Bad, bad, bad, bad girls, they make me feel so … uncomfortable?

After watching Mary Reilly, I’d planned to stop watching Jekyll and Hyde-related material unless I go ahead with a film reference book on them. Anything I watch now I’d have to rewatch when I write the book and a lot of films such as Horror High, barely bear watching once. However when I discovered the Tubi streaming service, which I get free through Amazon Prime, has Fantasy Island, I succumbed to the temptation to watch a couple of Stevenson-based episodes (though one is very much an edge case).

Fantasy Island was an anthology show starring Ricardo Montalban as Roark, the enigmatic owner of a fabulous Pacific island vacation resort, with Hervé Villechaize as his right hand, Tattoo. In addition to every possible amenity — gambling casinos, sports, wilderness areas, pools to lounge around — Roark’s special service was catering to guest’s fantasies (my apologies if y’all already know all this). These range from the mundane (a guy wants to live in a version of Three’s Company, rooming with two beautiful women for a week) to the unconventional (a woman wants to fake her death and attend her own funeral) to the paranormal, as in the two here. Various episodes revealed Roark himself is centuries old and possesses considerable supernatural power.

In the first episode (each episode included two plots, but I won’t bother with the other one here), prim, uptight psychologist Dr. Griffin (Rosemary Forsyth) arrives on the island with her sister Jennifer (Maureen McCormack). Griffin works at a halfway house and can’t understand why the girls keep returning to their old, self-destructive lives and bad, dangerous boyfriends. She has the same problem with her sister, whose petty-crook boyfriend Ross (Don Stroud) has made the trip with them.

Roark reveals that Jekyll and Hyde was based on a real case involving Stevenson’s friend Dr. Lanyon (a supporting character in the book) and that he has Lanyon’s formula here. Drinking it turns Griffin into sexy, wild Lila — no makeup as in the Fredric March version, just letting her hair down and putting on a slinky dress.

Lila easily seduces Ross but instead of dumping Ross, Jennifer wants to imitate the bad girl to keep her man. Then it turns out Ross taped his night with Griffin and he threatens to show it to Jennifer, making her realize who Lila really is. Griffin slips into her Lila dress but lacks the oomph her other self put into it; when she tells Ross about the potion he makes her take a much larger dose than safe, resulting in her turning into an ugly harridan who tries to kill him.

Roark intervenes before Griffin becomes a killer. He then tells her her actions sprang from hating men; she admits that her first husband was an abusive brute leading her to reject love and become an emotionally cold figure. Now she realizes the key to dealing with her patients is caring about them; she applies the same warmth to Jennifer and they leave on a happy note.

If the producers thought of Mary Ann and Miss Sophisticate as a Jekyll/Hyde story I doubt they’d have run it a few episodes later (presumably they saw it as an Evil Ventriloquist’s Dummy story, something films have been doing since 1945’s Dead of Night). However it does feel like it deserves a mention.

Annette Funicello plays Mary Ann, “the world’s most famous ventriloquist” thanks to her puppet Valerie, a shameless gold-digging sexpot (“You don’t marry men for money, silly, you divorce them for money.”). Her fiancé George (Don Galloway) wants to marry her, but as she tells Roark, she’s afraid the Valerie side of her personality is clouding her judgment. For one weekend she wants to expel that part of her personality so that she can, as she sees it, think clearly about what she wants. Roark tells Mary Ann that to do that he’ll have to bring her puppet to life. When he does, Valerie (Maren Jensen) reveals she has zero interest in being repressed again once the weekend ends.

Mary Ann’s initial happiness at being free ends when Valerie bangs her knee on a table and Mary Ann feels it (because Valerie is part of her). Valerie takes great glee in hurting herself, then seduces George (it’s implied he’s reacting to her, unconsciously, as part of his fiancee), forcing Mary Ann to feel every second of it (she and George have not slept together). Valerie puts on a ventriloquist show in an empty room with Mary Ann as her submissive puppet; Roark appears and encourages Mary Ann to fight back. The Good Girl fights the Bad Girl and turns her back into a dummy, then burns it. Free of her dark side, she tells Tattoo she’s marrying George and apparently giving up show business.

Watching the two stories confirms my thinking that where male Hydes are sometimes monsters and usually brutes, female Hydes tend to be sexy. Given the amount of discomfort our society has with female sexuality, that makes a certain amount of sense — a lot of women have to repress their urges and conform — but it also feels like a male fantasy (under every prim librarian there’s a sex volcano ready to burn its way out!). Women repress anger too, but I haven’t seen that as much — though of course, there aren’t that many female Hydes to study.

Both these stories seems uncomfortable with the idea Mary Ann or Griffin might have a bad-girl sexual self lurking inside them. There’s no suggestion Griffin enjoys her Lila persona the way Jekyll enjoyed becoming Hyde; despite what Mary Ann says, she shows no sign of being tempted to walk on the wild side or marry someone with more money than George. The logical ending, to me, would be Mary Ann embracing and attaining balance with her wild side, the way Kirk does with his counterpart in Star Trek: The Enemy Within. Instead, the implication is she’s purged her Valerie side completely and is better off for it. I didn’t think that worked when I first saw it and my view hasn’t changed.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Bad, bad, bad, bad girls, they make me feel so … uncomfortable?

  1. Pingback: One of my review posts with less-than-awesome movies | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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