Jekyll (1969)

3.5 out of 5

Astounding is the word to describe this four-part TV series: it's the most original treatment of the story along with Jean Renoir's The Testament Of Dr. Cordelier and Walerian Borowczyk's Docteur Jeykll Et Les Femmes.

While suffering from the occasional longueur, it's also utterly riveting, despite the over-familiarity of the narrative, and has several passages that are absolutely brilliant. It's rather didactic but, nonetheless, makes perceptive comparisons between Hyde's compulsion for aggressiveness and the rebellious spirit of modern youth. Incidentally, the Victorian tale adapts surprisingly well to the modern Alphaville-esque settings and the script, brimming with philosophical ideas, is at times closer to sci-fi than horror.

Hyde himself, though simply enough made-up, is perhaps the creepiest ever depicted: interestingly, he's also given a child-like voice, as if he's still a developing organism. The character's appearance is mostly relegated to flashback sequences and the transformation only seen at the end of the third episode. Being the equivalent of a 'trip', again, it links his behavior to the liberal attitudes of youth. An inspired touch here shows Hyde starting to take Jekyll over gradually instead of all at once. Ultimately, however, something more elaborate than an off-screen demise should perhaps have been concocted! This version also jettisons the dual love interest present in most cinematic adaptations, though Hyde is seen being involved in a relationship with a foreign student which ends in tragedy. The latter is a chilling sequence with Hyde ordering his girlfriend to drown her pet dog as a display of her love for him, but she kills herself instead!

What a tour-de-force both as actor and director for Giorgio Albertazzi! Massimo Girotti plays Dr. Utterson and the story is seen mostly through his eyes. Though bearing the unattractive signs of early video technology, the stark cinematography by future director Stelvio Massi is notable all the same. The excellent score alternates between avant-garde, pastoral/folk and exotic passages. In conclusion, Jekyll emerges as not only one of the great TV movies but an unsung horror/sci-fi masterpiece.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics