The Crimes of Eugene Chantrelle
It was sometime around February 1878 when news from Scotland arrived at the home located at 5 Ravigan Street in Paris, France. The house belonged to Fanny Osbourne, where she lived with her two children, Isobel and Lloyd. Fanny’s home was no stranger to tragedy. Her third born child, Hervey, had passed away from tuberculosis in 1876. This heartbreak struck only months after Fanny had found the strength to leave her longtime philandering husband, Samuel.
The man now residing at the house with Fanny was most interested in the news that had arrived. Personally interested. An old acquaintance, one with whom the man had spent many evenings drinking in the pubs of Edinburgh, had been accused of a shocking crime. Eugene Marie Chantrelle stood accused of administering a fatal overdose of opium to his wife on New Year’s Day.
By most accounts, Chantrelle was a civilized and well-educated member of society. He was born in Nantes, France in 1834. As a young man, he studied medicine at the Nantes Medical School, but was forced to abandon the endeavor when his father’s business went bankrupt during the French Revolution in 1848. Still, Chantrelle went on to lead a successful professional life. He was fluent in French, German, Latin, and Greek, and was eventually employed as a teacher of languages at Newington Academy, a private school in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Sometime in 1867, the thirty-three year old Chantrelle began an inappropriate, sexual relationship with one of his pupils, a fifteen year old girl named Elizabeth Cullen Dyer. For context, the age of consent in Scotland at the time was 12 years old for girls, and 14 for boys. By January of 1868, Lizzie was pregnant with her language teacher’s child, and the couple were forced to wed by Lizzie’s parents on August 11th. 1868. Their first child was born two months later on October 22, and they would go on to have a total of 4 children together.
Despite the scandalous beginnings of their relationship, the act of marriage made it appear as though the couple were doing right by the laws of society. Behind closed doors, the marriage was anything but healthy. Chantrelle would reportedly berate, kick, beat, and cane his child-bride over the course of their ten year marriage. And that’s to say nothing of his proclivity for prostitutes and drinking.
The man living with Fanny Osbourne in Paris would make the journey to Scotland so that he could witness the trial firsthand. A full record of the trial still exists in a bound collection of court documents entitled The Trial of Eugene Marie Chantrelle. According to her own testimony, at approximately 7:00 AM on New Year’s morning, the chambermaid to Madame Chantrelle found her mistress unconscious on the floor of her bedroom. Notably, the maid reported nothing otherwise amiss in the bedroom at this time.
The maid called for Chantrelle, who came to the bedroom and calmly told her to go and check on the children. When the maid returned to the bedroom, Chantrelle was retreating from the window and complained of the smell of gas. The odor was so strong in the room that the maid turned the gas off at the source.
Chantrelle left the house to fetch a doctor, and Lizzie was subsequently moved to the Royal Infirmary. Although Chantrelle told the doctors of the gas leak, they came to the conclusion that her symptoms were more consistent with narcotic poisoning. Lizzie died that afternoon, never regaining consciousness.
In the course of the trial the police reported that they found a freshly broken gas pipe just outside the bedroom window. The chambermaid testified that she could not recall the odor of gas being present in the bedroom until after she left Chantrelle alone to go and check on the children. Lizzie’s post-mortem examination found no trace of coal gas poisoning in her lungs, but doctors also did not find any narcotics in her system. This was not necessarily unexpected, as some narcotics, like opium, are processed by the body so quickly that all traces can disappear within hours. During the investigation, however, the maid reported seeing vomit stains on Lizzie’s nightgown. When tested, these stains were unmistakably positive for the presence of opium.
Chantrelle’s friend from Paris sat watching the events of the trial unfold over the course of 4 days. As part of the investigation into Lizzie’s death, it was disclosed that Chantrelle had taken out a life insurance policy for his wife to the value of 1,000 pounds, a rather hefty amount for the time period. The terms of that insurance policy were such that it would pay out only in the event of death from an accident… like coal gas poisoning. A full inventory of the Chantrelle house and its possessions would reveal a recently purchased vial of opium-a vial that had conveniently gone missing and which Chantrelle could not locate.
The circumstantial evidence was enough, and Chantrelle was found guilty of murdering the mother of his four children. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Later, when speaking with the prosecutors, Chantrelle’s friend would find out that the investigation had revealed evidence that Chantrelle might also have poisoned an acquaintance before fleeing France, poisoned another acquaintance before fleeing England, and possibly might have been involved in poisoning an additional 4 people since coming to live in Scotland.
The entire experience must have been a shocking sequence of events for Chantrelle’s old drinking friend. He had met Chantrelle at the home of Victor Richon, his own former French master. He had dined with Chantrelle; discussed literature with him. They’d argued over the scholarly merits of various translations of texts. The man he came to know after hearing of his exploits in that courtroom could hardly be the same man that he had known and called friend. It was shocking, this hidden duality of the man he had known.
Of all of the crimes that Chantrelle’s prosecutors had shared with him, there was one crime that, for whatever reason, must have gotten stuck in his mind. At one point, Chantrelle placed a large quantity of meat from a local butcher on his ledger, and he never returned to pay off the balance. It was a minor crime, certainly, in comparison to all other others of which Chantrelle stood accused. But still, it stuck in the mind of Chantrelle’s friend. The name of the butcher, you see, was Jockel, only one syllable off from the name Jekyll. And the identity of Chantrelle’s friend? None other than Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Advent of Feature Films
On the last episode of Horrid, I introduced Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous Scottish novelist and the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I recounted a story about William Brodie, a corrupt leader of the local cabinet makers union in Edinburgh. As it turns out, Brodie’s story was only one possible inspiration for Stevenson’s classic tale of horror. Stevenson’s acquaintance with Chantrelle was certainly more personal and recent to the time of the novel’s writing, but historians generally regard both Chantrelle and Brodie as probable inspirations for the sinister Mr. Hyde.
On that episode I also discussed the first surviving film based on Stevenson’s novel. Produced in 1912, this film was entitled simply Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a 12 minute film that is purported to retell the events of the 1887 stage play in a heavily compressed time frame. This film is an interesting touchstone for the next topic that I want to discuss on Horrid. Namely, the maturation of the film medium and the progression from minute long novelties to feature length films.
Movie length has slowly crept up over the years as technology advances and finances allowed for the creation of longer films. It’s an important touchstone for the medium, as the extremely short runtimes of early films often precluded their ability to convey coherent narrative. To be clear, I’m not suggesting a causative relationship here, but rather making an observation.
The term “feature film” has its origins in marketing as opposed to runtime. Originally, movies were often played in nickelodeon theaters with several shorter works presented before it. These introductory films were commonly items like newsreels, cartoons, serials, and the like. However, it was the longer feature film that was advertised, and which people were choosing to come to see. Hence the term, feature film.
A feature-length film, on the other hand, is generally defined as a movie with a runtime of at least 60 minutes. The first feature length film was an Australian drama entitled The Story of the Kelly Gang, and was released in 1906. Since the 1910s, the average length of feature films has increased a couple of times, with the average modern feature film hovering around 100 minutes in length. There is a really interesting data science article which walks through all the steps of calculating this average runtime on the website towardsdatascience.com. Overall, the article finds that movie runtime hasn’t really changed too much over the years, except for some small jumps after the 1930’s and the 1950’s. The finding is contrary to the conventional wisdom that runtimes have steadily increased over the last half century.
Still, during the early days of film, the runtime of films did steadily increase to feature length over time. As mentioned, the 1912 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a 12-minute film. However, there was another Jekyll and Hyde film released the following year in 1913 which had a runtime of 26 minutes; over twice as long. These two films serve as an interesting juxtaposition, being based on the same work and having been released only one year apart.
Making A Monster
Before jumping into comparisons though, let’s begin with a bit of background on the 1913 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film was directed by Herbert Brenon, an Irish filmmaker and actor that was active in the film industry from 1912 to 1940. Brenon was also a screenwriter and an actor, and he is credited with writing this adaptation of Stevenson’s novel.
Brenon was responsible for a number of first film adaptations, including Peter Pan in 1924 and Laugh, Clown, Laugh in 1928. While the earlier work probably requires no introduction, Laugh, Clown, Laugh was a stage play adapted to film by Brenon and starring Lon Chaney, Sr., a name that ought to be familiar to horror movie fans. Although largely eclipsed by his son’s success starring in the classic Universal Monster Movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Lon Chaney, Sr. was known as the Man of a Thousand Faces and starred in the silent film adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, in 1923 and 1925, respectively. We’ll be talking more about Lon Chaney, Sr. and Jr. on Horrid before too long.
Another incredible claim to greatness for Brenon was his being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director at the 1st Academy Awards, which was held on May 16, 1929. The nomination was for his work on Sorrell and Son, an adaptation of a best selling novel from 1925. Although Brenon did not win the award, I’d like to take a moment to start a completely unsubstantiated rumor that he was the very first person to say, “it was an honor just to be nominated.”
Starring as both Jekyll and Hyde in this version is the silent film superstar King Baggot. With a name like that, it isn’t a wonder that the man was advertised as the “King of Silent Films” during that era, and later simply the “King of Movies.” Baggot was so well known and famous that he was also called “The Most Photographed Man in the World” and “The Man Whose Face Is As Familiar As The Man In The Moon.” As a nickname, that last one doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it does speak to the level of fame and renown that Baggot attracted all over the world.
It wasn’t just good publicity either. Baggot was incredibly prolific and multi-talented. In terms of his credits, Baggot starred in over 300 movies, wrote 18 screenplays, and he even directed 45 films. I know I’ve talked a lot about actors in other early horror films that went on to find fame, but Baggot really was the first movie star. Back in the first decade of the 20th century, credit sequences weren’t typically included on films like they are today. King Baggot was among the first to have his name billed not only on the films themselves, but on theater marquees, and even being used in promotional materials like newspaper ads. With his name being actively promoted by studios as early as 1909, Baggot might be the very first movie star, period.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1913)
The 1913 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde does not appear to be based on either of the popular stage plays, from 1887 and 1897, respectively. Still, the filmmakers do include a female character and love interest for Dr. Jekyll, and she is named Alice, like in the 1897 stage play. Perhaps this was a bit of homage on the part of Brenon, but that is pure speculation on my part.
The movie’s 26 minute runtime allows for the inclusion of a great deal more detail than the previous adaptation. For example, after Jekyll’s initial transformation into Hyde, we see scenes of Hyde as he first navigates the town, scaring a group of patrons in a local bar with his grotesque appearance and his unsociable behavior. Further, we are shown Mr. Hyde taking lodgings in the town, away from Jekyll’s house. This is something that Hyde does in the novel, but which was not portrayed in any of the earlier film adaptations. Finally, this is also the first movie where we see Hyde trample a child in the street, another of his “lesser” crimes that was excised from ealier movies in favor of immediately escalating to murder.
In comparison to the 1912 adaptation, the 1913 film does feel more complete from a narrative standpoint. The inclusion of establishing scenes helps build out the world and the characters in ways that the earlier and shorter film simply does not. The most interesting thing about this 1913 adaptation is seeing how it directly compares to the film from the year before, and seeing just how much film had evolved in such a short period of time. However, the move to a more coherent narrative also makes the film more open to criticism as well. For example, a pretty big plot hole is introduced around the one-minute mark of the film.
At the beginning of the second scene of the movie, a title card tells us that “Dr. Lanyon and Lawyer Utterson ridicule Dr. Jekyll for his unheard of experiments.” This piece of exposition is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it takes for granted that the audience knows what experiments the title card is referring to, seemingly expecting the audience to be familiar with the story from other sources. At the same time, the title card is also introducing a story element that significantly differs from previous tellings of the story! Apparently, in this version of the story, the audience is to understand that Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Utterson are both well aware of Dr. Jekyll’s experiments. So, why are Lanyon and Utterson at all fooled by the sudden appearance of Mr. Hyde? Jekyll takes the usual actions, like paying for the trample’s child’s injuries and altering his will to leave his possessions to Hyde. Why would Utterson not make the obvious connection between Jekyll and Hyde since he is aware of Jekyll’s experiments? This title card should completely change the character dynamics in this version of the film, but its implications are never addressed.
A Transformative Mr. Hyde (1913)
The other primary criticism I have of the film relates to the portrayal of Mr. Hyde, but first let’s talk about the effects in general. The film was well regarded for the initial transformation scene, in which the image of Dr. Jekyll slowly dissolves into Mr. Hyde. The slow dissolve was not a widely used film technique at the time, and audiences and critics responded very positively to its use over that of the instant substitution splice.
Hyde’s appearance is relatively tame, and the film never quite gives you a good up close look at the makeup. It appears as though Hyde’s hair is darker and unkempt as compared to Jekyll, and his eyebrows bushier. I think that some sort of appliance is used on the upper teeth, as this Hyde seems to have the overbite that would become characteristic of later interpretations of the character, like in Paramount’s film from 1920. Aesthetically, this Hyde’s physical appearance is simply lesser than that in the 1912 film.
Although Hyde’s appearance is lacking, I did want to mention that this was a time when actors handled all of their own makeup. Baggot created and applied all of his own make up for his turn as Hyde, and so is due some credit. Even still, it is clear that he didn’t have the same skills as later horror movie icons like the aforementioned “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney. Honestly, in terms of the physical appearance, there’s a fair comparison to make between Baggot’s Hyde and Jerry Lewis’s Dr. Kelp from the 1963 comedy, The Nutty Professor.
Where this version of Mr. Hyde really stands out is Baggot’s performance. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that it stands out in a good way. While I commended the 1912 movie for portraying a hunched over version of Mr. Hyde, Baggot’s interpretation of the character takes the novel’s description to the extreme. He is not only hunched over, but Baggot plays the character locked into a perpetual crouch, his knees up past his waist as he silly walks his way through the scenery. There are even a couple of sequences where Hyde tries furiously to retrieve his hat and cane from the top of an end table, jumping and flailing like some sort of spastic hobbit. It’s a ridiculous performance that often comes across as humorous. I cannot help but doubt that this is the reaction that the filmmakers intended to elicit.
The First Universal Monster
Before moving on to my final thoughts, there was one more important point about the 1913 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I wanted to expand upon. The film was produced by a man named Carl Laemmle, co-founder of a film company known as the Independent Moving Picture Company, or IMP for short. Laemmle was a Jewish man, born in East Germany, who emigrated to the United States in 1883 when he was 16 years old. He initially spoke no english, and he worked as an errand boy in a drug store. After that, he worked on a wheat farm. All the while, Laemmle slowly became fluent in English and became an American citizen in 1889.
Ten years after arriving in American, Laemmle began working as an accountant for a retail clothing company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In addition to his bookkeeping responsibilities, Laemmle also became involved with the advertising part of the company. It was from this position that he first learned about the concepts of publicity and showmanship. Laemmle became well known for his creative and bold advertising campaigns, and for relentlessly following up on customer feedback. After ten years, he had built up his savings enough to go into business for himself. Initially, Laemmle intended to open a chain of retail outlets, but he ultimately decided to get into the motion picture theater business after observing high customer traffic at a local theater establishment.
Laemmle opened two nickelodeon theaters in the Chicago area early in 1906, just as motion pictures were becoming mainstream. These theaters were financially successful for Laemmle, and they served as his introduction into the business of films. In order to maintain public interest, he quickly realized that he needed to be able to constantly update the films being shown. Buying prints of films from the production companies was too expensive for this purpose, so he turned to film exchange companies to keep a steady stream of new movies coming in. Film exchange companies were exactly what they sound like, essentially movie rental companies for theaters.
Laemmle was quickly frustrated by the existing film exchange services. Films would often arrive late, or not at all when other theaters outbid his offer for the film. Being a shrewd and successful businessman, Laemmle saw an opportunity. In October 1906, he opened his own film exchange company, promising theater owners on-time delivery, and fair pricing. Laemmle applied all of the advertising knowledge that he had, and made a point to deliver excellent customer service. The business was well received and the film exchange company expanded quickly. Within two years, Laemmle had established film distribution centers in six cities across the United States.
Now, in the early days of the film industry, Thomas Edison was a force to be reckoned with. He had bought the rights to many film-related devices from their inventors and patented them. He held patents and had business arrangements with other companies that allowed Edison control of most cameras, projectors, and even some aspects of film production. Edison created a conglomerate, the Motion Picture Patents Company, or the Edison Trust as it was commonly referred to at the time. He used his stranglehold on patents to charge a $2 per month tax to pretty much every company in the film industry. Companies that refused to pay were often sued out of existence thanks to Edison’s deep pockets.
The activity of the Edison Trust drew the ire of Laemmle who considered these monopolistic practices fundamentally unfair. Worse, he took the situation personally, believing the tax was Edison’s attempt to drive him, a competitor, out of business. His frustrations with Edison’s ever-strengthening monopoly on the American film industry led him to recruit other like-minded individuals from the film industry, and the Independent Moving Picture Company was born. All of the participating companies arranged to produce motion pictures using cameras, projectors, and film that Edison had no claim to.
Eventually, Laemmle would rally the combined influence of all the members of IMP. Under Laemmle’s leadership, IMP would go on to challenge the Edison Trust’s business practices under the Sherman Antitrust Act. It would take years, but in 1915 the United States Supreme Court would finally order the dissolution of the Edison Trust. This was a major win not only for Laemmle, but for the entire film industry.
So, why am I spending so much time talking about Carl Laemmle? Well, in 1912, Laemmle merged the Independent Moving Picture Company with five other major independent studios. As a company, IMP was technically dissolved with the merger in 1912, but the brand continued to be used for several years , specifically for Laemmle produced films. Therefore, the 1913 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would be the very first monster movie made for this new movie studio. And the name of this new company? Universal Pictures.
Universal Pictures would go on to become famous for a series of films collectively known as the Universal Classic Monsters. Dracula and Frankenstein were both released in 1931; The Mummy in 1932; and The Invisible Man in 1933. Other Universal Classic Monsters include the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even the Bride of Frankenstein. Most people neglect to think about the earlier Universal Monster films, but Quasimodo and the Phantom are also considered among their ranks due to Universal releasing The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera during the 1920s.
Did you notice who was notably missing from the list of Universal Monsters? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although there were popular film versions of the tale during the 1920s and 30s, these movies were made by Paramount Studios and not Universal Pictures. Hence, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not typically considered part of the canon of Universal Monsters. However, as near as I can tell, this 1913 production should not only qualify the terrible duo for status as Universal Monsters, it would also bestow them the honor of being the very first to appear on film.
If you’d like to watch the 1913 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring King Baggot, the full version of the film can be viewed on the transcript page for this episode on horridpodcast.com. I’d recommend watching it alongside the 1912 adaptation, which can be found on the transcript page for episode seven of Horrid, so you can make the same sort of direct comparison between the films that I did here.
If you’ve noted any factual errors in this episode, please send a message to [email protected]. That email address is working now, I promise. You can follow Horrid on Twitter and Instagram, @HorridPodcast, and you can follow me, @DocManson.
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Until next time, stay scared.
References & Further Reading
- Chantrelle, Eugène Marie, and Alexander Duncan Smith. Trial of Eugène Marie Chantrelle. Toronto, Canada Law Book Co, 1906. Internet Archive.
- Lamplit, Vicious Fairy Land | Robert Louis Stevenson. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.
- Eugene Marie Chantrelle – Edinburgh Southside Heritage Group. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.
- Real-Life Jekyll & Hyde Who Inspired Stevenson’s Classic. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.
- Jarząbek, Przemysław. “Are New Movies Longer than They Were 10, 20, 50 Year Ago?”, 28 Dec. 2018, Towards Data Science Website.
- “Herbert Brenon.” Wikipedia, 21 Oct. 2020. Wikipedia.
- “King Baggot.” Wikipedia, 18 May 2020. Wikipedia.
- “Carl Laemmle.” Immigrant Entrepreneurship. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.
- The Moving Picture World Archives. Accessed 8 Nov. 2020.
- Moving Picture World (Jan-Mar 1913). New York, Chalmers Publishing Company, 1913. Internet Archive.