Bureaucrats in despair and Dr. Jekyll’s children: movies

LIVING (2022) stars Bill Nighy as a British bureaucratic drone in 1955 London, forced to reassess his life when he learns it only has months left. This leads to a half-hearted stab at hedonism to finding a connection with a pretty girl from his office (which everyone assumes, incorrectly, is more hedonism) to helping a band of housewives push plans for a new city park past the bureaucratic obstacles in their path. Solid performances by the entire cast and great period detail make this worth seeing. “It’s quite a bore, really.”

Living is a remake of IKIRU (1952), an Akira Kurasowa film that is, if anything, even more tragic. Nighy’s bureaucrat has a dignity granted by his stiff upper lip; Kurasowa’s protagonist is beaten and bent down from living a life that simply doesn’t matter. Kurasowa’s film is also longer so the various incidents get more time to play out. It’s the better film but only by degrees. “I can’t remember a thing I’ve done in this office for the last thirty years.”

GOOD TIMES, WONDERFUL TIMES (1966) is an anti-war film that contrasts the supposedly clever insights about war of people at a swinging London party with scenes from Stalingrad, Hiroshima, Nazi rallies and WW I enlistment to suggest that the cleverness is a delusion. For anyone my age, the tone is familiar and the contrast between life back home and the reality of the front lines goes back to All Quiet on the Western Front. If not groundbreaking, good. “If you bring 15,000 people together to march, it’s an act of war — and they’re against war.”

Bill Warren’s book Keep Watching the Skies says Jack Pollexfen and his cowriter came up with THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL as the silliest possible movie title, then proceeded to write and sell a script. While many silly titles have been attached to hit films (e.g., I Married a Monster From Outer Space), this one’s a clunker. Louis Hayward plays the eponymous protagonist, determined to duplicate his father’s formula, thereby proving he wasn’t a deranged madman but a scientific visionary — but is he unleashing his own Mr. Hyde?

As Warren says, this amounts to Jekyll and Hyde without Hyde: there’s one scene where Hayward changes and it might be a hallucination. There are repeated references to Hyde the Monster being some sort of myth tacked on to a more mundane reality, but it’s unclear whether that means Jekyll was a split personality or — well, I’m not sure Pollexfen thought through the options himself. “Burning witches has always been a popular sport, hasn’t it?”

Pollexfen then reworked the same idea into 1957’s DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL (which, like the Fredric March version, pronounces it JEE-kel) with Gloria Talbot the hapless adoptee who learns her true identity, then keeps waking up at night with blood on her clothes and hearing stories of another murder in the neighborhood — oh, no, could it be … This one does give us a monster but it’s a werewolf with very bad makeup and it turns out not only is he framing Talbot, he framed her father too! The amazingly talentless John Agar plays Talbot’s fiancee. “If I’m to keep my word to your father, a word I gave before you were born, you must hear this alone.”

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