Arguably Barrymore's greatest silent film, his bravura performance is a technical tour de force. All of Barrymore's previous film performances pale beside it. Of the subsequent nine silents, only THE SEA BEAST and WHEN A MAN LOVES approach it. DR.JEKYLL & MR.HYDE was shot in Paramount's Astoria studio in the mornings while Barrymore rehearsed RICHARD III afternoons and appeared in THE JEST evenings. In addition he had begun a heady but exhausting courtship of MICHAEL STRANGE. It is no surprise that he soon suffered a complete physical collapse.
The photography is thoroughly romantic. Visually, Barrymore is at his apex. Barrymore's classic beauty, flawless carriage and consummate grace is never again equalled. Barrymore as Dr. Jekyll avails himself of every theatrical aid to his natural good looks. Eye make-up and lipstick are obvious. One entire set of rugs, draperies, mirrors etc used in the film were designed by ROBERT EDMUND JONES for THE JEST. Many of the antiques in the film were owned by Barrymore.
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Most remarkable of all is Barrymore's ability to effect the facial transformation of one to the other solely by his own dramatic resources. The first horrible metamorphosis is photographed in a single long take. Barrymore begins as Dr. Jekyll and without the aid of cinematic tricks contorts himself into Mr. Hyde. No matter how often the film is reseen, the moment ever astonishes.
Barrymore as Mr. Hyde enacts his first of several memorable villains. Of the various character types within his film persona, he greatly preferred playing the macabre, obsessed heavy to the more popular herioes.
French magazine devoted to Dr.Jekyll
Critics recognized Barrymore's performance as a masterpiece. Publicity for subsequent films hyped him not only as a great stage actor, but as the creator of DR.JEKYLL & MR.HYDE. The NEW YORK TIMES (29 March 1920) gave this review:
'John Barrymore as Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde came to the screen of the Rivoli yesterday afternoon. This statement must be the outstanding and joyfully heralded feature of any report on the motion picture . . . for the excellence of the photoplay, everything that distinguishes it . . . is centered in Mr. Barrymore's flawless performance. . . His performance is one of pure motion picture pantomine on as high a level as has ever been attained by anyone . . . He creates such a genuinely beautiful Dr. Jekyll and compellingly hideous Mr. Hyde, and emphasizes the contrast between the two with such a sure eye for essentials, that one must believe in both while he sees them and afterwards admire a work of art.