The movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) is a pre-Code horror film that delves into the duality of human nature, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. The film follows Dr. Henry Jekyll, a respected London physician who is fascinated by the idea that man possesses two distinct personalities: one good and one evil. Driven by his obsession to separate these two natures, Jekyll develops a chemical potion that transforms him into the brutish and cruel Mr. Edward Hyde.
In the heart of Victorian London, Dr. Henry Jekyll, portrayed by Fredric March, is a compassionate physician who believes in the dual nature of mankind, embodying both sanctity and sin. Engaged to the lovely Muriel Carew, played by Rose Hobart, Jekyll yearns for an immediate union, but her father, Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carew, insists they wait. One evening, Jekyll, alongside his colleague Dr. John Lanyon, rescues Ivy Pierson, a bar singer, from an assault. Ivy, enacted by Miriam Hopkins, attempts to lure Jekyll into temptation, but he departs with Lanyon, maintaining his integrity.
As Sir Danvers escorts Muriel to Bath, Jekyll’s curiosity leads him to experiment with a concoction that unleashes his vile alter ego, Edward Hyde. This monstrous persona seeks out Ivy, offering her a sinister bargain of companionship in exchange for financial support. Hyde’s reign of terror over Ivy escalates to abuse and manipulation, culminating in his abrupt departure upon learning of Sir Danvers’ imminent return to London.
Plagued by remorse, Jekyll anonymously donates to Ivy, who, advised by her landlady, seeks out Jekyll for help. Recognizing her savior, Ivy recounts her ordeal with Hyde, and Jekyll assures her that Hyde will torment her no more. However, Jekyll’s control over his transformations wanes, and upon witnessing a predatory act in nature, he succumbs to Hyde once more. Instead of celebrating his impending nuptials at Muriel’s party, Hyde brutally ends Ivy’s life.
Hyde’s attempt to return to Jekyll’s abode is thwarted by the butler’s refusal. In desperation, Hyde instructs Lanyon to retrieve chemicals from Jekyll’s lab. When Lanyon confronts Hyde, the latter is forced to reveal his true identity by transforming back into Jekyll.
Realizing the peril of his situation, Jekyll ends his engagement with Muriel. Yet, as he observes her despair, another transformation ensues, and Hyde emerges to attack Muriel. Sir Danvers intervenes, only to be slain by Hyde with Jekyll’s cane. Hyde escapes to the lab, where he reverts to Jekyll once more.
Lanyon, recognizing the cane at the crime scene, leads the police to Jekyll’s residence. As Jekyll denies Hyde’s presence, Lanyon exposes their shared identity, triggering Jekyll’s final transformation into a frenzied Hyde. In the ensuing struggle, Hyde is fatally wounded by the police, reverting to Jekyll as he breathes his last.
- Fredric March as Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde
- Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson
- Rose Hobart as Muriel Carew
- Holmes Herbert as Dr. Lanyon
- Halliwell Hobbes as Brigadier-General Carew
- Edgar Norton as Poole
The film’s innovative use of makeup and transformation scenes was groundbreaking for its time. The transitions from Jekyll to Hyde were achieved through a series of colored filters that interacted with the specially designed makeup worn by Fredric March .
This technique was kept secret until decades after the film’s release. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) was also the first horror movie to win an Academy Award, with Fredric March receiving the Oscar for Best Actor .
“While his work as Dr. Henry Jekyll is perfectly excellent — he’s dashing and intelligent and genuinely means well in his attempts to divide the “good” half of man from his selfish, evil nature — it’s what he does as Hyde that makes Fredric March’s performance in the movie one of the best in all of horror.” 
“Mamoulian was noted for his sophisticated technical innovations, freeing sound cinema from the confines of the early sound recording equipment cluttered around it. This oddity from Paramount studios, famous for their refined, sexually charged, drawing room comedies shows him in full flight.”