Sunday, March 11, 2007

Murder by Decree

In this 1979 film, the murders by the infamous British criminal, Jack the Ripper, catch the attention of Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer), but he does not receive the expected call from Scotland Yard because he is being purposefully excluded from the investigation. Instead, Robert Lees (Donald Sutherland), a psychic who volunteered information to the police about the murders, provides the Great Detective with the necessary incitement to action. As the murders proceed, it becomes clear to all concerned that it is more important to stop them than to announce their solution, and Holmes enters the fray with the help of his trusty aide, Dr. Watson (James Mason). The former mistress of a "prominent personage," Annie Crook (Genevieve Bujold), provides crucial information leading to a final confrontation on London's docks. - All Movie Guide

This is an excellent non-Conan Doyle "Holmes" story and I'm always particularly intrigued by the thought of Holmes investigating the Ripper murders. Interestingly, the man whom most scholars agree was the inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell, Conan Doyle’s professor of clinical surgery at Edinburgh University, was actually asked to help with the Ripper investigation, but that is another fascinating post for a later date.

I would normally make some reference to the actors, at this point, but it's Christopher Plummer and James Mason. However, they're both always wonderful so there's not a lot that I can say. The only concern for the two actors could have pertained to their chemistry together as their characters and that, I'm glad to say, is not an issue. The two actors have the type of rapport that actually seems to come from being friends for many years and my only regret is that they didn't perform together as these characters again before James Mason's death in 1984. Ironically, the original casting of Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Laurence Olivier as Watson never came to fruition because, having not worked well together in the past, O'Toole and Olivier were unable to overcome their differences.

The film is well made, the period is properly represented and, most importantly, the "solution" is based on several popular theories concerning Jack the Ripper rather than taking "creative license" to an exaggerated extreme. There are a few action sequences but this movie is primarily a visual Sherlock Holmes story - meaning that the movie will stimulate your brain more than your adrenal glands.


Chris said...

Oh I'm feeling the Canadian love with that cast. Christopher Plummer - born Toronto ON, Geneviève Bujold - Montreal QC, Donald Sutherland - Saint John NB.

I actually saw this in the theatre when it came out. One scene that came to mind was when Holmes was trying to spear the last pea on his plate and Watson takes his fork and squashes it. I loved the speech Holmes then gives as a response.

Great chemistry there.

John Taylor said...

hi chris
That's so funny - the scene you're talking about was exactly what I was thinking about when I was writing. James Mason looked so hurt.

And yes, quite the Canadian cast and I'm a big fan of them all.