Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been adapted for various media dozens of times. The poor Doctor seems a little stale after seeing him do the same old thing ad nauseum, but there are a few examples of a refreshing take on this all too familiar story. Hammer's 1971 film Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde starring lead Hammer vixen Martine Beswicke and the eccentric gentleman Ralph Bates definitely falls into that category. The film was Hammer's second adaptation of the story after their 1960 film The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll with Dawn Addams (The Vampire Lovers) and famous co-star Christopher Lee.
The late 60's saw audiences demanding more for their movies with the release of artfully crafted horror films like Rosemary's Baby. Hammer started to fall off the radar, so to keep up with the Joneses they amped up the nudity and violence in their films to compete. As European censors started to loosen their grip in the early 70's, companies like Hammer took advantage of this freedom in order to stay afloat (or just because). In the midst of flimsy nightgowns and lesbian vampire sex, Hammer released a thoughtful gender bending flick that feels more contemporary than most of their repertoire, despite its historical backdrop. In the vein of Ingrid Pitt, Martine Beswicke delivers a self-assured and sexy performance as the dominant and animalistic half to Dr. Jekyll's personality.
Beswicke had several films under her belt before being approached by Hammer in early '71 for Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde. You probably remember her as a bond girl in From Russia with Love and Thunderball. She also starred in Hammer's One Million Years B.C. opposite Raquel Welch and Prehistoric Women (Slave Girls). She was hand picked for the role of Sister Hyde because of her resemblance to co-star Ralph Bates. "We talked about the male and female within each of us, and how he would feel if he was me," she reveals in Titan Books' Hammer Glamour.
The film starts out like many of Hammer's moody period pieces. Foggy streets, shadowy figures, and a skulking Dr. Jekyll who is desperate to create a formula that promises eternal youth. He's been experimenting on flies but requires the hormones of recently deceased women (of course) to make his experiment work. His corpse supply runs out so he desperately turns to some body snatchers who supply him with all the cold flesh he needs. Finally--a breakthrough! After guzzling hormones like they're going out of style to 'test' the formula, he is transformed into the beautiful Sister Hyde (Martine Beswicke). Soon they take matters into their own hands and ditch the body snatchers for prostitutes, starting a vicious cycle of murder and mayhem à la Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, the brother (Lewis Fiander) and sister (Susan Broderick dressed like Little Bo Peep) who live upstairs from Doc become infatuated with him and his 'sister' not realizing the grisly events that have been taking place. Sister Hyde starts to dominate the Doctor (he kinda likes it)--buying pretty dresses, prowling for victims on her own at night, seducing everyone to get what she wants. It's a fight to the finish for Dr. Jekyll's soul. Who will win?
Kudos to director Roy Ward Baker for finding the right tone to explore the gender and sexual implications of these characters. Moments like Jekyll accidentally picking up a dress instead of a suit and a tense interlude with the Doctor and his neighbor Howard are played pitch perfectly. The transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is well done and overall the imagery in the film is authentic and absorbing. Both Bates and Beswicke have a strong presence; Bates' handsome visage and quirky persona is a nice play off Beswicke's exotic and earthy sensuality. Both command the screen when they have it. Even though Beswicke's lines are minimal, her feline prowess speaks for itself. She steals the show as the sinister seductress and that's why she's number three in the Hammer Glamour countdown.
You can read my review of Hammer Glamour here.