The Trickster Imp | Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925)
While poking around archive.org yesterday, I came across “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde,” a silent spoof of the perennial “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”I’ve long been a fan of Laurel & Hardy movies. While aware that the due first appeared in silent comedies, I’ve yet to have the privilege of seeing a silent Laurel & Hardy. True, this is Laurel sans Hardy, but this short is a delightful little gem, demonstrating not only the comic flexibility of Stan Laurel, but illustrating a comedic talent poised and capable of translating silent slapstick in the coming storm of sound films.
The movie itself is simple. As the title suggests, “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde” is a send up of the novel and various film incarnations of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Most notably, it specifically directs a wink and nod at the 1920 silent version with John Barrymore in the title role. Stan Laurel, as the erstwhile Pyckle/Pryde successfully separates the dual natures of man in his laboratory and goes on a spree of mayhem around town. Laurel delivers a superlative slap-stick performance complete with jars falling on heads, exploding pants, and a spoof of Barrymore’s transformation throes.
But how does the evil Mr. Hyde, the living embodiment of man’s basest urges and dark thoughts, become a vehicle for yucks? Mr. Pryde, rather than a force of evil, is a trickster imp. His rampage around town does not include beating a child, defiling a stripper, or visits to an opium den. Instead, Mr. Pryde’s unfettered Id chooses to steal ice cream from babies, shoot spitballs at kids, and pop an air filled paper bag in a lady’s ear. The townspeople are, of course, morally outraged at the juvenile antics of this “madman” and chase him back to Dr. Pyckle’s lab. I suppose it’s their fervent indignation that causes them to overlook his transformed dog, complete with Mr. Pryde fright wig, tugging at the seat of his pants.
Aside from the simple yet hilarious premise, “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde” is a clever little wink at the process of silent comedy film making, Take for example, Laurel’s transformation from Pyckle to Pryde. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” allows to watch Barrymore transform into Hyde with some film making magic… a combination of transpositions, quick cuts, emotive acting, and quick cuts, and voila, respectable Jekyll is the scabrous and creepy fingered Hyde. Laurel’s Pyckle, on the other hand, simply falls behind a furniture and pops up as Pryde. Ha ha. Perhaps, more interestingly is the cleverness of the title cards. I have often wondered about Laurel & Hardy silent comedies, since so much of the humor is dependent upon language and the play of language. In “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde” the title cards are not merely expositive, but offer up jokes in and of themselves. As the initial title card tells us, were man’s evil nature allowed to run rampant, “Even saxophone players would be tolerated.”
Clocking in at less than 20 minutes, “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde” is a light, afternoon snack. A definite must see for lovers of silent comedies and the work of Laurel & Hardy. It’s further whetted my appetite for Laurel & Hardy’s silent films. The suggestion box is open for titles.
Watch “Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde”