Movie of the Week: The Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951)

Written by Mortimer Braus and Jack Pollexfen
Directed by Seymour Friedman
Starring Louis Hayward, Jody Lawrance, Alexander Knox
Released October 31, 1951
RT 78 min. 
Classic Horrors rating = 5 (out of 10)

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For everything I liked about The Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951), there was something I didn’t like. Being literal, or keeping a list of pros and cons, that makes the movie right in the middle of any rating scale you might use. In other words, it’s average. Notice I didn’t say, “just average.” Sometimes average is pretty good; it could be a lot worse.

The opening is terrific. It’s like a recap of the climax from a movie that never exactly existed. (There never was a Columbia Pictures production of the original Robert Louis Stevenson story.) An angry mob chases Mr. Hyde (Louis Hayward) through the streets of London, tossing burning torches into his laboratory as he frantically mixes the formula that will return him to his normal state of Henry Jekyll.

I love sequels that begin where the previous movie ended. Reminiscent of Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Son of Dr. Jekyll begins immediately following Jekyll/Hyde’s fatal rooftop dive. As the inspector covers his dead body with a sheet, he receives a note to meet with Dr. Curtis Lanyon (Alexander Knox), who reveals a cranky baby, the son of Jekyll.

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Lanyon, who never seems in this movie to be as supportive of his friend as he was in previous versions of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, convinces Sir John Utterson (Lester Matthews) to raise the child as his own, conveniently due to the fact that Utterson and his wife have been unable to produce children of their own. So far, so good; I like the set-up.

30 years later, Edward (Hayward) is dismissed from the Royal Academy of Sciences for “experiments bordering on witchcraft.” We never learn much about these experiments, and they don’t seem to have any impact on the work he does on his own once he learns his true heritage. There’s a Frankenstein-sequel vibe when he ultimately wants to prove his father was not a crazy person…

…but I don’t understand this aspect at all. First, Henry Jekyll was kind of a crazy person, or at least became one in the end. Edward is hell bent on proving his father had succeeded with his formula, but what will that solve? If he successfully transforms in front of the authorities, press and townspeople, how does that exonerate Henry for his wrongdoings?

His mission is misguided. Meanwhile, there’s a stranger lurking in the shadows, manipulating Edward’s success in the lab while attacking people on the streets. It soon becomes clear that – SPOILER ALERT – Edward is innocent of any wrongdoing and someone is out to get him. Whether it’s the screenplay by Mortimer Braus and Jack Pollexfen or the direction by Seymour Friedman, it’s not handled very well.

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Here we have a case of She-Wolf of London (1946) where – SPOILER ALERT – there’s not really a werewolf after all. Here, there’s not really a Mr. Hyde at all. How satisfied can you be when the only appearance of a monstrous alter ego is during the one successful attempt to transform, and then the character simply lies on the floor unconscious?

On the other hand, the transformation is beautiful. It’s entirely seamless and results in a great-looking Mr. Hyde (if that’s even what he would have been called.) Audiences must have been furious, though, when the movie was promoted so heavily with photos of Hayward in monster form and then they got to see him only so fleetingly.

As I alluded, this all could have worked more effectively with a defter handling of the mystery and case of mistaken identity. The red herrings come in the form of a family that supposedly knew Edward’s mother, but the foundation for the entire house of cards doesn’t make enough sense to support the effort. With a rousing score by Paul Sawtell, The Son of Dr. Jekyll is entertaining, but insignificant.

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