Horror on the Lens: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (dir by John S. Robertson)


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Ever since the birth of film, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been a popular subject for adaptation.  Not only does the classic story of a good doctor who unleashes his evil instinct via potion serve as a potent metaphor for everything from sexual repression to drug addiction, but the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has provides an excellent opportunity for an actor to show off.

The first film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is believed to have been made in 1908.  Two more version followed in 1912 and 1913 and then, suddenly, 1920 saw three different film versions.

The best known of the 1920 version is our film for today.  This version is best remembered for John Barrymore’s powerful performance in the title role but it also holds up remarkably well as a work of cinematic horror.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 22: Winter Under the Stars


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I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and since my DVR is heading towards max capacity, I’m way overdue! Everyone out there in classic film fan land knows about TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars”, right? Well, consider this my Winter version, containing a half-dozen capsule reviews of some Hollywood star-filled films of the past!

PLAYMATES (RKO 1941; D: David Butler ) – That great thespian John Barrymore’s press agent (Patsy Kelly) schemes with swing band leader Kay Kyser’s press agent (Peter Lind Hayes) to team the two in a Shakespearean  festival! Most critics bemoan the fact that this was Barrymore’s final film, satirizing himself and hamming it up mercilessly, but The Great Profile, though bloated from years of alcohol abuse and hard living, seems to be enjoying himself in this fairly funny but minor screwball comedy with music. Lupe Velez livens things up as Barrymore’s spitfire…

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Pre Code Confidential #25: The Stars Are Out for a Delicious DINNER AT EIGHT (MGM 1933)


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After the success of 1932’s all-star GRAND HOTEL, MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer kept his sharp eyes peeled for a follow-up vehicle. The answer came with DINNER AT EIGHT, based on the witty Broadway smash written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Mayer assigned his newest producer (and son-in-law) David O. Selznick, fresh from making hits at RKO, who in turn handed the director’s reigns to another MGM newcomer, George Cukor. Both would have long, prosperous careers there and elsewhere. Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz adapted the play to the screen for the studio with “more stars than there are in heaven”, and those stars truly shine in this film (in the interest of fairness, the stars will be presented to you alphabetically):

John Barrymoreas Larry Renault 

The Great Profile plays aging, alcoholic former silent star Larry Renault in a role that surely hit close to home. 

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Hollywood Babylon: TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (Warner Brothers 1958)


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Hollywood biopics are by and large more about their entertainment value than historical accuracy. TOO MUCH TOO SOON is no exception. It tells the story of actress Diana Barrymore, daughter of “The Great Profile” John, based on her 1957 best-selling tell-all, and though it pretty much sticks to the facts, many of them have been sanitized for audience consumption. Dorothy Malone , fresh off her Oscar-winning role in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, is very good indeed as Diana, whose true life was much more sordid than fiction, and we’ll get to all that later. What makes the film for me was the actor portraying the dissipated John Barrymore – none other than Errol Flynn !

Errol Flynn (1909-1959) as John Barrymore

Don’t expect to see the dashing star of CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD here. Flynn (who a year later would release his own tell-all book, MY…

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The Seventh Annual Academy Awards: 1920


Over on Through the Shattered Lens Presents the Oscars, we are reimagining Oscar history, one year at a time. Today, we take a look at 1920. Prohibition goes into effect, women finally get the right to vote, Harding is elected President, D.W. Griffith finally gets some recognition, and Fatty Arbuckle is the most popular man in Hollywood!

Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars

William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS

1920 was a year of many changes.

On January 16th, the 18th Amendment went into effect and prohibition became the law of the land.  Suddenly, it was illegal to transport and sell alcohol in the United States.  As social reformers rejoiced, the government grew and ordinary citizens started to hoard whatever liquor they had.  (Selling alcohol was illegal but drinking it was not.)  Perhaps the people happiest about prohibition were the gangsters who now had a totally new market to exploit.

On August 26th, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed and, finally, all women were granted the right to vote.  And it came not a minute too late because it was time for the United States to elect a new president.  Weary after the nonstop drama of  8 years of Woodrow Wilson, the American electorate turned to Warren…

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The Fourth Annual Academy Awards: 1917


Lisa and I continue to reimagine the Oscar history, one year at a time. Today, we look at 1917. The U.S. enters World War I, the Pickfords take over Hollywood, and, for the first time, the entire membership of the Academy gets to vote.

Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars

The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

On March 4th, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office and began his second term of President.  Just a few months earlier, he had run for reelection on a platform of maintaining American neutrality in the war that was ravaging Europe.  His slogan was “He Kept Us Out Of War,” and it was enough to allow him to survive one of the closest elections in U.S. History.

One month later, the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered into what would come to be called World War I.

Whereas the previous year had been dominated by films, like the Award-winning Civilization, that promoted neutrality and world peace, 1917 saw the release of several films that were designed to support the American war effort.  The pacifism of Civilization was forgotten as the box office embraced…

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Shattered Politics #3: Hold That Co-Ed (dir by George Marshall)


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“Americans will put up with bad government but they won’t stand for bad sportsmanship!” — A political consultant in Hold That Co-Ed (1938)

Rusty Stevens (George Murphy) is the new head football coach at State University.  (Which state?  We never learn for sure, though the implication is that it’s somewhere near Louisiana.)  From the minute that he arrives, Rusty discovers why State’s football program is so unheralded.  Not only are the majority of the students lazy and unmotivated but the college can’t even afford to buy the players uniforms.  The perpetually nervous Dean Thatcher (Donald Meek) is of no help when it comes to getting the university what it needs.  Even worse, the state’s Governor, Gabby Harrigan (John Barrymore), is running for the senate and he has sworn that he’s going to solve the state’s budget crisis by cutting the football program!

(Cue dramatic music.  Actually, not really.  There’s not a single dramatic moment to be found in Hold that Co-Ed.)

Well, what can Rusty be expected to do, other than lead all the students on a march down to the capitol building where they demand to see Gov. Harrigan.  However, Harrigan is busy giving an interview and he refuses to meet with the students.  Instead, he tells a fawning reporter how he is going to introduce a bill in the U.S. Senate that will guarantee all retired people, “Not one, not two, not three, but a sum of 400 dollars every month!”

After the reporter leaves, his cynical (Is there any other type?) secretary Marjorie (Marjorie Weaver) asks Harrigan how the government will ever be able to afford his plan.  Harrigan says that the government can’t but “isn’t it nice for” retired people “to have something to look forward to?”

(Gov. Harrigan sounds like he could be elected President in 2016.)

Meanwhile, the college students get rowdy in the front office and end up picking up the Governor’s aide, Wilbur (Jack Haley, who a year later would play The Tin Man in The Wizard Of Oz), and passing him around over their heads.  Naturally, this gets the attention of the press and suddenly, the fate of State’s football program is a campaign issue.

Upon discovering that most voters like football, Harrigan declares himself to be State’s biggest supporter and soon starts to play a very prominent role in the football program.  Not only does he arrange for Lizzie Olsen (Joan Davis) to become the only female to play on a college football team (When informed that Lizzie playing is against the rules, Harrigan replies, “I’ll change them!”) but he also pays players to come to State.  (When informed that paying players is against the law, Harrigan replies, “I’ll change the law!”)

It all eventually leads to Rusty romancing Marjorie and a bet between Harrigan and his opponent in the Senate race in which the outcome of the big game will determine who withdraws from the race.

Because of course it does.

First released in 1938, Hold That Co-Ed is one of those strange films that seems like it could only have come out in the 1930s.  Obviously, it’s primarily a college comedy.  Yet, at the same time, it’s also a musical which features Rusty randomly breaking out into song and dancing.  And then, on top of that, it’s a political satire.  (Reportedly, Harrigan was based on Huey Long, who also served as the basis for a far more sinister character in All The King’s Men.)

And, in its way, Hold That Co-Ed is a fun, little time capsule.  If anything, the film’s political satire feels just as relevant today as it probably did when it was first released.  As playing in grand theatrical fashion by John Barrymore, Gabby Harrigan could be any number of pompous, say-whatever-you-have-to-say demagogues.

What makes this film particularly interesting is just how much it’s on Harrigan’s side.  Whereas most political films always feel the need to at least pretend to be on the side of “good” government, Hold that Co-Ed cheerfully celebrates Harrigan’s casual corruption.  In this shrill day and age, there’s something refreshing about seeing a film that passes no judgment.

And speaking of politics, John Barrymore was never elected to political office.  However, the film’s other star, George Murphy, was.  He served in the U.S. Senate from 1965 to 1971.

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Governor Gabby Harrigan (John Barrymore) in Hold That Co-Ed