It is night time in Victorian London, and there is a killer stalking the streets preying on young women. Despite warnings not to go out alone, one prostitute leaves a pub by herself and wanders off home, only to be attacked as she ventures down a shadowy side alley by a tall figure wearing a black cloak. The murderer is none other than Dr Henry Jekyll (Ralph Bates) who hurries back to the laboratory in his home with the organ he has cut from the woman and settles at his writing desk to pen his confession. What experiments has he been conducting? Only a revolutionary new elixir that he hoped would prolong life, but actually has a very different effect...
If awards were given out for film titles, then Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde would have won for its year, at least in the horror category. One of the films produced for the Hammer studios by the team behind The Avengers on television, Brian Clemens (who wrote the ingenious script) and Albert Fennell, it makes you wish their work for the company had yielded more fruit as for the greater part of its running time it proves inventive and slyly humorous. Taking Robert Louis Stevenson's celebrated novel and putting a clever twist on its well worn contrivances results in Dr Jekyll not turning into an animalistic brute, but an attractive woman, supposedly his sister Mrs Hyde (Martine Beswick).
Superbly cast, the film has Jekyll explaining in flashback of how his good intentions went horribly astray. He started out trying to create a panacea for all the diseases striking down Victorians, but his older friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim on top form) points out that by the time he's cured them all he'll be an old man - and may even die before completing his task. So Jekyll decides to change his studies to concentrate on prolonging existence, and searches for the secret to eternal life. His first subject is a housefly which manages to live the human equivalent of two hundred years after taking of the potion.
However, there's a special ingredient in the potion that proves hard to find, probably because it can only be drawn from the organs of young women. Here the first of Clemens' real life borrowings is evident, as Jekyll joins forces with infamous grave robbers Burke and Hare (played with sleazy relish by Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) to get his hands on the bodies he needs. Unfortunately for Jekyll, and yet more unfortunately for the women, Burke and Hare resort to killing to do their work and Burke ends up hanged in the street, giving rise to the amusing observation, "Burke by name and berk by nature!", an allusion to Cockney rhyming slang of the era. Jekyll has an interesting, "by any means necessary" view of his work, really meaning he's prepared to make sacrifices as long as they don't involve his personal security.
So the Jack the Ripper story is brought into play as Jekyll starts killing as his potion takes hold. He is a killer before he initially changes his form, meaning some of the potency of the idea is a little lost, but nevertheless the devious Hyde tries to gain the upper hand when it looks as if she can take over completely. The film may be low budget, but works wonders with use of mirrors and camera trickery to make the transformations believable, and is not afraid to show Jekyll getting in touch with his feminine side as he grows all the more sexually confused. Bates does well as the priggish doctor, but Beswick is a lot more fun as the predatory Hyde, and amusingly conniving. If there's a drawback, it's that once the complications of the situation are set out, the film has nowhere to go but kill off the players, but the presentation is impish enough to carry the flaws. Music by David Whitaker.
Reliable British director who worked his way up from teaboy to assistant to Alfred Hitchcock to overseeing his own hit projects from the 1940s to the 1970s. Making his debut with The October Man, he continued with Morning Departure, Don't Bother To Knock, Inferno, The One That Got Away and what is considered by many to be the best Titanic film, A Night To Remember.