In 1920, actor John Barrymore was, perhaps, the most famous man on earth. Handsome and charismatic, he was known for his great profile (he looked pretty good from the front, too). That's something you'll see quick enough in Friday's KUHF Silent Film ConcertDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
, Paramount Pictures' silent classic. Based on R.L. Stevenson's phenomenally successful Victorian novel of man's dual nature, the classic film has every other shot of Barrymore in profile (even when he's Mr. Hyde and in hideous make-up, with a mishapened head, he's in profile).
Barrymore's Jekyll is as unfaithful an adaptation as any others -- the first was filmed in prehistoric 1908, and other famous versions star Fredric March (1931) and Spencer Tracy (1941) -- but Barrymore adds a panoply of stage technique to evil Hyde, and the transformation scene is a marvelous blend of naked ham and Max Factor. Rendered appropriately claustrophobic on the back lot in Astoria, Queens, Victorian London has authentic-looking brick archways, numerous gaslights, and lots of atmospheric fog.
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In one of the most impressively chilling of silent cinema images -- the kind great movies were known for -- Jekyll, debauched and getting weaker, lying in bed, is symbolically overcome by a giant spider. It's absolutely frightening - and delicious (the image of the spider crawling up his bed and standing over him, like a lover intent on ravishing him, then melting away into a shadow is a wonderful bit of filmmaking).