The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll / Jekyll’s Inferno / House of Fright (1960) ****

One of the most shocking films of its day with its unusual focus on sex and violence, this takes the famed Robert Louis Stevenson tale down a different direction in that Dr Jekyll enjoys the base animal instincts he has unleashed with his experiments rather than expressing remorse or guilt. Evil has never been more demonstrably enjoyed.

Dr Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a shy cuckolded scientist when he takes the magic elixir that diverts his dull personality towards a more dynamic, if ultimately perverted, destination. From being fearful of life, he begins to sample its more exotic pleasures under the guidance of louche best friend Paul (Christopher Lee) who is carrying on an affair with the good doctor’s wife Kitty (Dawn Addams).

Not only does the reincarnation of Jekyll as the lusty Hyde consort with prostitutes and manage to snare exotic dancer Maria (Norma Marla), a beautiful woman who would normally be way out of his league,  he develops a fetish for violence, almost beating to death a hooligan (Oliver Reed) in a dodgy club, only prevented from committing his first murder by the intervention of his friend.

Sure, there’s some philosophising about the nature of good and evil and whether violence is inborn or nurtured and there are moments when guilt rears its ugly head, but these are pretty fleeting to be honest, and most of the time he can hardly wait for another draught of his poison in order to shake off his insipid persona and revel in the new creation.

But magic will only take you so far. Believing he is now irresistible to women he fancies his chances with Paul’s amour, who is of course none other than his wife, but she will have none of it, finding him a poor alternative to the charming Paul. In one of the most controversial scenes of the day, and perhaps only ironically acceptable at the time, Hyde proceeds to rape the resisting Kitty. This skirts so close to the edge of taste, not just the worst type of domestic abuse (though husband assaulting wife would be no less unusual in Victorian times than it is now), but almost the neanderthal man taking what he wants, that it makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially as it is presented as a come-uppance for the adulterous hoity-toity Kitty.

Perhaps more interesting is that having won over the cold Maria, a trophy lover on a par with the higher-born Kitty, that’s not enough for Hyde.

Also, for the time, is an extremely risqué scene involving Maria and her snake, especially when having completed the usual survey of her curves, the reptile ends up down her throat. That the Victorians were masters of the art of hypocrisy comes as little surprise, but the extent of it takes the viewer aback.  

There’s another twist. When it becomes apparent that his crimes are about to catch up with him the cunning Jekyll attempts to blame Hyde.   

Sumptuously mounted by Terence Fisher (Dracula, Prince of Darkness, 1966) and with nary an attractive character in sight – none of the innocent victims of the vampire sagas, for example – to leaven the sight of such unmitigated wickedness, the director offers an unique vision of how easy human beings will degenerate given the chance. At the outset Paul appears the most obvious villain, leeching on his friend to pay his gambling debts, while at the same time making hay with his wife. But initial audience sympathy for a wife, presented as a beautiful woman who for the sake of security has made a bad marriage and who needs an outlet for passion, soon dissipates as her true character is revealed.

The refusal to temper the ongoing degeneracy with one good character is a bold choice. Budgetary restrictions eliminated the usual transformation scene but that was probably for the best, since Hyde merges as though from a chrysalis into a stronger personality rather than undergoing some body-wracking physical change. It’s almost as if the director is determined to show how easy, given opportunity, a good but essentially weak man will embrace the dark side.

Accusations that Fisher has failed to bring sufficient suspense to the film I find unfair. Certainly, there’s not the tension of the will-he-be-found-out vein, but since the story is so well-known that appears a redundant course sensibly avoided. The director replaces that with ongoing friction between Jekyll and his friend on the one hand and his wife on the other, both of whom are unaware that the man they know as Jekyll is aware of just what a fool has been made of his alter-ego.

The emphasis instead falls on how and when the cuckold will take his revenge. And although the rape scene is unwelcome, there’s a certain ironic sadness for Jekyll to discover that his new persona is no more attractive to his wife than his old one.

Paul Massie (Call Me Genius, 1961) is of course far removed from an actor like Spencer Tracy (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1941) and he relies overmuch on rolling the eyes but even so this is a decent performance. Christopher Lee (Dracula, Prince of Darkness) is the revelation, creating a very believable insidiously charming man who never quite approaches outright villainy. Dawn Addams is excellent as the spoiled entitled wife.

One of the unusual aspects of the picture is that where Hammer had been and would remain a breeding ground for new stars – Christopher Lee a most obvious example – everyone else featured here came to, in cinematic terms only I assure you, an untimely end.

This turned out to be Paul Massie’s only starring role – he only made another three films during the entire decade – and was soon relegated to television. Dawn Addams only managed another nine and, apart from House of Sin/The Liars (1961), spy flick Where the Bullets Fly (1966) might be counted the peak.

David Kossof only made another four, and none beyond 1964. And this was the final film in an extremely brief two-picture career for Norma Marla. Only the uncredited Oliver Reed (Women in Love, 1969) and of course Christopher Lee (Dracula, Prince of Darkness, 1966) went on to bigger and better things.

As did Terence Fisher who helmed most of the best Hammer pictures of the decade. Wolf Mankowitz (The Day the Earth Caught Fire, 1961) wrote the script.

Generally dismissed at the time, this has for good reasons acquired a substantial following and is well worth a look.

The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) ****

A more prescient picture you couldn’t find, tapping into a contemporary audience’s greatest fear – global warming. Its bold cliff-hanger ending would also appeal to a modern audience often left dangling at the climax of a blockbuster. And it cleverly skims on the special effects, relying on the more easily achieved downpours, thick fog, constant sweating, newsreel footage of natural disasters, water rationing and end-of-the-world riots than anything bigger.

But what surprised me more was the sheer pace. Not just a story moving at a frenetic pace but the British characters acting like they had been injected with a heavy dose of New York zap, talking over each other, hardly getting a complete sentence in before interruption, like Howard Hawks had taken command instead of a mere Englishman like Val Guest (Assignment K, 1968), a former journalist.

Front cover of the Pressbook.

It channels the director’s experience into creating the most realistic newspaper office you will ever come across, beating out All the President’s Men (1974) in its representation of how journalism really works, as concerned as much with the general fodder of unheralded stories as the scoops that normally drive such a narrative. And for a story that started off as pure pulp, the dialog is superb, so good it won the Bafta award.

It certainly helped that an actual newspaper editor, Arthur Christiansen (of the Daily Express) lent a guiding hand, playing the role of the editor of this downmarket daily. The summoning of copy boys (actually grown men), the demand for 500 words, the printers ready to switch the front page at a moment’s notice, the inevitable diet of pie and pint, and the emotional casualties as marriages crumble under the strain of a husband more concerned with this next story than wife or children, all serves to ground the film.

And yes, the narrative plays into the usual journalistic tropes, ambitious newspaperman Peter (Edward Judd), career on the line, uses typical wiles, duping lowly scientific secretary Jeannie (Janet Munro) into revealing more than she should. It’s a meet-cute of the old-fashioned variety, she hates him on sight.

Peter is as off-kilter as the world, knocked off its axis by the simultaneous explosion of nuclear devices, unable to come to terms with his divorce, finding solace in the time he spends with his child, and it seems fitting that much of that is spent diving into the darkness of the ghost train ride, the fog equally thematic as he wanders round in circles in that, as aimless as in his life, while a bath is just as cinematically important, not just for the obvious semi-nude scene but as a place of refuge from impending terror.  

These journalists know how to sniff out a story, how to separate the what from the chaff of the official line, digging deeper, and with global connections able to put two and two together far swifter than officialdom. It helps that Peter’s guardian angel Bill (Leo McKern) has a scientific brain and is able to work out the source of the infernal rising temperature.

It’s axiomatic of how clever the screenplay is that Peter and Jeannie come together over a lost child, although Peter, cynical and bitter, but more vulnerable than most, remains a conniving character, happy to risk their burgeoning relationship for the sake of a scoop.

Like Quatermass and the Pit (1967) it’s one revelation after the other as the world hurtles towards oblivion, though not before ending up as the biggest barbecue of all time. The film acknowledges the anti-nuclear demonstrations of the time before piling on proof that man has sown the seeds of destruction on a four-month countdown to doomsday.

We have been here before with end-of-the-world scenarios but this story unfolds not in scientific or official offices, and there’s no President around to add gravitas or take the blame, but in the minds of the dogged journalists, soon appalled by their discoveries, and for once a scoop is unable to save the day or give the villain his just deserts. Whoever is behind the catastrophe remains nameless, although the outcome of superpowers duking it out for supremacy is never in doubt.

Edward Judd (First Men on the Moon, 1964) delivers a star-making performance as the jaded, jagged, journo capable of emotional depths while Janet Munro (Hide and Seek, 1964) escapes Disney tomboy servitude with a very adult role. Leo McKern (Assignment K) has the solid acting chops that would, two decades before television fame as Rumpole of the Bailey, see as a formidable heavyweight addition to any film and a threat to any co-star through jis charismatic ability to steal scenes.

But the film belongs to Val Guest, who constantly turns up the emotional heat and the terror scale, getting the most out of the riveting, sparkling screenplay he co-wrote with Wolf Mankowitz (The 25th Hour, 1967).  

Book into Film – “Dr No” (1962)

If the screenwriters had faithfully adapted the book it would be death by centipede that faced James Bond in his bed. Never mind that a centipede would be nobody’s idea of a scary creature, the insect would have been impossible to replicate on screen. The idea of a poisonous spider being slipped under Bond’s covers was filched from Honey Rider’s past. In the film she recounts how she killed a rapist with a knife, but in the book she employed a black widow spider.

Nor would the idea of Dr No making his fortune from bird shit (guano) seem to carry much appeal, so that was changed for the film, and that forced an alteration to the ending as well for Ian Fleming has the villain drowning in a pile of guano. And in that context, Strangways’ investigation of the island relates to rare spoonbills (a type of birds) not rocks.

Original British paperback edition prior to the movie being made

So the myriad team of screenwriters –Richard Maibuam (The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, 1960), Johanna Harwood (Call Me Bwana, 1963), Berkely Mather (The Long Ships, 1964), Wolf Mankowitz (The Day The Earth Caught Fire, 1961) and director Terence Young – chopped, changed and invented to turn the sixth James Bond novel into the first James Bond film. In publication sequence, this followed From Russia with Love in which Bond had a particularly dangerous encounter with Rosa Klebb, and at the start of the Dr No episode has been recuperating from being poisoned. The Jamaican mission is seen as something of a convalescence, a way to ease Bond gently back into the field, a trip so lacking in urgency that three weeks have passed since the disappearance of Strangways and his secretary.

Naturally, the scriptwriters have to cut to the chase more quickly than that, hence Bond being despatched immediately. Needless to say, there is no dalliance with a certain Ms Trench, that being a screenwriters invention, along with the scene in the casino, inserted in order to punch up the Bond screen legend. Not only is there no dodgy chauffeur waiting for Bond at the airport but Quarrel is introduced immediately as an ally not an opponent. While the female photographer is a genuine freelance, she does scrape Quarrel’s face with a broken flashbulb and delivers a warning about Dr No.

Bond’s tradecraft extends to closely examining the basket of fruit in his room and sending off samples for analysis, and finding they contain cyanide. But the book contains no Professor Dent, Felix Leiter or Miss Taro, and no other attempts (beyond the centipede) on Bond’s life  so the story in some respects moves more straightforwardly towards the mysterious island.

Original U.S. paperback edition prior to the movie being made

As with the film, Bond arrives on the island with Quarrel. But Honey Rider does not appear in dazzling style out of the waves. Bond first catches sight of her from the back. But she is nude and has a broken nose, two provisos that would not go down well either with the censor or a cinematic audience. Much of their dialogue, including the stuff about learning from encyclopedias comes from the book, but her backstory is completely different. Instead of her father being a marine zoologist, he is dead and her once-wealthy family destitute, leaving her to fend for herself, and considering entering prostitution to make a decent living.

The arrival of Dr No’s speedboat and the ensuing gunfire, the destruction of her boat, the chase and the “Dragon” all come from the book, as does Dr No’s million-dollar aquarium, his steel hand, and the opulence of the prisoners’ accommodation. However, there being no radiation in the plot for the book, there is no requirement for them to be stripped naked once captured.

But in the matter of the clear sexual attraction between Bond and Rider, the book and the film are at variance. In the original Fleming version, Rider, although initially resisting his overtures to the extent of dumping cold beans on his hand, is soon making the running, inviting him to share her sleeping bag, an offer which he rejects. Surprisingly, the usually rampant Bond further resists her allure once inside the Dr No compound on the grounds that he has to “stay cold as ice to have any chance of getting out of this mess.”

The screenwriters come up with completely different plot for the climax while incorporating some elements of the book’s ideas. While Dr No remains the same power-mad maniac, his plan is to turn the island into the most important technical intelligence center in the world with the ability to take control of  U.S. rockets and point them at London.

Deeming Bond and Rider as mere irritants, Dr No intends to use them for a sadistic experiment, pegging out Rider in the path of a swarm of crabs and putting Bond through a terrifying obstacle course. Although Bond does escape through a grille and encounter both heat and water, in the book he also has to cope with a giant tarantula and squid before stealing a crane, sending Dr No to his doom and shooting his way out. 

In the film we briefly see Rider tethered to stakes awaiting the crab onslaught before Bond races to the rescue. But, in reality, in the book Dr No’s assumption that death by crabs would be a terrifying ordeal is somewhat misplaced. As Rider points out, she never felt in any danger because crabs are simply not carnivorous. But both book and novel are agreed – they do have sex at the end.

While the screenwriters use elements of the book it is primarily their inventions that turn the novel into an instant screen classic, defining Bond for generations to come. You can almost count the action beats, whether a chase or a fight or mere confrontation, with sex or humor providing welcome respite, but all moving in the same direction of creating a feel for a new type of character and a new kind of film.

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