‘Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder,’ is the message of the book and film phenomenon Twilight. As millions of fans will tell you, teen heroine Bella and her vampire boyfriend Edward forswear sex for fear of the perilous consequences – Edward may be a ‘good’ vampire, but he is terrified of turning evil if he gives in to his desire for Bella.
Twilight opens in UK cinemas on Friday 19 December, but if you can’t restrain yourself until then the BFI has just released a restored version of a classic movie that illustrates the dangers of sexual repression – Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Widely regarded as the best and most terrifying screen version of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic tale, Mamoulian’s 1931 film stars Fredric March in an Oscar-winning performance as the Victorian physician whose experiments to separate the good and the evil in his soul turn him into a murderous monster.
Made during that brief period when Hollywood sound films explored quite racy material, before the notorious Production – or Hays – Code clamped down in 1934 on anything smacking of supposed immorality, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quite explicitly links Jekyll’s woes to sexual frustration.
‘I can’t wait any longer,’ he tells his fiancée, society beauty Muriel (Rose Hobart), but her stuffy, brigadier-general father won’t let him bring forward the date of their wedding. Soon after this exchange, Jekyll encounters enticing floozy Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), who treats him to a teasing semi-striptease in her bedroom after he rescues her from a lout who is beating her up in the street. Surprisingly erotic, the scene was unsurprisingly cut from the film on its post-Code re-release in 1936.
Afterwards, Jekyll’s friend, Lanyon, chides him for his behaviour.
Lanyon: I thought your conduct quite disgusting, Jekyll.
Jekyll: Conduct? Why, a pretty girl kissed me. Should I call the constable? Even suppose I’d liked it?
Lanyon: Perhaps you’ve forgotten you’re engaged to Muriel?
Jekyll: Forgotten it? Can a man dying of thirst forget water? And do you know what would happen to that thirst if it were denied water?
But Jekyll’s thirst is denied. The general continues to insist on a long engagement, sending Jekyll back to his laboratory, where he fervently mixes the potion that will transform him into the grotesque, licentious Hyde. As he does so, a seething pot in the lab bubbles over, all too symbolically spelling out a moral very different to that of Twilight: trying to put a lid on sexual desire can be highly dangerous.
Twilight’s Edward refrains from sex because he fears it will turn him into a monster; Jekyll turns into one, according to Mamoulian’s film, because society stifles his healthy desires.