Star: King Baggot
Watching immediately after the 1912 version, it’s obvious that this 1913 one, from IMP, the Independent Moving Pictures Company of America, has the benefit of length and it uses that well early on, with a few scenes that involve much character development, surprising but welcome. This was a two reeler, which at 26 minutes ran over twice as long as its predecessor. A bunch of characters appear on screen from the outset and Dr Henry Jekyll is underlined as a good man because he devotes a great deal of his attentions to charity patients. Absolutely none of this was in the previous version which began with Jekyll drinking a potion and turning into Hyde. We’re not given much reason why he turns here, though, just one intertitle suggesting that he plans to set free his evil self in ‘the dead silence of the night’. I should add that this is suffering magnificently from delusions of poetic grandeur, which sadly fails to extend to the performance of Baggot, who consistently overdoes it as Jekyll, compared to Cruze, and goes truly wild as Hyde.
So I hated Hyde. What I liked here was the rapid loss of control. Unlike most versions, including the prior one from 1912, Jekyll is in control of his transformations for a while until Hyde gradually takes over. Here, we take a while to get to the first change but, once we’re there, Hyde’s dominant from then on. He does change back into Jekyll, who promptly gestures toward the heavens and swears that, ‘Never again shall I tempt fate!’ Then he sits down to rest, watches his twitching hand tell him that he’s still not himself and changes right back into Hyde again. I liked this, but felt that it provided a different message to the usual standard of the era. Usually, Victorian horror tales or scientific romances warn us that we shouldn’t step into God’s shoes. Here, it’s more like the hysterical drug films that suggest that just a whiff of marijuana will give us jazz hands and prompt us to murder people. Baggot’s Hyde has much in common with films like Reefer Madness. ‘Dr Jekyll is a martyr to science,’ an intertitle suggests and we think Timothy Leary.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this film could be regarded as the first Universal monster movie. IMP was founded by Carl Laemmle in New York in 1909. Over three years he battled Thomas Edison’s patent infringement thugs, defending against no less than 289 legal actions filed by the Motion Picture Patents Company, while his fellow independents moved across country to Hollywood, where they could use fists and guns instead. He eventually emerged victorious in 1912, then relaunched IMP as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company and, after two final pictures in New York, moved to Hollywood. Laemmle’s son, Carl Laemmle Jr, was the real driving force behind the Universal monster movies, which began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, but really found their niche with Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. Junior famously had to convince Senior to green light Dracula but, eighteen years earlier, it was Senior who produced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the real beginning of the Universal monsters.
The 1913 version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be watched for free online at YouTube (here’s another version with an interesting modern score) and the Internet Archive.