Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde ~ We saw this on last year's TCM Classic Cruise, which of course is the way to see any movie, in the company of passionate like-minded individuals, introduced by industry professionals, and in this case - of a classic silent film - accompanied by a live orchestra.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is no stranger to this kind of stuff as their name might imply. They've produced soundtracks, and performed live similarly, for The General (I even bought the DVD with their score while on board), The Mark of Zorro, and one of my favorites, as well as one of the first, movie serials - Les Vampires.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra compiles and performs the film music, called 'photoplay music' in the lost vernacular, just as it was done back in the day. Silent films never had official soundtracks as we know today. Each theater had a house band that had a repertoire of various types of music appropriate to each scene. Mont Alto continues the tradition.

I can't tell you all what an amazing experience it was to arrive early for the showing in the Walt Disney Theatre to get a good seat and see and hear them performing. Wonderful to both see and hear them before they recessed below the stage so the film could be seen. The music played came from an assortment of composers like Gabriel Marie, Gaston Borch, and Wilson Smith.

The music was seamless. The Bride noted at times she had forgotten there was a live orchestra performing because the film and the score interacting in concert was so involving. Of course the music merely set the background for perhaps one of the most thrilling and frightening of the silent horrors - Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde from 1920.

New York passes well for Victorian London, but then again, it had to. Shot around John Barrymore's schedule to accommodate his title role as Richard III and you can see the character in both his Jekyll and Hyde, as well as a hearty dose of overacting. The work schedule must have been crazy, wearing pounds of armor on stage every night and then filming this flick during the day with so much strenuous physical acting.

His transformations are wonderful and his Hyde with the scarily long fingers and his simian Yeti-like head is terrifying. Notably, each transformation was designed to make Hyde appear more dominant and monstrous, but that first transformation was all Barrymore - no make up, just him. Bad girl Nita Naldi is hotness embodied, for me at least, and good girl Martha Mansfield is suitably porcelain and unspoiled, for the moment at least.

It's not just that this is the 1920 silent version of the story, or that it's John Barrymore giving one of his greatest performances, this one showing on the TCM Classic Cruise on board the Disney Magic was special for another reason - its score was being performed by a live orchestra. This was not just a classic film, this was a once in a lifetime experience.

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