“The evil thing would never prowl the dark again.”
“Are you sure?”
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll would probably be little more than a footnote in film history rather than the latest volume in the Edgar G. Ulmer Collection to appear on DVD, were it not for an interesting turn of events in its copyright history. The tale is told in reminiscences by Ulmer’s daughter in a supplement on the DVD. (I leave the actual story for viewers to discover for themselves.)
The film was released by Allied Artists in 1957 and was the second collaboration between director Ulmer and writer/producer Jack Pollexfen, the first being 1951’s The Man from Planet X (UA). The script for Daughter of Dr. Jekyll was actually a dusted-off and rewritten version of one of Pollexfen’s earlier efforts for Columbia — Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951). Knowing that budgetary constraints were tight, Pollexfen turned to Ulmer for he knew that .”…Edgar could get more on the screen, with less time and money, than any director I worked with.” His confidence was not misplaced and despite its limitations, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a rather entertaining if minor entry in the gothic horror genre.
All Day Entertainment has now made the film available on DVD as Volume 3 of its Edgar G. Ulmer Collection.
Janet Smith and her fiancé George Hastings arrive at the country manor house of her guardian Dr. Loomis on the occasion of Janet’s 21st birthday. Dr. Loomis informs Janet that she is the actual owner of the house and a fortune that he has held in trust for her. He also, however, reveals that her father was the notorious Dr. Jekyll whose body lies in the family crypt elsewhere on the estate. Janet begins to fear that she may have inherited some of her father’s madness. Her fears appear to be confirmed when a young girl is killed on the estate one night — the same night that Janet awakens from a nightmare to find herself covered in blood, her clothes torn, and her shoes by the bed all muddy. Other killings occur with further evidence implicating Janet. But all is not as it seems.
I must confess that I expected little from this film. So I was pleasantly surprised by the way it held my attention. The outcome is fairly predictable, but the journey to that outcome is quite entertaining. An important component is the cast. The three lead actors, who take up probably 90 percent of the screen time, play it straight and are all very believable, allowing for the fact that their characters are fairly standard types for the horror genre. Gloria Talbott (Janet Smith/Jekyll) has wonderfully expressive eyes that she uses effectively both as Janet Smith and as the mad Janet Jekyll of her nightmares. Arthur Shields (Dr. Loomis) — one of the most familiar of Hollywood character actors (remember him as one of the accusatory deacons in How Green Was My Valley [1941, Fox]?) — is a real delight, chewing his words as he speaks and very believable as both sides of Dr. Loomis, even if one of them is a little out-of-character for the type of role he normally plays. John Agar has the thankless role as fianceé George, but he’s fine. Ironically, though, Agar had left Universal to avoid the sort of role he found himself doing here in his first freelance outing.
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll has all the Ulmer touches. He uses detailed miniatures for the long shots of the manor house throughout and makes extensive use of fog machines and smoke pots for all the exteriors, resulting in numerous interesting shadow effects. The dream sequences are strikingly filmed, with the sleeping Janet’s face juxtaposed with that of her evil alter ego. Ulmer insisted that a good part of the script be rewritten when he joined the project and the result conforms to so many Ulmer efforts where the characters’ actions seem to be out of their control. Certainly that was the case with both Janet and Dr. Loomis here. The overall look of the film evokes memories of the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s. This was a conscious decision on Ulmer’s part: “I tried to express a little of what Tod Browning would have tried to do. I am making reference here to one of Browning’s old dogmas: ‘you must make the monster acceptable and sympathetic to the audience'”
All Day Entertainment’s DVD is a real winner. Mastering is from a 35mm fine grain positive and the resulting black and white image is mostly terrific. The film is presented in its 1.85:1 OAR. Interiors are all sharp with deep blacks, clean whites and good shadow detail with only occasional speckles in evidence. Exteriors are less clear as the extensive use of fog effects and shooting through some rather ragged-looking gauze tended to degrade the original image and hence its DVD rendition. The mono soundtrack is in good shape. Special features on the disc include the original theatrical trailer (presented full frame), an isolated music and effects soundtrack, and an archive of stills, lobby cards, and posters. In addition there is a 10-minute interview with John Agar who provides his thoughts on his career as well the film, plus a 17-minute interview with Arianne Ulmer Cipes, Edgar Ulmer’s daughter. The latter interview provides some fascinating information on how the DVD of Daughter of Dr. Jekyll came to be. Full marks to All Day on this one!
I haven’t got much to complain about on this one. I should, however, mention the beginning and ending of the film. Ulmer decided to add a rather jokey prologue and epilogue with Arthur Shields. I won’t reveal exactly their nature, but I found them to be out-of-sync with the actual tone of the film, detracting from its impact more than anything else. But I can also see where others might differ in their view of them.
This will be short. Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a nice surprise — a short, entertaining entry in the gothic horror genre. I’d rank it only slightly below Edgar Ulmer’s most rewarding work. The DVD does the film full justice and includes a fine package of special features. Highly recommended. And now I’m looking forward to the next volume in All Day’s Ulmer series — The Pirates of Capri (1949, UA).