Since the early 1920s, Universal Studios had a monopoly on bringing monsters and horror to life. But they really met their popularity around 1931 when some of the most iconic monsters were given films of their own including Bela Lugosi's "Dracula" (1931) and "Frankenstein" (1931). Paramount saw this as an opportunity to bank in on this particular niche and decided to remake one of their own silents into a "talkie." It was Robert Louis Stevenson's thrilling novel of a respected doctor and his violent alter-ego, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
In the film adaptation, Dr. Jekyll is a respected doctor who believes every man has a good side and a bad side. While Jekyll is awaiting a long engagement to his virtuous fiance, Muriel, the doctor develops a potion in order to create second identity, Hyde. Once the potion takes over and Hyde is in control, he enters a sadistic affair with a prostitute named Ivy. Of course, the pre-code era was perfect for director Rouben Mamoulian's adaptation because it was free to explore the subject of Victorian suppression. Amongst other scenes in the film, March's Hyde is shown kissing Ivy's revealing cleavage and later drives Ivy to madness with their relationship.
The special effects used in Paramount's version is hailed as remarkable by today's standards. The transitional scenes in which Jekyll turns into his hideous counterpart Mr. Hyde, was accomplished by using red camera filters which alternated to reveal actor Fredric March's transformation to Hyde. It was reported that the make-up was so extreme that it almost permanently disfigured the actor. Once the film wrapped, March was hospitalized due to the make-up and the stress of playing dual characters.
But all of his suffering would not go unnoticed. "Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" opened to rave reviews and became a blockbuster around the country. March's performance was well-received by critics, which lead to an Oscar nomination and win for his terrifying portrayal. The film's cameraman, Karl Struss, also received an Oscar nomination for his revered cinematography. As did the screenplay's writers, Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein.
Ten years later, MGM Studios made the decision to make their own version of Stevenson's novel. But by then, Hollywood was a different place. It was being controlled by the Hays Code, which regulated a film's display of general morality but more specifically displays of violence and sexuality. In an unusual turn of events, MGM also purchased the rights to Paramount's version and recalled every print of the film before their own adaptation went into production. They reportedly wanted to bury the original to avoid comparisons. Later, this purchase would lead film historians to believe that the film was lost until it was found again in 1989.
It goes without saying that the 1941 adaptation was was subdued, devoid of violence and sexuality because of the Hays Code. One example is the pivotal change of the character Ivy (played by Ingrid Bergman) who is portrayed as a barmaid/singer but never suggesting that she is a prostitute. It comes to no surprise that when the film was released, it was not met with success, either financial or critical. Critics panned the film, commenting that Tracy's portrayal in the lead role was too bland as Dr.Jekyll and not terrifying enough as Mr. Hyde in order to be compared to March's portrayal. Although it was made in jest, March added salt to the wound by sending Tracy a telegram thanking the actor for the boost to his reputation and his career.