Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon: Martine Beswick in Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde

When Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe asked for participants for a Hammer Halloween Blogathon, I joined enthusiastically. I love many of the Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee movies made at Hammer like Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Mummy. However, I decided I wanted to highlight a Hammer star whom I have met twice instead: Martine Beswick. Beswick co-starred in One Million Years B.C. In addition, she played the lead role in Prehistoric Women. Many men will fondly remember Martine for her roles in these films. She was strong, confident, and sexy. I know numerous men (like my hubby) who still find the cat fight between Martine and Raquel to be a high point in One Million Years B.C. However, the Hammer film in which Martine Beswick gets to truly show her acting skills is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

David's ink of Martine Beswick as Sister Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a very interesting film because it takes the tale of a doctor whose experimentation releases his dark side in a different direction. In this version, Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) is trying to create an elixir of life. He discovers that female hormones may be the secret ingredient needed for elixir. Jekyll hires grave robbers Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) to provide him with newly deceased young women so he has enough hormones for his experiments. He succeeds in extending the life of a male housefly and shares his discovery with his friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim). Robertson is not impressed because he says the fly is female and the life span is not exceptional for a female. Jekyll insists he started with a male fly. However, there are eggs in the fly's jar indicating that the fly is now female.

Jekyll records his findings

Jekyll decides that he needs a human subject. Therefore, he decides to inject himself with his magic mixture. After injecting himself, Jekyll is transformed into a sexy woman (Martine Beswick). Now, Jekyll realizes he needs to do more work and research. Meanwhile, he is attracting the attention of his upstairs neighbors, the Spencers. Mrs. Spencer (Dorothy Alison) and her son Howard (Lewis Fiander) are somewhat suspicious of Jekyll's odd behavior. However, Mrs. Spencer's daughter Susan (Susan Brodrick) is attracted to Jekyll and convinced he is a good man.

Sister Hyde emerges

The good doctor is determined to continue his research but has to deal with some major issues. First, he needs to explain why a woman is in his apartment. Jekyll decides to call his alter ego, Mrs. Hyde. She is his widowed sister who is temporarily living with him. In addition, Mrs. Hyde and Howard have developed a mutual attraction. This leads to Mrs. Hyde's desire to emerge more often.

Howard and Hyde share a private moment together.

A second issue arises when the people of London have figured out what Burke and Hare have been doing. They haven't just been robbing graves, they have been murdering women too. A lynch mob blinds Burke and hangs Hare. This means Jekyll will need a new source for recently deceased young women. Therefore, Jekyll decides that he will provide his own "fresh" supply of young females. He does not view his killing as "murder" since it is in the name of science.

Susan Spencer, the woman who loves Jekyll

The third issue involves Jekyll's own feelings for Susan. He has never let anyone get very close to him. However, Jekyll is attracted to Susan's kindness as well as her beauty. This potential relationship angers Mrs. Hyde. She wants to be the dominate personality and create a life with her lover, Howard.  Just as in other versions of the story, the Hyde character is willing to do anything to survive. In fact, Mrs. Hyde begins to do the killing for Jekyll in order to procure more hormones for the elixir that helps her live.

Sister Hyde on the prowl

I found this film to be interesting for reasons other than the gender twist. The fact that plot works the real life killers Burke and Hare into the story is quite clever. After all, Jekyll would go to the best source for "recently deceased." In addition, when Jekyll and Hyde begin their murder spree, it is in the Whitechapel section of London. Hence, the film proposes that Jack the Ripper was in fact Jekyll/Hyde.

I think the striking resemblance between Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick helps make the plot plausible. It does seem reasonable that Bates could evolve into Beswick as a woman. I also like how Jekyll is portrayed here. Jekyll is not as noble as he is in previous versions. Jekyll consciously chooses to commit murder while he is Jekyll in order to  continue his work. His disregard for human life while the "good" personality is pretty shocking. I think Ralph Bates is very effective in depicting Jekyll as amoral. In this version, it is hard to truly condone his actions. This version and Bates' portrayal make it clear that Jekyll is self absorbed and ultimately should be held responsible for all the tragedy that occurs.

However, it is Martine Beswick who truly impressed me in this film. She has less screen time than Bates, but she makes the most of it. Much of her acting is nonverbal. Beswick is not given a great deal of dialogue so her demeanor is key to her performance. She radiates confidence with her sly grin. Martine said in a Q & A session at Monster Bash in June, 2012 that she was proud of her work in this film. I wholeheartedly agree. If you have not seen Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, why not take a look this Halloween?


  1. Excellent article honey as always ! And I love the artwork ! lol ! :)

    1. Thanks for the compliment and use of your artwork!

  2. Ms. Beswick should be proud of her performance in this "gender bender." I've always thought that AVENGERS scribe Brian Clemens' twist on the Jekyll-Hyde theme was very clever. But its execution was dependent on two actors that could team to play a single male-female character and the casting of Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick was inspired. With simply a look, Martine captured Hyde's cruelty and Ralph makes a nice weak-willed Jekyll. Love David's inspired portrait of Martine Beswick from this film. And, yes, who could forget the infamous fight scene between Raquel (the blonde) and Martine (the brunette) in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.?

    1. Thanks Rick. I am so glad you organized this Hammer Blogathon!

  3. Oh what a tangled web we weave ... that kept running through my mind as I read your review about this movie! Everybody falling in love with Sister Hyde or Dr. Jekyll -- what a mess! This is one I haven't seen, and it looks like I've missed a good one. The two main characters do indeed look very much alike, don't they? You make an excellent point about Dr. Jekyll: " Jekyll is self absorbed and ultimately should be held responsible for all the tragedy that occurs." That has always been true, but the most famous Jekyll movies have always featured actors we identify with and feel sorry for, such as Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. But the character always knows what he has done, yet keeps doing it.

    Very good review, one that interests me in seeing this movie -- hope I can get to do so soon! Oh, and David's drawing is wonderful!

    1. Thanks Becky! We miss you and think of you often. And you're correct, the casting of likable actors in previous versions did make us feel sorry for Jekyll. In this version, Ralph Bates has an angst vibe that works well in making us see Jekyll more as an egotist.

  4. The best part of the Hammer blogathon is reading about all these wonderful films and realizing how long it's been since I've seen many of them.

    A lot of fans fault Hammer for turning out endless Dracula sequels or lesbian vampires a la the Karnstein trilogy.

    I don't agree. Even in the early 1970s they were turning the formula on its head with movies such as this title, "Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter" or "Demons of the Mind." I don't like the latter, but I applaud Hammer for trying something different.

    "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" sounds like it could be a camp fest but instead is a most thoughtful psychological horror film. Hammer has nothing to be ashamed of with this one. The acting here is way above what the title indicates, and Bates and Beswick are both superb in their roles. A real Hammer winner all the way.

    1. Thanks Kevin. I agree! This movie truly is not some camp classic -- it is a great study in the psychology of a man trying to justify his evil deeds. The gender twist creates more drama because it pulls in more victims.