Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941)

This is my contribution to the 2nd Ingrid Bergman Blogathon, hosted by

Today we live in a world of re-boots, remakes, and reworkings of classic and not so classic material. The Golden Age of Hollywood had its share of reworkings as well, particularly when it came to famous literary adaptations. What makes the 1941 MGM version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE unique is that it is not a re-telling of Robert Louis Stevenson's story--it is basically a remake of Paramount's 1932 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, which won Fredric March a Best Actor Oscar.

MGM wanted the story to be a prestigious role for the studio's leading dramatic actor, Spencer Tracy. To this day there is a debate on which version is better. Both productions have outstanding qualities, and while an individual may have a personal favorite, you certainly can't praise one and totally dismiss the other. Since this is an Ingrid Bergman blogathon, I'm going to focus on Ingrid's performance in the 1941 JEKYLL AND HYDE as Ivy Peterson, especially in comparison to Miriam Hopkins' portrayal as Ivy in the 1932 version.

I have to start out by saying that Miriam Hopkins' performance as Ivy (her last name is "Pierson" in the '32 version) is one of the most haunting and memorable in all of classic horror cinema. If a Supporting Actress Oscar had existed in 1932, Hopkins assuredly would have deserved to win. If Spencer Tracy had a challenge in competing against Fredric March, Ingrid Bergman certainly had a daunting task in playing Ivy after Miriam Hopkins. Originally Bergman was cast as Dr. Jekyll's loving fiancee, and Lana Turner was supposed to play Ivy. Before shooting started the two ladies switched roles. It has been documented in several books that Bergman didn't want to play another "good girl"--but one has to realize that JEKYLL AND HYDE was only Ingrid's fourth American movie. I personally think Ingrid wanted to play Ivy because she knew it was a much better part, and she could make far more of an impact with it.

The storylines of the '32 and '41 versions are essentially the same. Both movies have Dr. Jekyll and his friend Dr. Lanyon come across Ivy fighting off an "admirer" in a disreputable part of London. The two men give Ivy a ride home, and once there the girl, entranced by Jekyll, tries to seduce the doctor.

In the 1932 version, the seduction scene is far more involved, as befitting a film made in the Pre-Code era. Miriam Hopkins taking off her garter and stockings is almost a mini-film in itself. In the '41 version, Ivy still takes off her garter, but the scene is much more compact--we barely get a glimpse of Ivy's legs. Director Victor Fleming uses mostly close-ups to show Ivy's feelings for Jekyll.

There's an old adage that says you can always tell how a film director feels about his leading lady by how exquisitely she is photographed. Victor Fleming must have fell very hard for Ingrid, because she is the recipient of several ravishing full-face set-ups. (I've picked three gorgeous stills of Ingrid from the film to illustrate this post.) The cinematographer on the '41 JEKYLL AND HYDE was Joseph Ruttenberg, who would photograph Ingrid beautifully again in the 1944 GASLIGHT. Granted, the ordinary person with a digital camera could make Ingrid look good--the woman was one of the true natural beauties of the screen--but in this film she is breathtaking. Apparently Fleming and Bergman did develop a mutual attraction while working on this film, and it shows by how the actress is presented here. Lana Turner wasn't exactly hard to look at either, but in this film poor Lana didn't have much of a chance to make an impression. (One thing I noticed when watching the '41 version again in preparation for this post is that Fleming used close-ups extensively throughout the film, not just only on Ingrid. Perhaps he was trying to accentuate the psychological aspects of the story, as opposed to Rouben Mamoulian's more florid visual style for the '32 version.)

Ingrid's Ivy makes such an impression on Dr. Jekyll that when he turns into the satyr-like Hyde, he goes out of his way to make contact with Ivy and set her up as his "kept woman". The scenes in which Ivy is in Hyde's grip is where Ingrid really shines. Her portrayal of a woman who is the victim of a abusive and dysfunctional relationship is very relevant to today's culture. We usually consider the abusive/dysfunctional relationship belonging to the modern world, but I'm sure there was plenty of it in Victorian England. Ingrid is devastating as a beaten and psychologically scarred Ivy, so much so that it is almost hard to watch her in such a state. There's a frightening realism to Ivy's victimization, a realism one doesn't often see in a 1940s major American studio film. The main reason that Spencer Tracy is scary as Hyde is because of Ingrid Bergman's reactions to him.

What makes Ingrid's Ivy so heartbreaking is that, at least from my perspective, you don't think of her as a "bad girl". Ingrid's Ivy may act like she's been around, but she's so fresh-faced and open that you get the feeling she's putting on an act. That, in my mind, is the main difference between Ingrid's Ivy and the Ivy of Miriam Hopkins. Hopkins' Ivy definitely appears to be a woman of "experience", so to speak (no doubt this feeling is helped by the '32 version being a Pre-Code film). Hopkins has a harder edge to her, and her relationship with Fredric March's simian-like Hyde has a more manic aspect to it. Bergman's Ivy is softer, and more fragile. Spencer Tracy's Hyde tears her down more emotionally than physically (even though the physical part of the abuse is there as well).

When Tracy's Hyde finally does kill Ivy, it's truly a disturbing moment, even though Ivy is hidden from the camera. Ivy may supposed to be to Hyde what the sweet Lana Turner character is to Jekyll, but Ivy isn't bad at all--she's more a victim of bad circumstances. Due to the brilliance of Ingrid Bergman, we feel as if we know Ivy, and we as an audience care about her plight.

The role of Ivy Peterson in the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE was Ingrid Bergman's first truly great American film performance. Most film buffs consider the '32 version the best Jekyll & Hyde film, but the 1941 version is a very good film in its own right. Was Spencer Tracy miscast? Maybe...but he's a lot better in the film than is generally assumed. Some even say that Ingrid Bergman was miscast, due to the reasoning that Ivy is supposed to be a Cockney barmaid. Ingrid is certainly no Cockney, and you can tell she's a bit uncomfortable with the period slang--but my explanation for that is her Ivy was an immigrant, and she changed her name and manner of speech to try and fit in.

Ingrid Bergman by far and away is the best thing about the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. I would even go far as to say she steals the film away from Spencer Tracy (and I bet Tracy was well aware of this). It's possible to appreciate both Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman as Ivy, just as it's possible to appreciate both the '32 and '41 versions of the film. I happen to own the Warners DVD which has the two versions--I think it's rather fitting they are on the same disc. If there was any actress that was able to get an emotional response from an audience, it was Ingrid Bergman, and her role as Ivy is more than adequate proof of that. Watching the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE for the first time as a teenager was one of the main reasons I've had a lifelong crush on Ingrid Bergman.


  1. Awesome article :) I still have to see this film, however! Ingrid seems to shine in it! Thanks so much for your participation to the blogathon :)

  2. You make a wonderful case for Ingrid Bergman as Ivy. I must admit to being a little taken aback by her in the role when I saw it - I thought she was miscast, but when you mention that she seems to be putting on an act, that makes a lot of sense and brings a totally different (and richer) dimension to her role. I'd like to see it again with your article in mind. Thanks!

  3. I've yet to see the 1941 version, but I'm glad I read your review before watching it. I may have felt Ingrid B. was miscast, judging by other reviews, but you've given her performance a fresh perspective. Thanks!