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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Monster > Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971/Hammer Studios/Anchor Bay DVD)

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971/Hammer Studios/Anchor Bay DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: B-



As Hammer Studios faced an insurmountable challenge by a reenergized U.S. film industry and Horror genre, their best chance for a comeback was in the hands of Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell.  The pair had already created the all-time TV classic The Avengers and joined Hammer as Clemens writing work on hit series The Persuaders and The Champions was not going to be enough for him, so they stated to make feature films.  One of their best stabs at a comeback vehicle for the studio was Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, released in 1971.


Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick share the title role in a fun and somewhat campy exploitation opportunity, but Producer Clemens is a long-time writing whiz who made the screenplay adaptation and variation on the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic.  At a time of woman’s liberation, Vietnam conflict, and other social upheavals, it seemed well-timed.  Too bad Hammer could not capitalize on it.  There are still limits to the film, despite Clemens solid writing.


Part of the problem is how many liberties should the film take with the classic book.  Though brilliant at his best, Clemens still plays it somewhat safe.  One reason is so the film would not go over the top.  Either way, it still makes total sense in context to the kinds of films the studio had been doing for years and could have been used as a transition into Horror films that could have challenged the American blockbusters if they wanted to.  Another reason is that the director is one of the British Cinema’s greatest journeymen directors: Roy Ward Baker.


The successful theatrical filmmaker still managed to do eight episodes of The Avengers among other series.  Thanks to him, you believe Bates and Beswick are the same person.  That is not easy, but especially without digital effects (especially morphing), it feels seamless.  Even when the film does not click, the actors do.  You can also easily imagine how current effects would ruin what is here.  Bates has plenty of work to show what a good character actor he was before his untimely death.  Miss Beswick was seen only as a beauty figure, but her performance is both remarkable and enduring in a way many may not have considered at the time.  It is some of her very best work.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is mixed, vying between softness, and crisp images more like what cinematographer Norman Warwick. B.S.C., intended.  The graininess shows this is NOT a Technicolor dye-transfer print, which is sad.  The trailer actually sometimes demonstrates how good that must have looked.  The color is not faded, just not vibrant.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is offered in the original English and a French dub.  The dialogue is clear and the music by David Whitaker is not bad either, and often very effective.


Extras include an exceptional commentary by Beswick, Clemens, Bake, and Hammer scholar Marcus Hearn, which goes beyond the film into a rare overview of filmmaking, especially in England at the time.  They also have great chemistry and it is often funny.  You also get radio spots set to print ads, another section of print ads set to music, bio/filmographies, and the original trailer.


The gender bending is never too campy itself, which adds up to more suspense than expected.  For keeping the Hammer look of Old England, it does not feel as stuffy as some of their other films.  The original owners ultimately put the final stake into the studio’s heart, but it did not have to be that way.  That is why one of the joys of watching Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is to imagine a British cinema that could have been.  These nice British twists on Horror classics could have been the studio’s lifeline as was the humor the Roger Moore/James Bond films.  Oh well.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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