DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971)
A Victorian scientist tests a serum that transforms him into a sensuous murderess.
An off-the-cuff remark from writer-producer Brian Clemens, lunching in the Elstree canteen, brought Hammer’s Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) to fruition in the summer of 1970. Clemens, who with his producing partner Albert Fennell had returned to filmmaking since the end of their successful TV series The Avengers, was discussing Hammer’s future with Fennell and director Roy Ward Baker. Baker knew Clemens and Fennell well, having directed several episodes of The Avengers, and was at Elstree having just made The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970) for Hammer.
Their conversation about Hammer’s need to refresh the Frankenstein and Dracula characters turned to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic novel of 1886, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Hammer had already made two variations on Stevenson’s story; a comedy starring Bernard Bresslaw called The Ugly Duckling (1959) and Terence Fisher’s more sophisticated The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960). However, seeing a new angle, Clemens suddenly declared: “I’ve got it. I know what happens. Dr Jekyll drinks the magic potion and… he turns into a woman!”
While they all fell about laughing, Hammer CEO Sir James Carreras was apparently in earshot at another table and spoke to Clemens, asking to meet him at Hammer’s offices in Wardour Street. Two days later, Clemens went to the meeting and, when the lift door opened on the second floor, he was greeted by “a beautiful poster for Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde — so they’d designed the poster before I’d written one word of it!” Carreras had prepared the poster based on a brief outline that Clemens provided on the back of an envelope.
After Clemens briefly considered a modern setting, his initial 17-page treatment firmly located the events of the story in the fog-enshrouded Whitechapel of 1888. He associated Jekyll’s transformation into a woman and the need for fresh cadavers, by dint of his search for the elixir of life and experiments using female hormones, with serial killer Jack the Ripper and body snatchers Burke and Hare. When Jekyll becomes Sister Hyde, Victorian mores are seemingly overturned and the men in Jekyll’s circle, including his neighbour Howard Spencer and mentor Professor Robertson, are revealed to be negatively “motivated by a combination of lust and timidity.” As Clemens admitted, “I was always looking for a way to invert the cliche.”
Originally announced in June 1970, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was part of a package of films that Hammer intended to make for Rank, but by September it had been picked up by EMI, financed as part of their slate of productions based at Elstree.
Clemens and Fennell were then contracted to produce the film in October and, after considering the likes of Alan Gibson, Peter Sasdy, Jimmy Sangster, and Gordon Hessler as potential directors, they eventually hired their lunch companion Roy Ward Baker. Baker had established a good working relationship with Hammer between directing Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and Scars of Dracula. The script for Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde “cheered me up no end: once again I had a good one. It was ambitious, too. It demanded atmosphere and good performances. There were hints of the female characteristics in the male and vice versa and other subtleties to explore. Or to explore with subtlety.”
Actor Ralph Bates was touted as one of Hammer’s rising stars when James Carreras ventured in 1969 that “Lee and Cushing are getting a bit long in the tooth. We have a new boy here named Ralph Bates.” Carreras ‘discovered’ Bates after seeing him play Caligula in Granada Television’s 1968 drama series The Caesars. Director Peter Sasdy then chose him for Hammer’s Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), he played the lead in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), and stepped in to replace Peter Cushing when his wife Helen fell ill just before production on Lust for a Vampire (1971). He was their immediate choice to play Dr. Jekyll even though he was never under contract to the studio. Enjoying his time at Hammer immensely, he went from “picture to picture” and “in 18 months I turned around and realised I had done five pictures in a row. I just got sucked in.”
Casting Jekyll’s female alter ego was less fortuitous. Lamb’s Navy Rum model Caroline Munro and former Miss Norway Julie Ege (both associated with the Hammer glamour charm school), were approached but they rejected the role because it required nudity. Apparently, Clemens and Fennell’s first option was Kate O’Mara. She’d previously appeared in The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein for Hammer but, in appearance, was considered too unlike Ralph Bates.
Bates, incidentally, later thought Hammer could’ve been even bolder by allowing him to play the part in drag. Clemens and Fennell auditioned at least a dozen actresses but, despite these efforts, their Sister Hyde could not be found. Then the edict came down from James Carreras that Martine Beswick was to be given the part and he would brook no objections.
Beswick had several Bond films to her credit and, after her appearance in Hammer’s dinosaur epic One Million Years B.C (1966) starring Raquel Welch, was given the lead in Hammer’s Slave Girls (1967). Since then she has completed films in Italy and pursued a career in television in the United States. Coincidentally, it was while she was on holiday in London and happened to visit friends at the William Morris agency that she first heard of Hammer’s search for Sister Hyde. She was interviewed by Carreras, Baker, and Fennell, read the script, and agreed to make the film on the principle. And, as required by the script, she would only be partially nude. It became something of a bone of contention during production.
“I totally agreed with what was in the script, which was bare breasts but not full frontal nudity,” Beswick recalled. Therefore, she objected to the full nudity requested by Roy Ward Baker when she arrived on set after having completed the topless shots. These objections went on for some days but she made her peace with Baker and rationalised the shots worked within the concept of Hyde “being birthed as a woman.” However, her demand for a closed set was only given lip service as she remembered seeing “dozens of people hanging from the rafters” in the studio during the shoot.
With Bates and Beswick, Baker “had nothing to do, it so happens, with either of those choices” and, although he knew Clemens and Fennell weren’t particularly keen on Beswick, when they stood her next to Bates they realised “it was quite uncanny. They really did look alike.” Baker regarded their appearance as “the key, I think, that made the whole thing really work. With some adjustments to the hair and the heels of their shoes and things like that, up and down like that and so on, then it became absolutely convincing.” Bates agreed that their similarity was striking, once this was evident to the producers, and the publicity photo of them both suited, in wing collar and tie and each holding their lapel, was apparently his and Beswick’s idea.
The film was made entirely at Elstree on Stages 3 and 4, and the production was designed by ABPC’s former in-house designer Robert Jones. Many of the atmospheric, foggy street scenes were scheduled first when the six-week shoot commenced in February 1971. Clemens recalled “we built a complex of streets and just moved the walls around from time to time. Very stylised but excellent.” Looking at the film now, the daytime exterior street sets tend to betray the studio bound confines of the film.
Joining Bates and Beswick were Gerald Sim as Jekyll’s friend and mentor Professor Robertson, Australian actor Lewis Fiander as Howard Spencer, brother to sister Susan Spencer, played by Susan Brodrick, and both living with their mother above Jekyll’s rooms. Venerable character actor Ivor Dean was cast as Burke and he was partnered with Tony Calvin playing Hare. Rounding out the main cast was Philip Madoc as Byker, the rather lubricious morgue attendant. Betsy, the prostitute murdered by Jekyll, was played by Virginia Wetherell who later married Ralph Bates after meeting him on the film. “She was the first lady I killed. And the relationship has been going steadily downhill ever since,” Bates once commented to Fangoria, tongue firmly in cheek.
With filming under way, Baker had already worked out how to create the major transformation sequence all in one shot without relying on expensive effects, complex dissolves or cutting. Using both actors sat at angles, in the same costume and mimicking each other’s movements, Baker “shot part of the scene into a full-length mirror. By tracking and panning the camera, I had both Ralph and Martine together, on opposite sides of the mirror, but you only saw one at a time. That way you thought you had seen the transition.”
Beswick also found the creation of the prosthetic worn in the death scene at the end of the film rather trying. When the police finally catch up with Jekyll and he falls to his death after hanging from a rooftop, the body the police recover has a warped face, twisted in mid-transformation between Jekyll and Hyde. It required a plaster cast to be made of her face, including straws placed up her nose so she could breathe as the plaster was applied and gradually set.
The rich production and costume design was supplemented by an equally sumptuous romantic score from David Whitaker. Originally, Harry Robinson was due to score the film. After scoring duties on Countess Dracula (1971), he completed some work, including barrel organ music, but then withdrew after Albert Fennell made it unequivocally clear that he would have preferred to work with his Avengers composer Laurie Johnson. Whitaker knew Hammer’s music supervisor Philip Martell after trying to hire him to conduct music for a film he was working on in the 1960s. The film’s budget didn’t stretch to hiring Martell at the time but, by way of thanking Whitaker for thinking of him, he later repaid the favour by asking him to score Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde.
The title music evokes a Victorian setting redolent of music halls and, as Randall Larson noted, “the main title music is a gorgeous classical waltz… and the Jekyll/Hyde theme is derived from this title waltz, although it is completely different in style and tone… surging evocatively and moodily in large orchestral waves.” Jekyll’s escape to the rooftops, after being cornered by the police, offers a memorable part of the score. It merges urgent atonal sections with piano-based sweeping, melodic passages of the Jekyll/Hyde theme, first heard in the initial transformation sequence, to emphasise the tragic nature of his fate.
The film was viewed by Frank Crofts and Audrey Field at the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) in June 1971, for a charge of £95. Its opening, a striking juxtaposition between a butcher preparing a rabbit and Jekyll murdering one of his victims, was, ironically, the subject of proposed cuts. There was also a request to trim the gore in the murders of Betsy and Robertson. Albert Fennell objected but then suggested alternative edits to these scenes. The examiners were quite concerned about Jekyll depositing entrails, presumably the hormone glands he was desperate to use, into a box. However, confused by the editing of the scene, they thought the entrails were from the butchered rabbit. Upon realising their error they forthrightly demanded, “this is clearly disgusting and should be removed.” This attrition between Hammer and the examiners continued into July and, after some slight trims, the examiners saw the film again with the BBFC’s Secretary Stephen Murphy, passed it as an X and demanded no further cuts.
The film was released on a double bill with Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) on 7 November 1971 after a trade show on 6 October. The success of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde in the UK was probably hampered by several factors. Hammer were essentially competing with themselves as their other double bill of Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil (both 1971) had just gone on general release on 17 October. Cinema audiences were shrinking and the appetite for Hammer’s brand of horror was also waning. This was indicated by that summer’s huge success of their adaptation of London Weekend Television’s ribald sit-com On the Buses. Released in August 1971, it eventually took £2.3 million domestically and was the second most popular film at the British box office that year. The Hyde/Ripper double-bill would never match those takings.
Though it may not have been a financial success, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde remains a witty and insouciant concoction. Told by Jekyll in flashback, to its credit it plays freely with ideas of identity, subjectivity, sexual repression and desire. As Peter Hutchings notes, the emergence of Sister Hyde’s identity, gloriously and inventively shot by director Roy Ward Baker and performed to the hilt by Martine Beswick, is briefly “pleasurable… a return to maternal plenitude” but is only “temporary and achieved at the expense of murder.”
Hyde bursts upon this scene of Victorian rectitude and primness, under the fog of which boils male licentiousness in the forms of Howard Spencer and Professor Robertson. Robertson can only rhapsodise about a “delicious blonde fragment from the chorus of the Alhambra” as the possible cure for Jekyll working himself too hard. Hyde challenges these double standards of the patriarchal status quo, where women are rendered as virginal (Susan Spencer) or as whores (Betsy). As a powerful emblem of female subjectivity, she daringly raises the potential of escaping from these categories before, of course, her dominance destroys Jekyll, the very source of her existence. Ironically, Jekyll’s attempt to cheat death in order to prolong his researches into a universal elixir merely result in shortening his life considerably.
In the context of today’s debates surrounding transgender and queer identity it is rather misdirected but, equally, those concerns weren’t registering in mainstream culture to the same degree back in 1971. The film could be construed as transphobic in some respects, by equating the emergence of Sister Hyde with a figure such as Jack the Ripper, and where queerness is seen as evil realised through murderous acts and Jekyll’s unethical, arrogant ‘research’.
However, it’s easy to get lost in this debate. Rejecting the film on the sole basis of its misplaced attitudes to transgender identity is expecting too much of the enterprise. The film makers did not set out to address those particular concerns and the tone was clearly set in the film’s press book with the unreconstructed claim that “nobody’s ever had him turn into a bird before… !” In essence, the film’s more about the threat to the image of Victorian masculinity as “an unassailable source of power” and one that Matthew Sweet notes, “was riven with internal contradictions, beset with its own weakness and incoherence.”
Establishing her dominance and breaking the rules of this society, Sister Hyde not only punishes Professor Robertson’s curiosity, helping the police to track down and identify Jekyll (and, by extension, her) as the serial killer prowling the foggy streets, but also his pious desire for the kind of women Jekyll has been seeking out. She readily embraces her role because she is a woman “birthed” from Jekyll’s subconscious who can “mentally and physically explore the difference between the experience of sex between men and women.” This dominance leaves Jekyll suddenly feeling attracted to other men and slipping into a state of ‘otherness’, as depicted in the brief moment when he goes to stroke Howard’s face and when we fleetingly see Ralph Bates in Sister Hyde ‘drag’ during Robertson’s murder.
These slippages in subjectivity and desire reflect Stevenson’s original novel. Michael Kane sees the novel as one which raises questions about a myriad of identities in the Victorian milieu and, in particular, how “traditional patriarchal male ‘identity’ relied on other distinctions to shore it up.” Threats to this identity exposed its insecure status and, if weakened, how it could be usurped by a repressed ‘otherness’. The desire for this ‘otherness’ “as inferior / weak / subordinate / passive / ‘feminine’ / childish / primitive / playful / imaginative / ‘camp’ / the site of ambivalence and difference / otherness” would be held in check by, and exist outside of, the masculine self. It’s this sense of struggle for identity that Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde toys with and where Clemens inverts the situation by having Jekyll discover his repressed ‘feminine’ unconscious self rather than his male alter ego.
Doubles and double entrendres fill the script. Its success relies heavily on the splendid performances from Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick, who are very much in tune with Clemens’ wry, knowing homage to the overlapping texts of Victorian melodrama. As well as the Jekyll/Hyde duality, we see other double acts and pairings that reflect this sensibility: Burke and Hare, Susan and Howard, Gerald Sim’s debonair Professor Robertson, that gentlemanly imbiber of the flesh in an age of decorum, and Philip Madoc’s darkly comic and disturbing morgue attendant Byker.
Roy Ward Baker directs with more panache and confidence here than in his previous efforts for Hammer and clearly relishes the material. As film versions of the story have previously sought to do, he uses mirrors and reflections as a visual representation of the functional and dysfunctional nature of the titular characters. These scenes project the oppositional nature of the characters and one sequence sees Sister Hyde gazing at her distorted image, in a mirror now fractured from a knife plunged into it, as a graphic emblem of her unhealthy personality. It’s paired with a similar shot of her and Jekyll’s demise, in their distorted faces seen through the rooftop’s stained glass.
Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, along with many other horror films Hammer made in the 1970s, are often less regarded. This is a shame, as it’s clear that, despite some failings, Hammer were partially successful in their move away from their Gothic horrors of the 1960s. I.Q. Hunter suggests this move was not a betrayal of their past, because the studio had always been in the business of making classy exploitation films, and that the danger of separating and denigrating their 1970s output is to reject “the achievements of such lively, camp and experimental films.” Furthermore, Hunter believes “their generic hybridity and irreverent jokiness are precisely what makes them perfect — and rickety enough — for cult reappraisal.” Hopefully, this lovely high-definition restoration of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde from StudioCanal, clean, detailed and colourful, will encourage further revisions of Hammer’s late period.
Sadly, the Clemens, Baker and Beswick DVD commentary previously issued by Anchor Bay in 2001 isn’t included on this StudioCanal release. However, it does contain the following:
director: Roy Ward Baker.
writer: Brian Clemens.
starring: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, Susan Brodrick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Tony Calvin & Philip Madoc.
I am indebted to the following sources: