Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931) – I’ve seen the 1920 silent version with John Barrymore and the 1941 version with Spencer Tracy—I’ve even seen variants of the tale, like the interesting gender-bender Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)—but Thursday night was the first time I’d ever sat down to watch the one that earned Fredric March the Best Actor Oscar (tying with Rick Brooks fave Wallace Beery that year, of course). I’m going to have to give the March film the edge here; even though Freddie’s transformation makes him look like a monkey the movie has other notable aspects: some of the cinematography and camerawork (by Karl Struss) is really first-rate, along with Rouben Mamoulian’s sensational direction. (Hyde has a number of truly offbeat scene transitions; my favorite is a shot of Miriam Davies’ leg swinging back and forth along a bed that resembles a pendulum—which is transposed over a conversation between March and Holmes Herbert.) The transformation scenes are also fascinating to watch; layers of makeup were applied to March’s face that would be obscured by a series of filters on the camera…and when the filters were removed, it would subtly show him going into his Hyde-and-seek act. As they used to say at Universal, a good cast is worth repeating: Miriam Hopkins (an actress I’m not normally enamored of, but she really displays some convincing vulnerability here), Rose Hobart, Halliwell Hobbes (channeling his inner C. Aubrey Smith), Edgar Norton and Tempe Pigott are all top-notch.
Topper (1937) and Topper Takes a Trip (1938) – Two films that I positively enjoyed in my younger movie-watching days have, unfortunately, not held up as well as I had hoped; I think the reason for this is that they concentrate on the special effects (which were eye-popping at that time) for long stretches at a time…and subsequently slowing down the movies for long stretches at a time. (I’m not the kind of person who goes gaga over CGI, preferring the simpler special effects of yesteryear—but even Topper’s FX gets wearisome after a while.) The first stars Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as a happy-go-lucky wealthy couple who end up in ectoplasmic form after cracking up their ride in a car crash, and in order to reach the Pearly Gates they must perform a good deed: so they decide to help out their henpecked friend Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) assert himself in his lifeless marriage to Clara Topper (the always delightful Billie Burke). Some of Grant and Bennett’s scenes together are very enjoyable, capitalizing on Grant’s first-rate talents as a farceur; the sequel, Trip, must unfortunately do without Grant (though we’re reminded of his presence in a few flashbacks…which the producers generously thank him for in the opening credits) as Bennett returns to earth to help Topper again when his ship of marriage hits the rocks of divorce. Topper does have a great gallery of character faces in support—Alan Mowbray, Eugene Pallette, Arthur Lake (the first film I ever saw him in where his character’s name was NOT “Dagwood Bumstead”), Hedda Hopper, Virginia Sale and Theodore von Eltz—and as for Trip, Mowbray reprises his butler role and joins the company of Verree Teasdale, Franklin Pangborn, Alexander D’Arcy, Spencer Charters and Irving Pichel. Whatever my opinion of the two movies is now, I thank the Movie Gods I didn’t have to watch these colorized.
The Awful Truth (1937) – Outstanding screwball comedy classic stars Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who plan to divorce when they realize they can’t trust one another…and then end up miserable as a result. Grant romances socialite Molly Lamont while Dunne makes plans to lasso