Star: James Cruze
The stage version starred Mr Richard Mansfield, who continued in the role almost until his death in 1907, so a new actor was needed for this film. Hobart Bosworth was new to the screen in 1908 but he would go on to make almost three hundred movies as an actor and sixty more as a director. His career successfully survived the transition to sound but decreased in prominence until his last picture, Sin Town, in 1942. Of course, being 1908, it was a one reel film which compressed the four act play to a mere sixteen minutes. The next version ran seventeen and was made in Denmark in 1910 by August Blom for the Nordisk Film Kompangni, with Alwin Neuß in the lead. The former is known today primarily for Atlantis, his pioneering feature from 1912 and the latter for playing Sherlock Holmes in a string of movies in the 1910s. I don’t know if Blom’s version was closer to the original novella or the succeeding play, but it wouldn’t be much of a shock to find that it, along with most later versions, was based more on the latter.
Given the restrictions inherent in the running time, it gets right down to business with Jekyll preparing to test a theory expounded in Graham on Drugs that ‘the taking of certain drugs can separate man into two beings - one representing EVIL, the other GOOD.’ He does so by mixing a formula, steeling himself to the task and then quaffing it down. He changes almost instantaneously, waiting only to sit down, and there’s no doubt that the effect was achieved by having Cruze change costume and make-up and try his best to replicate his prior position so the editor could splice effectively. It’s surprisingly effective, mostly because Cruze found almost exactly the right position. Unfortunately, the subtleties that he shows throughout the film as Jekyll, which include his initial hesitation to drink the formula, his polite wooing of ‘the minister’s daughter’ and even a sad acceptance later in the movie that he can’t keep from changing any more, are threatened by his activities as Hyde, who chews up every piece of scenery he can find.
There’s little else to comment on, because this version is so condensed that it really comes down to the story and Cruze’s performance. The script has Jekyll announced as the ‘accepted suitor of the minister’s daughter’, but only so that an uncontrolled change turns him into Hyde, who scares the poor young lady and then murders her father in cold blood, setting the stage for the final act. It’s notable that this scene contains little but ‘a park, a policeman and a pretty girl,’ as Chaplin described his base requirements for making a comedy at Keystone two years later. This is far from a comedy, even if Hyde’s actions are a bit close to one to today’s eyes, but the formula held (pun not intended) for a thriller too. What’s surprising is that, after the inevitable end, when Jekyll can’t keep Hyde from dominating and takes poison, he dies but doesn’t change back in front of the arriving throng. I can’t remember another version that does that, as it leaves an odd ending. With Hyde agreeably dead, where’s Jekyll? They’ll be searching for years.
The 1912 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be watched for free online at YouTube and the Internet Archive.