Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Strange Case of Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde

In 1938, British documentary filmmaker John Grierson was tasked by the Government of Canada to study the state of films produced through its Motion Pictures Bureau, which was established in 1918. This department was originally founded to promote Canadian trade and industry, and to centralize all government film production. A year later, the National Film Act was passed--which was influenced by Grierson's report--and led to the establishment of The National Film Board of Canada.

Many early productions through the NFB were propaganda films supporting World War II, co-produced by Grierson under the banner Canada Carries On. After the war ended, the NFB expanded production and distribution; this included public service shorts, one of which may be considered Canada's first horror film: Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde (1950).

In an effort to promote driver safety, this PSA features a truck driver mulling over why the kindest of men turn to complete monsters once they get behind the wheel. (Oddly enough, the driver and his co-worker are reminiscent of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton of The Honeymooners, even though this short was produced five years before the TV series.)

Influenced by the 1941 Spencer Tracy film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which is referenced within the short itself), this production was written by Donald Mulholland and directed by David Bairstow, both of whom had prolific careers with the NFB.

Gentleman Jekyll Driver Hyde
It's an entertaining short with some awful makeup effects, but the point of the PSA is clear--and it includes a hilarious ending that I won't spoil here (the film is linked below). Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde also features some interesting archival stock footage of early automobiles, as well as several urban centres--including Toronto (featuring the PCC model streetcar) and New York City (featuring the "Third Avenue Railway" streetcars). Most of the original footage appears to have been shot in Montreal.

The National Film Board of Canada  is still active to this day, producing and distributing documentary films, animation, web documentaries and alternative dramas (over 13,000 productions that have won over 5,000 awards!). Dozens of these are streamed online for free, and many are available to purchase. Their complete catalog is here: http://onf-nfb.gc.ca/en/our-collection/

Trivia: the short film features a glimpse of the truck driver's "diploma of professional driving," which was an actual button produced by the Quebec Safety League. These were awarded beginning in 1931, in an effort to promote safe driving among commercial vehicle operators.


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