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Savant Preview:

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll
AllDay Entertainment
1957 / B&W / 1:85 / Single Layer, Single Density / Dolby Digital Mono
Starring Gloria Talbott, John Agar, Arthur Shields, John Dierkes
Cinematography John F. Warren
Production Designer Theodore Holsopple
Film Editor Holbrook N. Todd
Writer Jack Pollexfen
Produced by Ilse Lahn, Jack Pollexfen
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Edgar G. Ulmer's name is becoming a little better known because of All Day Entertainment's growing line of revival Ulmer DVDs. Ulmer, the 'King of the Bs' and the maker of dozens of microscopically budgeted films, had only a couple of titles out on VHS and Laserdisc when All Day began its series with Bluebeard, Strange Woman and Moon Over Harlem. Now they've followed up with Daughter of Dr Jekyll. A later title in the Ulmer filmography, it's neither as well known as his classics The Black Cat, Detour, The Man from Planet X) nor as good as some of his more obscure films (Strange Illusion, The Cavern, The Naked Dawn).


On the eve of her 21st birthday, Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) brings her fiancé George Hastings (John Agar) back to her ancestral country home to meet with her guardian, the kindly Doctor Lomas (Arthur Shields), and to assure him they won't be asking for financial assistance for their marriage. Instead of congratulating the couple, Lomas tells Janet in private that the wedding is a terrible idea. Her deceased father was none other than the dreaded murderer, Dr. Jekyll, whose 'evil' would doubtlessly be inherited by Janet's children. Undeterred by her initial depression, George is making progress in getting Janet to go through with the marriage, but then bizarre events begin to occur. Under medication, Janet dreams of wandering the heather in her nightgown and murdering strangers under the full moon. When she awakens and finds blood on her hands and mud on her shoes, she assumes the worst. With servants showing up dead and the goonish manservant Jacob (John Dierkes) sharpening stakes to drive through her heart, Janet begins a spiral into madness, and begs her fiancee to kill her.

The story is not only slight but something of a mess. Writer-producer Jack Pollexfen recycled his script for, what else, 1951's The Son of Jr. Jekyll. It's not nearly as amusing as promised by Andrew Sarris' sarcastic line in The American Cinema "... anyone who loves the cinema must be moved by The Daughter of Dr Jekyll, a film with a scenario so atrocious that it takes forty minutes to establish that the daughter of Dr Jekyll is indeed the daughter of Dr Jekyll." The mystery is non-existent, what with the fact that most viewers know the title of the film going in. The movie is also bookended with terribly witless shots of the villain in full Mr Hyde makeup chortling at the camera, so we see the identity of the real killer long before poor Janet finds out. Even without these giveaways, the villain shows his hand in everything he does and says, and there are too few characters for any other kind of surprise to pop up.

As a horror film, Daughter of Dr Jekyll is not very exciting. This Hyde is sort of a combination vampire/werewolf who fights like a man and plots to drive an heiress insane for the purpose of inheriting an ill-gotten fortune. The monster business is just an afterthought. Partway there persists the hope that the story will take some surprising direction, anything at all to enliven itself, but no.

Edgar Ulmer never made a completely uninteresting movie but there's not much in Daughter to set it apart. The Ulmer magic that gives a film like The Man From Planet X a potent mood is lacking. There is almost no period detail except for some tacky costumes and one briefly seen auto. A charmless miniature is used for the rural mansion's exterior, but brisk L.A. city traffic can viewed through the mansion windows in some of the interior scenes. The foggy exteriors, which are usually very atmospheric in Ulmer films, are here provided with dull and obvious optical effects. The horror dream montages seem disconnected, because the 'Janet' in them is an unbilled woman with a more revealing nightgown than those worn by Gloria Talbott. Director Ulmer routinely turned hopeless assignments into cinematic gems, but he doesn't seem to have been allowed to do much with this one.

With the exception of the likeable but unexpressive John Agar, the acting is fine. Gloria Talbott, best remembered from I Married a Monster From Outer Space, is always good and looks very attractive in some of the better-photographed scenes. Arthur Shields, the underachieving brother of Barry Fitzgerald and a familiar face in John Ford movies (he's the preacher in Drums Along the Mohawk) has altogether too much of the film to carry but does it well. If only they had a more interesting script to work with.

All Day's DVD of Daughter of Dr Jekyll is a nice job, especially its best extras, video interviews with John Agar and Arianné Ulmer Cipes, the Daughter of Director Ulmer Savant wrote about in 1998. The elderly Agar covers much of his career in a few minutes of halting speech, showing good humor but also regret for the roles he wanted and never got. Ms. Cipes, whose preservationist activities have been a major part of the revival of her father's films at screenings and in this series of DVDs, meanders on about generalities for a few minutes but then launches into a very interesting discussion of the filming, and her recent efforts to save Daughter's elements from destruction. She not-too-convincingly claims the silly 'monster' bookends were added 'just for fun', when they look suspiciously like padding - Allied Artists films of this period are notorious for longer versions created by tossing in anything that will get the film up to saleable length. Arrianné's best story is how she tracked down Jack Pollexfen himself, who turned up still alive in Sausalito, California. Through him she secured a clear title to 90 precious cans of Daughter of Dr. Jekyll in the Warner vault.

Since the transfer is heralded as being from original fine grain negatives, there is a surprising variance in the quality of the DVD on view. In general, foggy scenes don't transfer well to video, but almost every exterior shot here is so grainy one has to conclude that either something went wrong, or the original camerawork was very inconsistent. There appears to be some mixing and matching of elements in search of acceptable material. Daughter looks no better than anybody else's cheap 50s monster film.

Daughter of Dr Jekyll is a loving presentation of one of the legendary Edgar G. Ulmer's less rewarding efforts. Handsomely packaged, the disc boasts a pair of fascinating interviews, an original trailer, and a colorful selection of posters and stills, even posters showing it co-billed with The Cyclops, which also starred Gloria Talbott. Like many another '50s Allied Artists film, it's been difficult to find for decades. Once used for a cheap joke by critic Andrew Sarris, Ulmer's reputation is being done a great service by All Day, just by enabling his movies to be seen.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll rates:
Movie: Fair
Video: Good
Supplements: Trailer, stills and posters, Interviews with John Agar and Arrianné Ulmer Cipes
Reviewed: June 9, 2000

Other Edgar G. Ulmer related Savant articles:

Savant Review: Detour
Savant Review: The Man from Planet X
Savant Essay: The Daughter of Director Ulmer

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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