Bonus Reviews: Metropolis (1927) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 186
For this week’s bonus films, we’ve got a couple of really old classics for you. 1927's Uber-famous, silent "Metropolis" and the Academy-award winning "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" from 1931. Good stuff!
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Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou
Stars: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich
Run Time: 2 Hours, 33 Minutes
We begin with a montage of industrial machines. Very non-cheerful people march into work for a shift change. They work deep underground in a huge facility.
Meanwhile, in the “Club of the Sons,” men run track races, play games, and generally have fun. This places was created by the very rich for their children. Freder, the son of Joh, the leader of the city, chases a girl around a fountain. He grabs the girl, and they get ready to “go to it” when a teacher and a bunch of children come in. The teacher and Freder stare at each other from across the courtyard, and Freder loses interest in the girl he was playing with.
Freder goes to inspect the machine. Meanwhile, in the boiler room, the pressure is rising, and it explodes, revealing Moloch, a giant demon head that takes the pace of the machine. Bound workers are leading its mouth by guards, followed by willing workers who march in without force. Freder blinks, and the machine reappears, with many injured and dead workers on the floor.
Freder runs out and demands to go to the New Tower of Babel to see his father, the master of the city. We see a panoramic city from many angles, with movement everywhere. Meanwhile, Joh Frederson dictates a letter to his assistants while a stock ticker shows the events of the day behind him. His assistant Josaphat didn’t tell Joh about the explosion, but Freder tells him everything. Freder and Joh disagree on the value of workers. “What if one day those down below rise up to stop you?” He asks.
The foreman of the Heart Machine is Grot. He’s found plans on the bodies of two of the dead workers— sabotage? Joh gets angry at this and fires Josaphat. Freder claims that being fired by Joh is the same as being fed to the machine. Freder chases after Josaphat, who is very upset. Freder explains that he’ll fix Josaphat up with a job tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, Joh is unhappy with Freder’s weakness and orders that he be followed everywhere. Freder wants to work with the machines, so he trades clothes with an 11811, an exhausted worker, and takes over. He tells 11811 to go hang out with Josaphat for tonight.
Rotwang the inventor lives in a weird old house somewhere in the city. He’s got a metal hand. Joh goes to visit the grave of Hel, his dead wife, and encounters Rotwang there. Rotwang claims to have re-created Hel and invites Joh in to see it. It’s a metal woman. It stands up and walks!
Rotwang says this is the man of the future, the Machine Man. In another 24 Horus of work, no one will be able to tell this machine from a real person. Joh hands the plans Grot found to Rotwang and asks what they are. Rotwang explains that it’s a map of the catacombs deep beneath the city. The two men head down Rotwang’s secret staircase to the catacombs.
Meanwhile, Freder finds another copy of those plans and is invited to a secret meeting later today. Finally, his shift ends and he follows the other workers… down to the catacombs. It’s like a big church down there, with crosses and candles and everything. Maria, the teacher from before, is on the altar and giving a sermon and a prayer. Rotwang and Joh also watch the service from a hole high in the wall.
Maria tells the story of the Tower of Babel. The men thought up the tower and then hired huge numbers of men to build it. The tower was built and destroyed. “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart,” Maria explains. Maria and Freder stare longingly at each other. She thinks he will be their mediator.
Joh commands Rotwang to make his Machine Man in Maria’s likeness to sow discord among the workers. Rotwang follows Maria deep into the catacombs and scares her into going up the wrong staircase, to his secret lab.
Freder goes to church and hears an apocalyptic prophecy. Elsewhere, Rotwang orders his Machine Man to cause trouble.
Meanwhile, 11811 makes it to Yoshihara, but is grabbed by the Thin Man, the one who has been following Freder. Freder finally goes to see Josaphat, who hasn’t seen 11811/Georgie yet. The Thin Man orders 11811 to go back to work and forget everything. The Thin Man then pays a visit to Josaphat and offers to give him lots of money to leave town.
Rotwang and Maria struggle inside the lab, and she screams. Freder hears her, as he just happens to be walking by outside. Rotwang hooks Maria up to the machine and copies her likeness onto the robot. The machine opens its eyes…
The door opens, and Freder rushes inside to find Maria’s gone. The robot Maria goes to visit Joh, who orders her to destroy the rebels in the tunnels. Freder rushes in to interrupt, but instead has some kind of mental attack and passes out.
Rotwang and Joh go to the club and watch robot-Maria dance. She drives all the young men wild with her sexy shenanigans. Freder has a vision of the Whore of Babylon, who happens to resemble dancing Maria a lot. Death raises his scythe, and Freder says “Death descends upon the city!”
Josaphat catches up with Freder. The only thing keeping the workers in line is the hope of the promised “mediator” who is prophesied to be coming. Young men are fighting and killing each other over this new Maria, which is causing all kinds of trouble with the men. Freder accepts that he will be the mediator and heads to the big meeting.
Joh wants the workers to forcefully revolt, so he can use force against them. Fake Maria’s out there nonstop spreading the word of the revolution. “Kill them— the machines!” The men start to forget about the promised mediator.
Rotwang admits that Maria works for him and not Joh, and that everything may not be Joh thinks it is. Joh, however, is listening outside and the two fight. As they do battle, the real Maria escapes.
The workers revolt. They all load up into the elevators and head for the surface world. The workers leave the machines, so robot Maria leads them on to the Heart Machine. Grot locks them out with shield doors. Joh gets on the videophone with Grot and gets an earful. Joh orders him to open up and let the workers in. Joh wants the workers to destroy the Heart Machine. Grot explains to the workers that if they destroy the machine, the whole city will be flooded. Maria turns the machine up to eleven, and the gauges start to rise…
The machine explodes, and the lower city starts to fill with water. The real Maria works to evacuate all the children. Freder and Josaphat climb the ladders to get out.
Joh sits in his office and waits for the lights to go out. The Thin Man comes in and tells Joh that his son is with the workers. Freder finds the real Maria, and they kiss and tell the children which way to go to escape the flood. Before long, the underground city is completely destroyed.
The Thin Man accuses Joh of murdering the city and thousands of workers. Grot points out to the workers that their children are all downstairs drowning in the flooded city. They hadn’t thought of that. Grot turns them all against Maria— but which Maria will they catch first, the real or the robot?
They catch up to the robot first and tie her to a stake like a witch. They set fire to the wood and wait for her to burn. Freder sees this, and he tries to rescue her, but the men hold him back. They watch as “Maria” turns back into a robot.
Rotwang chases the real Maria around, thinking she’s his long, lost Hel. Freder sees them running around and starts to chase them as well. Freder and Rotwang fight up on the tower as Joh regrets his decisions. Rotwang takes the fast way off the tower, and Joh runs into the church to find his son. Joh, Freder, and Maria come out the base of the church and encounter Grot and the crowd outside. Grot and Joh refuse to shake hands; management and the workers need… a mediator! Freder gets between the two and shows them how to be friends again!
I’d only seen clips of this prior to this viewing, and there was a lot more here than I thought there would be. This is really long (2.5+ hours), and a lot happens without getting slow or boring. If filmed today, this would probably be expanded into a full miniseries. There were more than 37,000 extras in this, and the crowd scenes are not only real, they’re huge.
The sets here are incredibly impressive for their time. They’re huge and quite intricate, and even the cityscapes are much more than simple matte paintings (well, some of them are matte paintings). The various special effects are all really well done, and they don’t really stand out for the most part, they’re just part of the story.
I’m not sure what Joh’s plan was. He wanted the workers to revolt so he could use force against them, but he never even tried to stop them. He just incited them all to destroy the city.
Much like many more modern tales, such as Soylent Green, the horror here isn’t so much the evil robot or any individual characters, but the dystopian world-system itself.
#sci-fi #silent #dystopia #unposted
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Written by Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath
Stars Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart
Run Time: 1 Hour, 46 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A classic horror film, really well done for its time, and it’s still entertaining and interesting today. The make-up effects are cool, the story is good, the acting is excellent. Frederic March co-won the best actor Oscar that year, and we can see why.
The butler, Poole, nags Dr. Jekyll about his upcoming lecture; he’s going to be late if he doesn’t quit playing Bach on the pipe organ in his living room. We get a POV shot as Jekyll plays, gets up, and puts on his cloak for the evening. He even sees himself in the mirror. This was probably an innovative shooting style for the time.
Jekyll begins his lecture. He wants to talk about man’s soul. Man is two beings, one striving for nobility, his good self. The other ties him to the Earth– the bad self. If these two selves could be separated from each other, how great could the good half be? He thinks this separation may be possible.
Later on, we see that Dr. Jekyll is pretty good at his job as surgeon and all-around physician. Dr. Lanyon wants Jekyll to go with him to the big ball at the General’s house, but Jekyll would rather do more operations that are needed. Lanyon makes excuses for Jekyll to Muriel, who is in love with Jekyll. Jekyll finally arrives, and he dances with Muriel. They are engaged, and he wants to get married now, but her father, the General, wants them to wait eight more months– decency must be observed! The general calls Jekyll eccentric.
Jekyll comes to the rescue of Ivy, a woman being beaten on the street, and the two flirt a little bit; well, at least she does. We see that yeah, he’s into it too, but gets caught in the act by Lanyon. She tells him to “come back soon.” Lanyon criticizes Jekyll all the way home. This gets the two men talking about Jekyll’s theories again.
Jekyll works feverishly in his lab on his side project. Finally finished, he locks the door and drinks it. He grabs his throat and changes before our eyes. He dreams about people scolding him about indecency, impropriety, and the way things are done. Afterward, he looks more like a monkey than a man, but he seems to enjoy it.
The serum only works for a few minutes, and when Poole asks about hearing a strange voice, Jekyll says that it was his friend, Mr. Hyde that was visiting. Later, Muriel says that she and her father are going away for some time, and Jekyll will have to wait many weeks before seeing her again.
Jekyll makes more of his formula and downs it once again. He goes looking for Ivy and cackles like a madman. He’s an ugly monster, but he’s confident, well dressed, and has money, so he’s OK in public. He goes to the music hall and watches the show. He runs into Ivy there, and the two sort of hit it off. He’s lacking all the social niceties that Jekyll resents so much, “I’m no gentleman, no beauty, but I have money!” She soon decides he’s too creepy and wants to leave, but he’s not having it.
Hyde buys Ivy an apartment and keeps her there. He abuses her, but she’s well fed and it’s a nice place. He terrorizes her, but at least he’s having a good time. He’s pretty awful, but she has nowhere else to go.
Muriel and the general return to town, and Jekyll returns to himself. He sends fifty pounds to Ivy. Muriel is angry because Jekyll never answered her letters. He wasn’t quite himself; he was ill, he explains. The two of them finally get the general to allow them to marry in a month. Jekyll’s happy, so he plays more Bach on the pipe organ.
And then Ivy shows up, wanting to thank Jekyll for the money he sent. She complains that Hyde keeps beating her and asks for poison. She’s do … anything for his help. Jekyll says Hyde will never come back, but she doesn’t believe it.
He walks to the party where his marriage is going to be announced. He stops to watch a bird being eaten by a cat. The shock makes him change into Hyde without drinking anything.
Back at Ivy’s place, Ivy celebrates never seeing Hyde again. Hyde comes in, and her celebrations are short-lived; so is she. Soon, the police are out looking for Hyde. Poole won’t let him in the front door, and Jekyll threw away the key to the back door. Jekyll never shows up to his party, and the general is not pleased. “I forbid you to see this man again!”
Hyde sends a messenger to Lanyon, asking for help. Lanyon goes to his lab to get the chemicals the note asks for, but won’t give up the drugs without seeing Dr. Jekyll. Hyde swears him to secrecy and drinks the potion; he changes back to Jekyll, who explains everything. Lanyon says it’s going to happen again and again; it’s conquered him already. He promises to release Muriel from their engagement.
Jekyll goes over to the general’s house to break things off with Muriel. The general is not so forgiving this time. He apologizes and makes a speech about how evil he has been.
On the way out, he changes into Hyde once more. He breaks back in and attacks the butler and the general. He beats the general to death with his cane. The cops show up, and Hyde is on the run again. Lanyon investigates the crime scene and tells the cops about Jekyll.
The police chase Hyde to Jekyll’s lab, and Jekyll tells them Hyde just went out the back way. Lanyon shows up and sets the policemen straight about who they’re there for. After a short fight, one of them shoots Hyde.
This was the first horror film to win an Academy Award, three of them in fact. Best actor, best adapted screenplay, and best cinematography black-and-white.
There are a lot of point-of-view shots here as if the camera takes the place of one of the characters. We’ve seen this done hundreds of times, but this may be one of the earliest occurrences.
The actual transformation scene is a classic, and it was all done in one take. He really looks like he changes into a different person, but it was all done with makeup and lighting. He ends up looking like a cross between Jerry Lewis and a chimpanzee, but it’s a good transformation at least.
It’s pretty long, but it never drags; there’s always something new going on.
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