Mark of the Hyde
Just in time for Spooky Season, Warner Archive brings two movies to blu-ray for the first time. Both films have been long overdue for an HD upgrade and it’s a great treat to see them looking the best they ever have on home video. From 1931 we have Fredric March in the fantastic, and Oscar-winning, role of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” then from 1935, Tod Browning gives us the very fun horror/mystery “Mark of the Vampire” reuniting him with “Dracula” star Bela Lugosi.
Back in May Warner Archived released the 1941 MGM film “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” on blu-ray. At the time I commented that I hoped the superior 1931 version would come soon. Though MGM’s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story is the “prestigious” film, it lacks the punch and bite of director Rouben Mamoulian’s take for Paramount.
I’m going to assume I don’t need to tell you the plot of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” but just in case here’s a quick rundown. A brilliant doctor is experimenting with the nature and duality of man, he is a kind, considerate person. But the good doctor makes a potion in hopes to tap into his primitive side, and in doing so he transforms into a raw, animalistic monster. There have been many adaptations of this material over the years, and they all owe a debt to this movie, which to this day I feel reminds the best film version.
Fredric March is brilliant in the title role, he well deserved that Oscar and is hands down one of the finest actors who ever lived. The transformations in this movie are still stunning and iconic, the way March’s face was warped into the evil Hyde was so experimental the makeup almost did serious damage to his skin. Being a “pre-code” horror film parts of the movie have been out in censored versions as more suggestive sequences had to be cut down for future releases, this new blu-ray gives the complete film in its full 96-minute form.
The 1080p HD transfer is a revelation of what has come before. Where prior home video releases were scratchy and washed out, we have a rich and deep black-and-white image. It’s arguably better than the film looked when it was out in theaters in December of 1931. Bonus material is nicely done on this blu-ray too.
The commentary with historian Greg Mank from the original DVD is carried over, and a new commentary with historians Dr. Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr has been added. Both are great tracks and well worth a listen. A fun extra is the 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon “Hyde and Hare,” and the cherry on top is a 1950 radio take on the story with March reprising his Academy Award-winning role.
Despite forever being known to time as Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi only played a vampire four times on film. Twice as Dracula, and twice as unrelated vampires in other movies. One of those films is Tod Browning’s “Mark of the Vampire.” A remake of Browning’s lost 1927 movie “London After Midnight,” “Mark of the Vampire” is very interesting in the horror cannon.
When Universal found massive success with Horror movies in the early 1930s, other studios wanted to try to get a taste of the business for themselves. MGM was the prestige studio and they were a bit more cautious about dipping their toes into the horror vein. Due to the success of “Dracula”, they hired its director to come and make some movies for them. At the studio, Browning would make his most notorious film 1932’s “Freaks,” the failure of which about ended his career.
This is what makes “Mark of the Vampire” such an interesting film. It’s a horror movie, but also a comedy that downright plays as a satire of Horror tropes of the era, some of which Browning himself helped to establish. Lionel Barrymore plays a professor who has been called to investigate a strange murder, where the victim was found with two punch marks on his neck and the body drained of blood. Vampires!? Or maybe something else trying to appear to be a vampire?
I have a soft spot for this film as it’s such a great deal of fun and the truly strange twist at the end makes the whole thing seem like such a lark for the era. Though it doesn’t reach up the comedic highs as “The Bride of Frankenstein,” you could argue it’s the “flip side” to “Dracula.” “Mark of the Vampire” has always looked very rough on home video, so this new blu-ray is a stunning experience.
The image is sharp, clear, rich, and detailed. Again, I’d say it never looked this good when prints were delivered new to theaters. Warner Archive carries over the extras from the DVD release, a very good commentary with historians Kim Newman and Steven Jones, plus a theatrical trailer. They add a short, “A Thrill for Thelma” and a cartoon, “The Calico Dragon.”
Warner Archive has done it once more with two great additions to your home library just in time for Halloween. If you’re a fan of these movies—as I am—seeing them looking restored and the best they’ve ever looked will be an absolute treat for you. Both discs are highly recommended. See you next week.