Bob Clark directs and produces the 1979 mystery film ‘Murder By Decree‘ a Sherlock Holmes adaption surrounding Jack the Ripper, the infamous and still unknown serial killer who haunted the Whitechapel district of Victorian London.
Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is approached by a group of concerned citizens about the Jack the Ripper murders that are plaguing Whitechapel. He and Dr. Watson (James Mason) work with Scotland Yard detectives Inspector Lestrade (Frank Finlay) and Inspector Foxborough (David Hemmings) who seem to be hampered by red tape as they search for the killer. When Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle) hides a vital clue, Holmes discovers the medium Robert Lees (Donald Sutherland) who knows of a terrible connection between the killer, a woman named Annie Crook (Geneviève Bujold), and the Royal Family.
The late-great Christopher Plummer does an excellent job as the great detective. While he certainly pulls off the coldness of Holmes, he also shows that Sherlock was capable of compassion at times. Likewise, he had good chemistry with James Mason as Dr. Watson. The two were excellent as the duo, playing off each other’s strengths. As for the rest of the cast, they also did a good job of bringing the story to fruition.
One thing of interest, if you ever play a round of cinema trivia, is that Frank Finlay who plays Inspector Lestrade also portrayed the character in another Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper film A Study In Terror.
While the movie relies on the now-debunked conspiracy theory of a Royal connection to Jack the Ripper, it does ramp up the suspense of the characters and the mystery surrounding the case. Sure, the movie is told in a somewhat simple manner, but it does a good job of pulling you into the story. The tension surrounding the murders was undoubtedly felt by all and the frustration to get solved was there.
It also touched on the themes of oppression the people of Whitechapel were feeling. As Jack the Ripper stalked the night, the lack of urgency by the police caused a great deal of strife between the citizens and the city’s elite. Likewise, the detectives trying to solve the case were constantly flagged by red tape. Though the film presents the police investigation’s handling as a conspiracy, in reality, it seemed to be more about trying to keep the peace… if you believe contemporary accounts.
Bottom line, Murder By Decree has Sherlock Holmes pitted against one of the most frightening characters to come out of history. It ramps up the tension and Plummer’s talented performance as the great detective is one of note.
PARENTAL QUOTE: Disturbing images, Violence
FAVORITE QUOTE: You create allegiance above your sworn allegiance to protect humanity. You shall not care for them, or acknowledge their pain. There lies the madness.
Check out the trailer below:
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