20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Impressive early underwater photography and great props and sets don’t make up for a messy script that tries too hard break out of the linear storytelling style. Decent actors who unfortunately don’t get to do much with their roles. 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. 1916, USA. Written and directed by Stuart Paton. Underwater and submarine scenes directed by Ernest Williamson (credited as “underwater photographer”). Starring: Allen Holubar, Matt Moore, Jane Gail, William Welsh. Produced by Carl Laemmle for Universal. IMDb score: 7.1

Allen Holubar as blackface Nemo.

Allen Holubar as blackface Nemo.

Like H.G. Wells, French author Jules Verne has been a staple of film in general, and science fiction film in particular, since the birth of the medium, from Georges Méliès‘ 1902 A Trip to the Moon to the 2012 film The Mysterious Island by Supernatural director Mark Sheppard. This 1916 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea actually isn’t the first lengthy adaptation of the book – a nearly 30 minutes long film was made by Méliès in 1907 – although he didn’t much care for the overall story, but was more interested in in creating sea monsters and mermaids. Unfortunately only a fragment of that film remains, hence it is not included in this movie blog. A little know American film, 18 minutes long, also seems to have been made in 1905, directed by Wallace McCutcheon. That film is presumably lost, neither IMDb nor any other apparent scource have much information on it.

As a matter of fact, this film, written and directed by American Stuart Paton, is a cross between 20,000 Leagues… and The Mysterious Island – which is logical in a sense, since both Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus play a significant part in the latter book. The film follows the basic story of the former book fairly well (apart from the ending), and adds some freely adapted bits from the second. Continue reading

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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(5/10) In a nutshell: This 1913 version of the famous story is almost half an hour in length. It has some impressive production values, but falls short because of movie megastar King Baggot’s unintentionally comic portrayal of Hyde.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 1913, USA. Directed by: Herbert Brenon. Written by Herbert Brenon, based on the stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan (uncredited), based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Starring: King Baggot, Jane Gail. Produced by Carl Laemmle for IMP/Universal. IMDb score: 5.3

King Baggot scaring a whole tavern to death with his Jerry Lewis teeth.

King Baggot scaring a whole tavern to death with his Jerry Lewis teeth.

1912-1915 was something of a golden age for filmatisations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s sci-fi horror novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Hot off the heels of the 1912 version starring James Cruze (review) came the first 1913 version directed by one of the more prominent directors of the early silent era, Herbert Brenon. The film starred King Baggot, Hollywood’s first true leading man and international star. In many ways it is superior to its 12 minutes long predecessor (which was the 6th known version of the story), but the triple running time isn’t enough to make this film one of the greats. The biggest problem is the Hollywood star himself, who creates a bizarre portrait of Jekyll/Hyde. Continue reading

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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(4/10) In a nutshell: The 1912 American film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the earliest surviving film adaptation of the novel. It’s not an especially well directed, but a decently acted and fairly entertaining version.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 1912, USA. Directed by Lucius Henderson. Written by: Screenplay writer uncredited, possibly Hendrson. Based on the play by Thomas Russell Sullivan, based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. Starring: James Cruz, Florence La Badie. Produced for Thanhouser. IMDb score: 5.9

James Cruze as Mr Hyde in 1912.

James Cruze as Mr Hyde in 1912.

One of the most adapted books in the world is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for short, as there are over 120 known film adaptations and dozens of stage versions. There is endless debate over whether or not the book qualifies as science fiction, with the purists settling firmly on the ”not” side. Since I am taking the broad road on his blog, I fail to completely see why. It is, in any case, the story of a scientist using science (a potion) to change not his appearance, but losing his personality and morals in the act, and using science to stop his ailment when the experiment goes sour. It is both a moral tale about balancing your dark and light sides, and a cautionary tale about the progress of science, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In my book those are the premises for science fiction.

This version, made in the US in 1912, is a short and very basic 12 minute retelling of the story. It was not the first adaptation of the film, but probably the earliest surviving version. As far as I can tell, it is actually the 6th version of the book. Continue reading