Friday, 8 March 2013

Daughter of Dr Jekyll (1957)

Edgar G. Ulmer spent most of his career making low-budget movies that were a lot better and more interesting than they had any right to be. Daughter of Dr Jekyll, made in 1957, is not one of the highlights of his career but it’s still worthy of note.

Despite the title this is more of a werewolf movie than a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or mad scientist movie.

Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) arrives at the home of her guardian Dr Lomas (Arthur Shields) with her boyfriend George Hastings (John Agar) in tow. It’s her twenty-first birthday and she announces that she and George are engaged to be married. Before that can happen Dr Lomas suggests that she should hear her father’s will. It turns out that she is the daughter of the infamous Dr Jekyll, whom the local villagers considered to be a werewolf. It also turns out that Dr Lomas’s big house actually belongs to her. She is now a wealthy young woman, but given her ancestry Dr Lomas tries to persuade George that marrying her would not be a wise idea.

The locals not only believe Dr Jekyll to have been a werewolf; they suspect that his daughter might be one as well. In fact they’re in the mood for lighting those torches and burning down the house in true horror movie style.

George is determined to marry Janet anyway. They decide they might as well explore the house, since it now belongs to her, and they discover Dr Jekyll’s secret laboratory.

Janet starts to have nightmares and when people start to get killed and she wakes up with blood on her hands she starts to get fairly thoroughly creeped out. It’s not going to take much to convince her that she’s really a werewolf.

The big problem with this movie is the fairly terrible script by Jack Pollexfen, and the fact that things that the audience should discover gradually are given away much too soon. But Ulmer was used to having to take second-rate material and they to do something interesting with it and in this case he concentrates on mood and atmosphere. That’s not easy to do on a very low budget but that never deterred Ulmer from trying. And he manages pretty well, making extensive use of fog (always a good way to disguise an inadequate budget) and miniatures. The miniatures are obviously miniatures but they always were in Ulmer’s movies and it doesn’t matter, he still gets away with them.

The movie does have a major asset in Gloria Talbott. Her performance is pretty good and she has the perfect look for a horror movie heroine who may or may not turn out to be more monster than heroine. Arthur Shields slices the ham good and thick but he’s entertaining. John Agar is a little on the dull side but he’s adequate considering that Gloria Talbott and Arthur Shields are carrying the movie.

The dream sequences give Ulmer the chance to show what he can do and they’re the highlight of the movie. While there are some genuinely eerie moments there’s also a great deal of enjoyable low-budget cheesiness on offer here.

On DVD the movie looks about as good as such a low-budget movie could be expected to look.

This movie is not quite first-rate Ulmer but even second-rate Ulmer is worth watching, and Daughter of Dr Jekyll is recommended for fans of this always fascinating and very unfortunate director.

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