Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)
Dir: Roy Ward Baker
The film starts with a shadowy figure running through Victorian London's fog bound streets. A voice over recaps the sorry tale that has led us to this point.
Dr Jekyll (the late Ralph Bates) is working on cures to various diseases, but
despite his herculean efforts he knows it will take too many years.
So he starts work on an elixir to extend life, so he can finish his own work. He uses female hormones (harvested from the pituitary gland), as women age slower and live longer.
Jekyll turns to the murderous Burke and Hare to get bodies for him to harvest. Tests on extending the life of a fly are successful, but a side effect has begun to change the fly from a male to a female. Undaunted, Jekyll takes the elixir and Sister Hyde (Martine Beswick) is born, the ruthless female side of Jekyll.
When the supply of dead bodies ends, Jekyll and Sister Hyde turn to murder....
This is classic Hammer fare and anyone familiar with their work will recognize the studio's style of film making. With colourful supporting characters, a white washed version of British historical life, wonderful sets and costumes and a typical Hammer music score, performed by David Whitaker. All these ingredients are put to good use and combine to make one of Hammer's best films.
Ralph Bates is suitably earnest as the tragic, misguided Dr. Jekyll and Martine
Beswick (who also appears in Hammer's "Prehistoric Women") turns in
a gleefully wicked performance as Sister Hyde. She cuts a very dramatic figure
in her scarlet dress with a knife tucked into one of her long leather boots.
And the facial similarity between Bates and Beswick makes for a realistic portrayal
of an otherwise outlandish central premise.
Having the suspicious friend, Professor Robertson, as a lecherous womanizer is a nice touch and Gerald Sim gives a very enjoyable performance.
Mixing the three stories of Jekyll/Hyde, Burke/Hare and Jack The Ripper (as the prostitute murders are set up exactly like Jack's infamous killing spree, even down to the white chapel setting) works surprisingly well and makes for a much more involving story line.
Even the normally turgid 'romance sub plot' is given a cheeky twist with a brother and sister, Howard and Susan (Lewis Fiander and Susan Brodrick) who live in Jekyll's boarding house. Susan falls in love with Jekyll while Howard falls in lust with Sister Hyde!
The aforementioned murders are violent and bloody (they are trimmed in some TV showings) and add that much needed bit of exploitation garnish. Mention of the murders now brings us to a very enjoyable fault in the film. The prostitutes are all young, pretty, scrubbed clean with expertly applied make up. They are all happy with their lot and sing bawdy cockney songs! In reality almost all of London's prostitutes were pox carrying, filthy, lice infested, rotten toothed, alcoholics, aged way past their actual years. But what the hey, we're here for film frills not a history lesson, and you can't beat a good old cockney stereotype!
The fog enshrouded London streets are a joy and like the prostitutes, are cleaned up to picture postcard "Mary Poppins" perfection! Where's Dick van Dyke when you need him?
Assured direction by Roy Ward Baker keeps too many dull moments away (although as with most Hammer films it does tend to slow to a crawl in places) and lifts this unusual film to an enjoyably higher plain.
Well worth a bloomin' look!