August 28, 2013

Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

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  Won: Academy Award - Best Actor | Venice Film Festival - Audience Referendum, Most Favorite Actor
For as long as I've been interested in the Oscars, I've always thought that Fredric March's win for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was a little perplexing--mostly because it's an acting win for a science-fiction/horror film. These wins, or even nominations, are basically unheard of nowadays. "How good could an early 1930's film about a dude who turns into a monster possibly be?" I thought. And while I've read a few articles in recent years praising March's performance, a part of me couldn't help but continue to judge this book by its cover.

 photo Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 10.09.31 PM.jpgThe role of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is a juicy one. It is essentially two performances in one, with both characters polar opposites of one another, giving the actor a perfect opportunity to showcase his range. In the hands of the wrong actor however and the end result would have been just another hammy early-talkie performance. What makes March's performance so brilliant is that he manages to straddle a fine balance between ACTING and restraint. I find him to be a very eloquent actor (much more eloquent than say, Ruth Chatterton, and I thought he was the best thing in Sarah and Son to boot!) and it's that very eloquence that works for him whenever he plays Dr. Jekyll--some of the lines he is required to deliver sound ridiculous on paper but when March says it I just nod and think, "yeah...yeah!" He gives the tragic character of Jekyll such a likability and a softness--I thought Jekyll's farewell to his fiance, wherein we literally see this gentle man fall apart, incredibly heartbreaking. Again, much of the reason why I liked his performance so much was because of his delivery, and March can certainly deliver, at least compared to the other Actors of his time.

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At the other end of the spectrum is Mr. Hyde. I wasn't quite as taken with March as Hyde but I was still impressed--today we are spoiled with acting in heavy makeup, what with Cotillard as Piaf, Streep as Thatcher or Theron as Wuornos--so I was surprised that the performance's 80+ year handicap didn't feel ridiculous on screen. March is a terror as Hyde, at times a touch over-jarring, but he commands the screen and you can't not watch him as he growls and chews up the scenery. (I say chewing up the scenery here in the nicest way possible--he's loud and raucous but it feels fitting given the character and circumstances.) All in all, it's an excellent performance that lives up to all the hype, and it's an excellent character study in spite of any qualms you may have about its genre and age.

Originally 4-statues, I decided on 10/18/13 that this is a 5-statues kind of performance.

1 comment:

  1. I never cared much for March as an actor - 'hammy' and 'theatrical' were my biggest complaints. Then I saw this film. He's terrific. He sensitively underplays Jeckyll, which came as an unexpected pleasure, and then takes over the screen as Hyde. Everything about that role could have been played wrong but March got everything right. He's over-sized and animalistic, which is quite right, while simultaneously being oppressively sinister. Far from being a caricature, this intense performance possesses an internal malevolence that is quite memorable and gives Jeckyll's fate a surprising poignancy. In fact, it's my favorite Oscar-winning performance by an actor in the '30s, which is not something I ever expected from March. It gave me a new appreciation of him and a desire to revisit his work in other films.