In 1960, Hammer would try their hand at adapting the tale called Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and the result would be The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll with Paul Massie starring in the lead role. Eleven years later, Hammer would do so again, this time with a man, Ralph Bates, and a woman, Martine Beswick, in the lead role. This would occur because instead of having Henry Jekyll transform into a hideous beast of a man or a dapper gentleman, it was decided he would turn into a beautiful woman, thereby changing up the classic tale into something new. It would be a risk on Hammer’s part, spinning the story the way they did, but sometimes a fresh spin is called for and Hammer had nothing to lose by doing so. Thus it was that writer Brian Clemens was hired and sometime after that was born Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.
When making a film of this sort where the lead actor is of such great importance, characterization and the realization of the role is a key factor, therefore finding the right actor, or actors is essential. Enter Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick. For the first third of the film, Bates would set the story up which would see it follow along similar lines to the original tale. Jekyll is seen to be on the verge of a scientific breakthrough but starts to get exasperated as the results he wants are not coming fast enough. As a result, he decides to test his formula on himself which queues up Beswick and where things start to go horribly wrong. Bates does a great job as the lead of the film, playing the man who needs the body parts of women to continue his experiments, the man who has a crush on the girl upstairs and the man who is tortured by what he has done.
On the other hand, whereas Jekyll still has some humanity in him and he finally realizes he was wrong, Mrs. Hyde, his other half, does not. Martine Beswick is fantastic as the cold and emotionless Hyde, a woman devoid of niceties. Being the darker side of the man, she is calculating and cruel and will stop at nothing to gain what she wants, to protect herself and see she comes out on top no matter what. Beswick’s beauty also works to her character’s benefit as she bewitches the men in the film so that she might get away with her machinations. The few lines that Beswick has are delivered calmly, subtly and carefully so that their intended purpose is made clear, leaving no room for doubt in their utterance. She is dangerous and you feel it when watching her on the screen.
Another big difference between this film and the last Hammer outing is the setting and the way the film is portrayed by the viewer. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll would be a big, bright and bombastic affair with its use of colour and the film would revel in its excesses as did the characters. For this film, director Roy Ward Baker decided to go a different route with this movie being darker overall, with more muted colours and tones. This picture is dark, dank, moody and even claustrophobic at times and is one that is almost ashamed of its debauchery. Baker lets you know from the start that this is not going to be a light-hearted romp at the cinema. When Baker decides to, he breaks out those bright colours in rare instances, such as the red of Hyde’s dress, symbolizing not only her wickedness but also to foreshadow that there will be blood.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is one of Hammer’s better films, not only of that particular decade but from their entire catalogue. It told a good story that was directed exceptionally well and featured two amazing performances from Bates and Beswick as the titled characters. The film would also feature Gerald Sim, Lewis Flander and Susan Brodrick in supporting roles that would see them also do a fine job of it, especially Brodrick and Flander as the clueless brother and sister who lived upstairs, not knowing what was going on beneath their very feet. The film would turn out to be much darker than its predecessor and because of that, it painted an almost entirely different picture, one that ended up being more violent and saw not only Hyde as a monster, but Jekyll as well. Was he misguided, perhaps, but when all was said and done, this film showed that Jekyll and Hyde were not two different people but two sides of the same coin.
4.5 out of 5