In the late eighteenth century, London physician Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) addresses a group of scientists on the duality of the human psyche, convinced that man lives with an eternal struggle between his noble and impulsive sides.

While working in his laboratory, Dr. Jekyll develops a potion meant to separate the two selves, so that the evil persona can be brought forth and annihilated. Meanwhile, Jekyll asks Brigadier-General Carew (Halliwell Hobbes) for permission to marry his daughter Muriel (Rose Hobart) earlier than they originally had planned, but Carew refuses.

Later, Jekyll returns to his laboratory and takes the potion, and his now-freed evil persona turns him into a beast, “Mr. Hyde”. While as Hyde, he then visits Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins), a music hall singer from Soho whom he had rescued earlier from the advances of a brutish man. As the evil and ugly Mr. Hyde, Jekyll now tries to seduce Ivy. She is so repulsed by Hyde, but when he promises her wealth, she gives herself to him. Jealous of the affection Ivy has for the kind Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde beats and rapes her until she believes that he is the Devil himself.

Later, when a composed Dr. Jekyll realizes he has terrorized Ivy, he anonymously sends her £50. When she visits her anonymous benefactor to thank him, she realizes he is Dr. Jekyll, and begs him to save her from Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll gives his word that she will never see him again. While on his way to the Carews', Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde again without the use of the potion and returns back to Soho and strangles Ivy for going to Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Jekyll, trying desperately to emerge from inside Mr. Hyde, sends word to his colleague, Dr. Lanyon (Holmes Herbert), ordering him to rush more of the needed drugs to him. At midnight, Dr. Lanyon watches Mr. Hyde turn back into Dr. Jekyll, who swears him to secrecy. Dr. Jekyll then promises never to mix the potion again.

Believing that giving up Muriel is his penance, Dr. Jekyll goes to the Carews' to break his engagement. As he arrives, however, he once again turns into Mr. Hyde and attacks Muriel, who is saved by her father. The police arrive and chase Mr. Hyde back to Dr. Jekyll’s lab. After becoming Dr. Jekyll once again, Dr. Lanyon accuses his friend of murder. Whether from his guilt, fear or loathing, Dr. Jekyll again becomes Mr. Hyde and is shot by his friend, Dr. Lanyon. Once dead, the beastly Mr. Hyde then reverts back to the kindly Dr. Jekyll.

Oscar
3 Nominations
1 Award
Best Actor

Golden Globes
0 Nominations
0 Awards
The film, premiering on December 31, 1931, is mostly considered a 1932 movie. The studio, seeing that it had a great chance at an Oscar, rushed the film’s release to make the deadline for the 1931 year. They knew if it was released in January of 1932, they would have to wait a whole year before the Oscars came around again, and by that time no one would remember the movie or Fredric March’s excellent Oscar worthy performance. John Barrymore was originally asked to play the lead role but he demanded such a large salary that they gave the part to March. No leading man in Hollywood wanted to play such a part, that would make his handsome features ugly and disfigured, so many actors turned down the role or asked for phenomenal salaries just to be rejected. March jumped at the chance and was rewarded with an Academy Award for 1931.

March is fantastic as the blood-curdling beast. His makeup as Hyde is not done by halves, for virtually every imaginable possibility is taken advantage of to make this creature "reflecting the lower elements of Dr. Jekyll's soul" thoroughly hideous. Instead of being undersized or smaller than Dr. Jekyll, as in the Robert Louis Stevenson description, this repellent thing here is broader and taller. In physiognomy, this Hyde has the aspects of an ape, with protruding teeth, long eye-teeth, unkempt thick hair leaving but a scant forehead, a broad nose with large nostrils, eyes with the lower part of the sockets pulled down, thick eyebrows, and hairy arms and hands—a creature that would make the hairy ape a welcome sight. March's portrayal is something to arouse admiration, even taking into consideration the camera wizardry. As Dr. Jekyll he is a charming man, and as the fiend he is alert and sensual.

Rouben Mamoulian, has gone about directing this picture with considerable enthusiasm, and the way in which Jekyll changes into Hyde is pictured with an expert cunning, for it is a series of gradual exposures during which the changing face does not leave the screen. The first time the transition takes place it is effective, but it is still more so in subsequent sequences, for Hyde, who cannot return to his other self without the necessary prescription, in one episode is forced virtually to accomplish the transformation from the apish thing to his ordinary form at the point of a pistol before his friend Dr. Lanyan. It is about this time that Jekyll realizes that he assumed the frightening shape suddenly without swallowing his preparation, which in the first case brought about the change.

The producers have seen fit to include both a romantic theme and a sex influence in the course of the narrative, and toward the end one is apt to think that this story should be given a happy ending. One of the many highly dramatic episodes is where Jekyll calls on his fiancée, Muriel. After leaving her, one of the periodical transformations takes place and he reenters the Carew home and takes Muriel in his arms. Once she looks upon Hyde's awful physiognomy, she screams and faints. This results in the chase that eventually leads to the death of the man.

The film, made prior to the full enforcement of the Production Code, is remembered today for its strong sexual content, embodied mostly in the character of the prostitute, Ivy. When the film was re-released in 1936, the Code required 8 minutes to be removed before the film could be distributed to theaters. This footage was later restored for the VHS and DVD releases. The secret of the astonishing transformation scenes was not revealed for decades (Mamoulian himself revealed it in a volume of interviews with Hollywood directors published under the title The Celluloid Muse). A series of colored filters matching the make-up was used, enabling the make-up applied in contrasting colours, to be gradually exposed or made invisible. The change in color was not visible on the black and white film.

When MGM remade the film 10 years later with Spencer Tracy, the studio bought the rights to the story, and then recalled every print of the Mamoulian version that it could locate and most of the film was believed lost for decades. Ironically, the Tracy version was much less well received and March jokingly sent Tracy a telegram thanking him for the greatest boost to his reputation of his entire career.

Click on the title for my review of the Spencer Tracy 1941 version of "Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde".