characterisation as the charitable Dr. Jekyll and the monstrous Mr. Hyde has gone down in the history of film; it seems incredible that the North-American actor could embody two such different faces of the one character so convincingly. The role of Miss Gina, played by the very beautiful Nita Naldi (1897-1961), one of the most famous actresses of the silent-film period, is also inscribed in gold letters for eternity. Robertson performed the two roles, so masterfully described by Stevenson in his wonderful novel, to perfection and recreated the supposed sinistre London exteriors where the criminal adventures of the doctor’s perverse alter ego took place in the studio. Following a tradition that began with Thomas Russell Sullivan’s version of the stage version of the work in 1887, a new character was added to Stevenson’s plot, Jekyll’s fiancée, Millicent Carew (the daughter of Sir George Carew, played by Martha Mansfield on the screen), who provides the love interest that is essential in any expression of popular culture. In sum, John S. Robertson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a masterpiece in its genre and is still received as such today, which is what occurs with the classics, a category to which it fully pertains.
Luis Alberto de Cuenca