User Reviews (94)

Add a Review

  • This is a remarkable little movie that has never reached classic status for some reason. Aside from an incredible cast, all of whom suit the dignified proceedings admirably, there are two other stars who lift this film above the level of an excellent thriller. One is the production design. The old Hollywood style of foggy streets and dark alleys, with sinister cabs skulking along, is the stuff nightmares are made of. The East End is horrible, a hell on earth. The other unsung hero is the music. A beautiful soundtrack which ranges from chilling strings and harps to the charming end music. Christopher Plummer is fabulous as Holmes, heroic and ingenious but with a strong sympathy which no other actor in the role apart from Jeremy Brett has captured. His scenes with Mason are a joy; the pair really work together, complete with catchphrases and a mutual respect. Donald Sutherland is also captivating as Robert Lees...his eyes are those of a man living in helpless terror. The film's finest moment is the scene between Holmes and Annie Crook. Genevieve Bujould is heartbreaking in the role,a perfect piece of casting despite her accent, and Holmes' reaction to her plight is deeply moving. Make no mistake, the theory of the Ripper murders is barmy, but wonderful entertainment. It does slander Sir Charles Warren and Lord Salisbury unbelievably; Anthony Quayle puts in a gloriously over the top turn in repulsive corruption. There is an interesting subtext to the film as well, namely the fight between decency and corruption. Annie's innocence and goodness is uncorrupted even by her plight, and the decency of Mary Kelly is a ghost that hangs over the last half an hour. The end credits are beautiful, with gorgeous theatrical and old-fashioned cast and credits, such as "Frank Finlay was Inspector Lestrade." There is decency in the most unlikely of places, and Holmes and Watson are the solid rocks while around them people sink and swim in the chaos. A moving, brilliantly realised and frightening film.
  • This isn't an adaptation based on Arthur Conan Doyle novels , the plot line is a fictional story . The fable mingles Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Jack the Ripper. In the film appears Doctor Watson (James Mason) and Constable Lestrade (Frank Finlay) but not Doctor Moriarty though there is doubt if he's the murderous ; will be the killer? . The plot has a twisted ending and contains outstanding surprises .

    The movie displays a first-rate set design and is very atmospheric . The shady and spooky slums are pretty well designed . Some shots create creepy and horror moments . The film blends thriller , suspense , detective action , terror and a little gore and is quite interesting . Acting by Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes is excellent , likeness to Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett as TV Sherlock ; furthermore James Mason as Watson is sublime . Other secondary actors are David Hemmings , Susan Clark , Frank Finlay , Genevieve Bujold , all of them are splendid . In 2002 the Hughes Brothers made a special version with Johnny Depp titled "From Hell" . Rating: 7 , above average . Well worth seeing .
  • Several sources, including a loud and proud quotation on the DVD-cover itself, claim that "Murder by Decree" is the best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. Like most opinions are, this is highly debatable. Me personally, for example, I'm a big fan of the 1940's Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone as the superiorly intelligent detective and Nigel Bruce as his goofy sidekick Dr. Watson. Some of the entries in that franchise, like "The Scarlet Claw" and "House of Fear" to name just two, are near-brilliant and, in my humble opinion, even better than this film. One fact that remains inarguable, however, is that "Murder by Decree" is the most special and unclassifiable Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. The script actually takes the fictional characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle and places them amidst all the convoluted speculations and grotesque conspiracy theories surrounding the mystery of the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders. "A Study in Terror" was the first attempt to blend the characters of Holmes and Jack the Ripper, nearly fifteen years earlier in 1965, but Bob Clark's film digs a whole lot deeper and makes a lot more efforts to come across as plausible and convincing. "Murder by Decree" is a unique Sherlock Holmes film for yet another reason, namely the depiction of our heroic protagonists. Christopher Plummer portrays the most humane Holmes in history, with a regular sense of humor instead of witty remarks that ooze with superiority as well as feelings sadness and compassion. He even wipes away an emotional teardrop at one point! On the other hand, there's James Mason illustrating the most anti-stereotypical Watson ever, as his lines and contributions are sharp and savvy instead of silly. Sherlock Holmes is called in for help by the Whitechapel store owners after the third Jack the Ripper murder. The crimes are despicable and the locals fear that the police aren't making enough efforts to capture the killer since the victims are "only" prostitutes working in a poor London neighborhood. Thanks to his amazing investigating talents, careful observing senses and stupendous deductive skills, Holmes gradually uncovers a complex conspiracy that almost solely involves elite culprits like politicians, Freemasons and even British royals. He has to operate with extreme caution, though, as his investigation might lead the Ripper to more targeted victims. The script of "Murder by Decree" is clever. Too clever, in fact, as I presume you're not even supposed to guess along for the Ripper's identity. Holmes is always several steps ahead of you and the film ends with a long monologue in which the detective explains the entire murderous scheme – in great detail – to a trio of eminent conspirators. Although puzzling, the story remains fascinating and absorbing the whole time. Bob Clark, a multi-talented genre director especially in the seventies, also masterfully captures the exact right Victorian ambiance. The film is literally filled with dark and foggy London alleys, uncanny old taverns and marvelous horse carriages. I only detected a couple of minor details, actually, and they're mainly personal opinions. The film doesn't properly epitomize the "horror" of the Jack the Ripper case (hardly any nasty images or sinister moments) and the sub plot revolving on Donald Sutherland as a paranormally gifted witness affects the credibility in a negative sort of way.
  • In 1888 London, Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) are asked by a citizen's group to find and stop Jack the Ripper. For some reason the police don't want Holmes to investigate. However he does and as the bodies pile up Holmes and Watson slowly uncover a trail that might lead to the highest reach of British government.

    This was released and died VERY quickly in 1979. I'm probably one of the few people who saw it in a theatre. The critics almost unanimously praised it, it had a huge cast of good actors...but it just died. That's too bad because this is a very good Sherlock Holmes film.

    It's atmospheric (LOTS of foggy streets), has exquisite production design and is beautifully directed by Bob Clark (I love the way the first murder is done--very effective). Also the acting is great. Plummer gives a very good, different interpretation of Holmes--he makes him more emotional than other actors have...but it works. Mason nicely underplays the role of Watson--he does not make him a bumbling fool like Nigel Bruce did back in the 1940s. In small roles Susan Clark, John Gielgud and especially Genevieve Bujold are excellent. Donald Sutherland, Anthony Quayle and David Hemmings unfortunately are not that good.

    There are some problems with this movie though. It's too long (a long sequence involving Watson and some prostitutes could have been completely cut) and is needlessly convoluted. Also they throw politics in the plot which seems out of place. And, strangely, Holmes' deductive reasoning is almost never used. He comes across more as a protector of the people than a detective. Plummer's performance though carries it through. It's quite bloody too--not enough for an R rating but pretty strong for the PG it got back then (PG-13 wasn't a rating yet).

    Reservations aside though, I think this is one of the best Holmes' film ever made. Recommended.
  • Sherlock Holmes has been played by numerous actors, the great Basil Rathbone being the best in my humble opinion, but Christopher Plummer does a fine job in this offering. There is just the right amount of sarcastic wit in his chats with Watson. James Mason is the highlight of the movie, his portrayal of Holmes' sidekick nicely judged and at times very funny. This film is so good as a result of its main cast, all of whom are talented actors. The director manages to create a chilling atmosphere at times, whilst the style of the film is nicely British. Murder by Decree demonstrates how the Brits can hold their own in a world of Hollywood domination. Its worth a look any day.
  • Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. John Watson (James Mason) with a little help from a phsychic (Donald Sutherland) become embroiled in the Jack-the-ripper case. This intermingling of real and fictional charecters is for the most part intriging and for my money, much more enjoyable than the more recent "From Hell" (But then again, if ANYone can make a valid adaption of anything by Alan Moore, please tell me). However, not the best Serlock Holmes movie I've seen and Plummer, while a fairly good Holmes, is still second to Jeremy Brett. All in all another strong accomplishment by the great Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story and Black Christmas are classics all) this time working with a John Hopskins script. By the way, I have yet to see "A Study in Terror" and thus can't make any comparisions or any thesis on which is better.

    My Grade: B+

    DVD Extras: Commentary by Bob Clark; poster and stills gallery; Behind-the-scenes still gallery; Talent bios; and theatrical trailer

    DVD-ROM: Screenplay
  • MURDER BY DECREE

    Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

    Sound format: Mono

    London, 1888: Whilst investigating a series of murders committed by 'Jack the Ripper', Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) uncover a Masonic conspiracy which leads them to the very heart of the British Establishment.

    During the summer of 1973, the BBC ran a six-part documentary series entitled "Jack the Ripper" (also known as "The Ripper File"), in which two popular fictional detectives (played by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor) investigated the 'true' identity of Jack the Ripper, using all the evidence available to them at the time. Their conclusions form the basis of Bob Clark's all-star period thriller MURDER BY DECREE, which condenses vast amounts of information into a single digestible screenplay. The film's lavish recreation of Victorian London (extravagant opera houses, cobbled streets and miles of gloomy Whitechapel alleyways populated by hundreds of costumed extras) belies its modest $4m budget, and for once, the starry supporting cast - including Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings, John Gielgud and Donald Sutherland - seems perfectly suited to the material.

    A combination of Gothic thriller and historical whodunnit, John Hopkins' comprehensive screenplay outlines the social and political divisions which prevailed in England at the time of the Ripper murders, hindering the police investigation and prompting a number of conspiracy theories which persist to this day. However, the script also contains a number of memorable character touches (the episode of the 'errant pea' is most prized by fans) which prevents the narrative from surrendering to mere facts and figures. Plummer and Mason are ideal as Holmes and Watson, though Genevieve Bujold almost steals the film during a heartbreaking sequence in which Holmes looks for clues in a crumbling asylum. You may not agree with the film's conclusions - the same evidence was re-evaluated by author Stephen Knight in his popular non-fiction account 'Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution' (1976) and David Wickes' excellent TV movie JACK THE RIPPER (1988) starring Michael Caine - but MURDER BY DECREE is generally acknowledged as one of the best Ripper/Holmes movies ever made.

    Incidentally, the film's PG rating seems extraordinarily lenient. While MURDER BY DECREE doesn't exactly revel in violence, it conveys the grislier aspects of the Ripper's crimes with enough potency to warrant a PG-13 (unavailable at the time of this film's initial release).
  • I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan and normally I am very much against Non-canonical Holmes stories. However, when I discovered that there were two films which placed Holmes in the case of Jack the Ripper I immediately bought the DVD for this film and I was more than impressed. The clever plot and the superb acting make this film perfect.

    Christopher Plummer gives a fine performance as the great sleuth, his performance as Holmes is almost as powerful as Jeremy Brett's, I was also impressed to see a rarely seen side to Holmes' character – emotion. James Mason is also on fine form in the role of the faithful friend Dr John Watson.

    The dedication given to the film by the cast and crew is shown, the camera movements at the scene of the first murder shown in the film is powerful and extremely suspenseful.

    This film is a film which should not be missed fans of Sherlock Holmes.
  • I happened across this film recently and found it to be a superb forerunner to FROM HELL which was filmed many years later. To be frank, this version is a lot more believable. It impressed me deeply because of the excellent depiction of the cramped, narrow, damp and winding back streets of Whitehall, all shrouded in permanent fog, and with a queasy, chromatic musical score to alert you that not all is well and dark deeds await.

    The characters are believable and well played: Plummer underplays Holmes when so many other actors take him over the top: James Mason is an earthy, skeptical Dr. Watson whose blusterings are amusing without ever become a pain in the tail; we have a cooperative and good-natured Lestrange, a suitably shell-shocked Mary Kelly, and Anthony Quayle puts in not only an incredibly gruff and abrasive performance as Scotland yard's Charles Warren, but also wins the movie's bizarre-makeup award. Donald Sutherland also modestly underplays his role as the sickly psychic with a mustache that Wyatt Earp would have envied. And of course, the unmasked villains are suitably sinister and reek of the madness being perpetrated on the panicky London slum.

    Also deserving a nod are John Gielgud and others who play high government officials with the proper stuffy condescension and total disregard for "inferiors" of whatever class or religion, putting the stability of the monarchy far above those the ruling class are supposed to be caring for. It's hard to visualize Holmes an an insurrectionist, but if this was not the appropriate situation, nothing would be.

    This film would merit a 10 out of 10 except for the peculiar character played by David Hemmings, who seemed out of place to begin with and brought too much attention to himself as someone to keep an eye on, as if he were a walking clue for the more inattentive viewer. Good performance, just an awkward and blatant addition to the story characters.

    Forget the drug-hazed and farcical Johnny Depp character of FROM HELL: rather, watch the clear-headed relentless Holmes take on Saucy Jack with such a fervency that he overlooks more hidden, sinister forces attempting to steer him towards satisfying their own ends....
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Murder By Decree" is the ultimate meeting between the two greatest figures of Victorian mystery: Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. There have been other meetings between the two (including a terrible novel in which Holmes WAS the Ripper), but none quite as satisfying to devotees of both Holmes and the Ripper case.

    There is widespread speculation, among those of us who consider Sherlock Holmes a very real person, as to his possible role in investigating the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. Given Holmes's passion for unsolved mysteries, it seems unlikely that he would not have taken up the Ripper case. And if he did, it seems very unlikely that Holmes would NOT have solved it. So why does the Ripper's identity remain a mystery? Is the Ripper case one of those "unpublished" cases that Dr. Watson occasionally refers to in the Sherlock Holmes stories? If so, why did Watson choose not to publish an account of Holmes's involvement in the Ripper investigation.

    "Murder By Decree" answers these questions with true Holmesian style. Christopher Plummer, as Holmes, is a deductive reasoner with an ounce of compassion and a sharp sense of justice. James Mason, as Watson, is not a bungler, but is an active, intelligent aide to Holmes's investigation. And we have scenes that are mainstays of the classic Holmes tales, including the chase through dark, foggy, gaslit streets, and a visit by hansom cab to a dark foreboding asylum, which resembles Baskerville Hall.

    And then there's the Ripper, the ultimate unsolved mystery. The movie places Holmes among real-life characters in the Ripper drama, such as Charles Warren, Robert Lees, Mary Kelly, Annie Crook, and Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. It re-creates the murder scenes with historical accuracy. It shows us the East End as it was (and more or less still is): A horrific maze of alleys that is the perfect stalking ground for a predator like the Ripper. The shots from the Ripper's POV, moving through a maze of dark, foggy alleys, accompanied by ominous footsteps and heavy breathing, are particularly scary. This air of mystery surrounding this unknown fiend is partially why the Ripper murders are remembered even today.

    The movie takes one of the more imaginative Ripper theories (the "Prince Eddy/Annie Crook" conspiracy) as its explanation for why Holmes and Watson kept silent about their involvement in the case. The movie becomes exceptional when Holmes himself becomes a victim of the conspirators. Holmes discovers to his horror that he has been used. The conspirators have purposely set him on the Ripper's trail, knowing that he will lead them to the elusive Mary Kelly, who becomes the Ripper's last victim.

    Is the "Annie Crook" theory true? Probably not, but it still refuses to die. (The NEXT Ripper movie, "From Hell" starring Johnny Depp, uses the "Annie Crook" theory as its base.) But who cares if it's fiction! It's STILL a terrific "conspiracy theory." And it makes for a case worthy of Holmes, one which he solves but cannot win. He stops the conspirators, but emerges from the case outraged and grief-stricken over having led the murderers to Mary Kelly. A more flawed, more human Holmes we have rarely seen, outside of Jeremy Brett.

    But Watson reminds Holmes that Mary Kelly died willingly to protect the bastard child of Annie Crook and Prince Eddy, the source of the Ripper conspiracy. And Holmes, through his investigation of the conspiracy, has insured the child's safety. There is still decency in the world. The closing credits, played to music from Holmes's violin, give a sense that, with the Ripper nightmare over, Holmes and the city of London will emerge into the light once more.
  • "Murder by Decree" could have been one of THE great Sherlock Holmes films but suffers from problematic scenes that need to be edited or cut altogether. Outstanding art direction and recreation of London in 1888 help to salvage it. It also features winning interpretations of Holmes and Watson by Christopher Plummer and James Mason (my favorite Dr. Watson), and fine performances by a strong supprting cast. It also features one of the scariest moments I've ever seen in a film, when the black eyes of the killer appears in a tight close-up. Scary! Overall: sluggish at time, but entertaining.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Christopher Plummer and James Mason step into two of the most famous roles in literature, those being Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this absolutely wonderful tale set during the Jack the Ripper murders in whitechapel. What sets this movie above many others in not only the Sherlock Holmes adventures but the thriller genre itself is the excellent script, along with the totally convincing performances by the leads.

    This movie totally draws you in to its dark and sometimes horrifying world, where the seamy underbelly of Victorian life is on display. Congratulations must go the production designer who immerses us in the London fog and dark backstreets of 1880's England. Add a beautiful, haunting score and wonderful direction and this rivals the best thrillers I've ever seen. Highly recommended!
  • Murder By Decree may not be quite perfect. Donald Sutherland is both underused and out of place in scenes that felt somewhat thrown in, the ending is a little tacky and lacking in mystery and the pacing in the middle has a tendency to be on the stodgy side. It is however still a solid and entertaining film. Murder By Decree is a well-made film, the sets and costumes are very evocative, exuding a gloomy and quite chilling atmosphere, and the beautiful photography does nothing to detract from that. Bob Clark's experience in the realm of horror made for great use, his directing shows him in his comfort zone. The music is very haunting and effectively orchestrated without being overbearing, while the script- while occasionally getting bogged down by politics- is thoughtful and literate with some nice bits of humorous banter between Holmes and Watson, and the story is complicated yet suspenseful and engaging. Apart from Sutherland, the acting is excellent. Genevieve Bujold is the standout of the supporting cast in an eerie performance and John Gielgud, David Hemmings, Anthony Quayle and Susan Clark are also great. The leads are what make Murder By Decree, with Christopher Plummer a very human and commanding Holmes and James Mason perfectly cast as a subtly composed Watson. All in all, a solid and well done film, worth checking out definitely. 7/10 Bethany Cox
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The attraction of marrying the Jack the Ripper mystery to Sherlock Holmes is obvious and it is surprising it has not been done more often.

    Foggy, murky Victorian London has never been better represented than this film. Mist swirling round gas lamps, the hollow echoing clatter of horses hooves on the cobbles and dark spooky alleyways represents exactly how we picture London at the end of the nineteenth century. The depictions of Holmes and Watson stick faithfully to the usual conceptions. Christopher Plummer is perhaps a little too handsome and James Mason rather too old, but the two experienced troupers attack the roles with relish. The plot follows one of the most frequently imagined Ripper scenarios with one or two maybe unnecessary diversions into other areas - Donald Sutherland, as all to often, is given opportunities to dispense thick slices of ham as a medium, but the presence of Anthony Quayle and John Gielgud as senior government officials adds gravitas.

    Overall, if you like your Sherlock Holmes to stick to tradition, this is highly recommended.
  • nash-435 October 2006
    Of course through the years, many movie makers have chosen to use their films to make social commentary on society's evils and its direction. In many ways Murder By Decree is one of those films. With the fictional characters of Holmes/Watson "arguably the best teaming of actors to play the roles to date" and a fairly factual account of the white chapel murders, the makers of this film, in my opinion, succeed admirably. With wonderful, albeit, not typical, performances by Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson and a very emotional scene in which Genevieve Bujold gives a "film stealing" performance, the producers take on politics, politicians, political arrogance and the plight of society's unfortunates. For those who care, the names and the places are all there. The feel of 1888 London is there. Some may get lost in the politics of the movie, even though they are not driven home until the very end. There are a few flaws, many gems, and more than a few chills. I am a fan of the genre and a fan of this film.
  • Towards the end of the film, Sherlock Holmes delivers a speech to the people in power in England. He says: "You will not feel for them" and refers to the people in society who are 'down and out', the poor people. He says this is the true crime of it all, that the rich and powerful do not feel for the powerless and poor. Conan Doyle was certainly never so outspoken and in this way this film even surpasses Conan Doyle. It is a milestone in movie-history, which the people in power do not want to see distributed, so it seems, since it is very hard to find and especially not available on DVD, which is more than just suspicious with that cast and the filmic qualities (aside from the social ones) which are considerable. It is truly horrific at times and even a hardened viewer like myself finds under-currents in the brutal scenes which are frightening. The murder with the gruesome too large pupil of the eye is especially horrifying. A 10+ out of 10.
  • If you love the legendary London sleuth, dark, mysterious Victorian streets, an ample collection of plot twists, and good, solid acting, then this film is for you. It has a fine story about the meeting of the greatest detective Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the mysterious Jack the Ripper in some of the best Victorian street settings filmed. Christopher Plummer is excellent as Holmes, giving him characteristics rarely seen in film such as humour and compassion. His Holmes is easily the most humane ever on screen, even at one point wiping tears from his face. James Mason makes a wonderful and amusing Dr. Watson. The rest of the cast is just as good and the story, although not very plausible, is nonetheless very intriguing and suspenseful.
  • Murder by Decree is directed by Bob Clark and adapted to screenplay by John Hopkins from the novel The Ripper File written by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd. It stars Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Frank Finlay, Anthony Quayle, Donald Sutherland, Geneviève Bujold & John Gielgud.

    Film pitches Sherlock Holmes (Plummer) and Dr. Watson (Mason) into the hunt for Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel, London 1888...

    I've been exploited old fellow, by the very people for whom we are searching.

    The greatest of detectives searching for Britain's most notorious serial killer, it's a killer pitch that had already had a film made in 1965 called A Study in Terror. That was a film that couldn't quite get it right, here, 14 years later, there's a bigger budget and "A" list gloss to help tell the tale. And boy does it work! In the cannon of Sherlock Holmes, Murder by Decree is to Holmes films what On Her Majesty's Secret Service is to the James Bond franchise. Appertaining to the great detective himself, it's the odd one out, a divisive picture, not because it's rubbish or technically shy, but because the main man protagonist dares to be human, a man of conscious; politically, socially and ethically. He's still the same charming, clever and complex character most have come to know and love, but Murder by Decree fronts him out as a human being, with Watson alongside him as a non buffoon bloke doing his bit for the case whilst remaining sensitive about the last pea on his plate! It's these characterisations, splendidly played by two actors of considerable talent, that are at the core of the film's success.

    If she dies and you come under my hand? Expect no mercy.

    Period production value is high, it has to be for a Jolly Jack based movie. Bring the dark, bring the smog and bring the Victorian costumes (Judy Moorcroft). Then play it out amongst shadowy lamp lighted cobbled streets and let the sets drip with slum London sweat and tears. All that is required then is to have a source story of compelling interest, of which Murder by Decree scores greatly as well. It's fanciful for sure, but the most spectacular of all Ripper theories. From a secret love child to the Freemasons, and up to Royalty itself, it's a potent notion put forward. That is of course conjecture as a solution, but the makers are to be applauded for taking that idea and successfully combining the Arthur Conan Doyle creations with historical reality, something that A Study in Terror fell considerably short on.

    Rest of the cast is filled out with some quality as well, where Hemmings, Quayle, Finlay, Gielgud and Bujold don't disappoint, the latter of which gets to really perform with substance in the pivotal scene set in an Asylum. Only real let down is Sutherland, or more like what the makers did (didn't do) with him. His psychic Robert Lees crops up for a couple of small scenes for what we expect will be a telling contribution to the plot, but they aren't. It seems like just an excuse to do Sutherland up like he had just awoken from the grave, and to give the picture some ethereal sheen moments. For the finale and the big reveal of the Ripper, Plummer is simply magnificent. He holds court in front of his peers, including the Prime Minister (Gielgud), and unfurls the explanation with impassioned fortitude, it's then that we realise this was always a Sherlock Holmes movie, and not a Jack the Ripper piece. With that, it's one of the best featuring the Deer Stalker wearing fellow. 9/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I am a Sherlock Holmes purist, so I am VERY quick to pick apart various Holmes films--looking for the inconsistencies from the original Conan Doyle novels. However, of all the stories I have seen that use these characters that were not based on the writer's original stories, this is among the best. The biggest reason is that the writer seemed to actually have read the stories and knew the characters. The best thing about it is that Watson (played by James Mason) is NOT a bumbling idiot but a brave and reasonably clever man--just like in the original stories. This is a HUGE plus. As for Holmes, Christopher Plummer is not the best but he's better than most. He does NOT say 'elementary my dear Watson' or other such drivel that did not appear in the original tales and he dresses without the stereotypical deerstalker cap and pipe--again, like the original stories. He isn't perfect, though, as you really don't see as much of the deductive skill as you might expect--he's much more human in this story.

    The story is a WHAT IF--what if Sherlock Holmes had been real and actually investigated the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. The story is VERY complex and VERY rewarding. However, I must point out that it's easy to feel a bit lost later in the film and you should NOT stop watching. Stick with it--the payoff is great and everything is tied together very well. I am not sure, however, if Arthur Conan Doyle ever would have written such a story as it's tone is very anti-British Empire! I could say more, but it would spoil the film. Overall, excellent acting, very good writing and direction. Well worth seeing and a commendable effort by all.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When vicious murders begin occurring in the equivalent of London's red light district, who do concerned citizens turn to? Why Sherlock Holmes, of course! While the fictional detective wasn't actually around during London's gaslight era when these foggily lit murders took place, it makes fictional sense that eventually somebody would pit the notoriously named Jack the Ripper against London's most well loved detective prior to Miss Marple. If it couldn't be Basil Rathbone, then some other famous British thespian had to take over. In this case, it is Christopher Plummer, as far away from the Edelweiss of "The Sound of Music's" Salzburg as he could get.

    Plummer gives (in this reviewer's opinion), his best performance as the pipe smoking and argyle cap wearing detective. While I agree he is one of Britain's greatest gifts to the theatre and cinema, I often took pause with his slow moving speech and frequent stalls in reciting his lines. That is totally missing here, and he gives a relaxed and often humorous performance that isn't as hyper as Rathbone's but just as riveting. Just as outstanding is James Mason, taking over Nigel Bruce's role as Dr. Watson. While slightly bumbling, he isn't as eccentric as Bruce was, and as a result, is taken more seriously. In a nod to Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson in the Rathbone/Bruce films), the brief appearance of Holmes' landlady is hysterically amusing because of the bit actresses' resemblance to the wonderful Ms. Gordon.

    As the storyline unfolds, it is obvious that the writers are developing something more sinister than just the whims of a madman killing prostitutes. It is almost devilish in its innuendos as clues are dropped that give enough information to the viewers to guess what is going on, yet keep them intrigued as well. In smaller roles, Donald Sutherland, Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay shine, while brief appearances by "Webster's" Susan Clark (whatever happened to her????) and Genevieve Bujold are extremely haunting.

    Why this film was overlooked at awards time is beyond me, especially for Plummer, Mason and its moody photography. Everything about this film is exquisite and with recent, more youthful looks at Holmes and Watson, this entry in the popular series is worth re-discovering.
  • The story of Jack the Ripper has fascinated me for most of my life. It was what led me to read Sherlock Holmes. In 1966, a film entitled "A Study in Terror" opened. It was the first film pitting Holmes against the Ripper. I saw this years later and I am still impressed by it. While not accurate at all, it has remained a favorite of mine to this day. When "Decree" came out, however, I was bowled over. Here was the actual, historical event fleshed out more accurately than it had ever been done before, in spite of the fictional framing. Is it factual? For the most part, yes. The main characters are all here, even my favorite suspect, the Duke of Clarence. Holmes has rarely been this intelligent on screen, and Mason as Watson is a very able assistant. Many good actors appear in large, important cameos, including John Geilgud, David Hemmings, and Frank Finlay. Credit must go to Bob Clark, who made the despicable Porky's, for creating a beautifully atmospheric film. From the foggy opening credits to the wonderful end title music, this Holmes stands near the top. On a side note, Frank Finlay portrays Inspector Lestrade in both "Decree" and "Study in Terror." He is a remarkable actor who is a treat for the eyes and ears. Filled with crackling dialogue, humor and suspense, this is a must for any Holmes fan and for anyone who likes a well-crafted mystery. I give it an "8" out of "10."
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Awesome movie and an overlooked gem.

    ***Spoilers ahead!*** (and minor spoiler for "The sign of four" too)

    Being a Sherlock Holmes fan from my childhood, I came across this movie at the age of 12 and it instantly became an absolute classic for me. As a young boy, I didn't dare to look at some of the scenes, but I saw those full black eyes in close-up and knew that the movie didn't need to rely on blood to be scary: I like movies that explore real fear, psychologically, not by disgusting you with a splattered screen.

    Some commentators miss the portrayal of Holmes abilities that other films have used us to... Please, read again the canon or watch the very canonical Brett's Holmes and perhaps you will discover that both Conan Doyle and the Granada TV screen writers made an effort to develop other virtues of the character: he is not a disembodied brain, but a man of action (unlike his brother Mycroft, more brilliant according to Sherlock himself, but stuck to his armchair of the Diogenes club), he can be dry but he is compassionate with respect to suffering people and very caring of his friend Watson (this is clearly shown even in the Rathbone movies where Watson is unbearably dumb and Holmes is shown as an eccentric that tries to brush off flies with a violin pizzicato).

    Besides, in "Murder by Decree" Holmes spots the erased words that Sir Charles wanted to disappear, and uses a chemical trick to uncover them. He analyzes the grape remains in his laboratory, identifying its origin and possible buyers. Then he matches his list with an independent list made by Watson at his request, and only one common name shows up: if it was set today, such a scene would involve the use of computers with flashy displays of the list search and the matching results. He deduces a lot from the fact that they are NOT being followed (in the tradition of the dog incident at midnight) and Watson catches up immediately in a nice portrayal of both their longtime friendship and the fact that Watson is not dumb: indeed, he must have above average intelligence to be accepted by Holmes as best friend and collaborator. After all, he is a doctor who served in the Indian army and in some pretty canonical portrayals even an elegant womanizer (see Hardwicke in "The sign of four" where he seduces the beautiful Jenny Seagrove in the time he bites an apple).

    But I digress: in "Murder by Decree" Holmes deductive abilities are intact, only they are not thrown in our face with an over-complex chain of reasoning: real intelligence need not be spectacular, and in fact Conan Doyle's original holmesian deductions were so much more simple and natural than the ones we often see in Holmes less serious movies.

    The grape analysis and list matching is pure Sherlock Holmes because he, well, Conan Doyle, precisely anticipated modern research methods, as Vidocq and the French police had done already (for instance with the introduction of fingerprinting and serious anthropometry).

    It is perfectly understandable that Holmes is deeply moved by the fate of Annie Crook: he is a free mind and a privileged intellect, so Crook's fate, imprisoned and driven to madness, is probably the incarnation of Holmes' worst terrors. However cold he is, his reaction, first attacking the custodian (with the energy we could expect from a man of action) and then crying with compassion, is perfectly fit, and gives Holmes a dimension of humanity that enriches the character and the movie. Moreover, it reminds us that Holmes is deeply moral, that he did not choose the good side at random, just because outwitting Moriarty was funny, but for the sake of his convictions and sense of justice.

    I have not yet mentioned Christopher Plumer and James Mason. What could I say? Christopher Plummer is my canonical Sherlock Holmes, even more than Jeremy Brett, just because that late childhood experience of seeing "Murder by decree". James Mason is one of the very first actors whose name I learned to pronounce (with Alec Guinnes, Peter Cushing, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton... John Gielgud came later to my knowledge, but he is in "Murder by Decree" too). The portrayal of genuine friendship that Plummer and Mason do is one of the best aspects of this overlooked masterpiece.

    Absolutely incredible that the same Bob Clark made "Porky's". This confirms my theory that masterpieces of all sorts (cinema, painting, literature) create themselves. We people are just antennas for concepts.
  • 90% of the story happens by night or in the darkness of a brothel,an insane asylum or the sleuth's flat.Atmosphere is beguiling,haunting,from the very start:the cast and credits over a threatening London in the sunset set promise great things:you will not be disappointed.

    This is probably the best Sherlock movie,along with Billy Wilder's "private life of SH" which I highly recommend to people who like Bob Clark's movie.There are similarities between the two works:in both of them,SH is manipulated,the evidences he discovers were "prearranged".And there's a political side in both works.But Wilder's movie is more luminous,funnier and a bit tongue-in-chick.On the other hand,Clark's is thoroughly dramatic and the audience is looking for a light in this underworld:not only SH is manipulated,but he also involuntary "helps" THEM.Because the enemy is not some banal Jack the ripper but a huge conspiracy;everyone,from SH to the frightened people he meets speaks about "them".A lot of secondary characters give the plot substance:outside the excellent Plummer/Mason team,we can mention David Hemmings ,a yessir man whose only motivation is ambition;John Gielgud,who 's the embodiment of a bogus justice,always on the side of the high and the mighty;Anthony Quayle ,as a freemason despising the riffraff;and to top it all,a sensational Genevieve Bujold,who ,in five minutes,steals the show.The insane asylum sequence is the climax of the movie anyway.

    The screenplay recalls Ellery Queen's "a study in terror"(written after the eponymous movie),but the political side is more pronounced in Bob Clark's film.There's a violent contrast between the darkness of most of the scenes and the luminous final sequences when SH's barouche heads for the posh London.As Elvis Costello said in one of his songs:"there are ashtrays of emotion for the fag ends of aristocracy".But Holmes's compassion for Annie Crook (Bujold) is overwhelming and is very rare in this kind of thriller.

    The pace is sometimes too slow but the cast,directing and settings easily make up for it.An overlooked gem.
  • radioman_15 April 2004
    10/10
    The Pop
    I first saw Murder By Decree during its original theatrical run and have never forgotten the scene with the pea. Yeah, Lawrence Olivier (Bob Clark's first choice) would probably have been a terrific Watson but he never could have played the pea scene as did James Mason. It's a great entertainment, dripping in gaslit fog. See it.

    Holmes: (I'm) only the Prince of Detectives? Then who is the King?

    Watson: Lestrade.

    And then they laugh. Amazing stuff.

    My only complaint with the Anchor Bay DVD is the audio. I've got a pretty decent 7.1 set-up here and audio is critical for me. I really wish they'd do a remixed version. For this one I'd double dip.
  • I am surprised at some of the negative comments already posted about this film. Whilst the more recent Hughes Brothers film 'From Hell' (based on Alan Moore's graphic novel) has covered the same ground with the real-life Inspector Abberline taking centre stage, ironically it is this earlier version featuring the fictional Sherlock Holmes that is the real deal.

    Irrespective of whether you believe this to be the 'solution' to the Ripper mystery (based on Stephen Knight's book 'The Final Solution'), this film is the best version of the Ripper story to date in covering most of the established facts as well as setting the story in the context of the concern in Victorian England at the time with the rise of the Radicals. This is down to the intelligent screenplay by John Hopkins (whose script for Sidney Lumet's 'The Offence' was one of Sean Connery's best films) who cleverly makes sure that every scene conveys at least one piece of information to help set the story in its proper context.

    If that isn't enough, this film also possesses a wonderful eerie atmosphere by the bucketloads thanks to Harry Pottle's sets, Judy Moorcroft's costumes, Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza's music and Reg Morris's photography (especially the distorted wide angle shots portraying the first person view of the Ripper). Of course anyone who has seen Bob Clark's earlier 'Black Christmas' will recognise the same directorial flourishes which Clark uses here. It is hard to believe that Clark's later career was marked by such films as 'Porky's' and its ilk as he shows such a great touch here that he should have continued to make films like this rather than the teen comedies which he is best known for. The sense of unease which the music and the camera-work in particular bring to this film is seldom seen elsewhere (the aforementioned 'Black Christmas' and Bernard Rose's 'Candyman' are the only examples that come to mind that I am aware of) which make for genuinely uncomfortable viewing.

    If it wasn't for Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke's great television portrayal of Holmes and Watson, I would argue that Christopher Plummer and James Mason also manage to create the definitive portrayal of the great detective and his trusty assistant. Certainly theirs is the best film portrayal (although I retain a great fondness for Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in Billy Wilder's 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' which is a slightly more comic tale). Mason in particular avoids the trap of making Watson the cretinous sidekick which certain other versions have essayed (particular the Basil Rathbone versions which I can't believe are regarded as definitive by so many people). The warm friendship between the two is a particular highlight of this version.

    Praise be to Anchor Bay who have released the Region 1 DVD of this great film with a 124 minute version which seems to feature extended scenes which I have not seen previously.

    Don't listen to the detractors. This is a truly great film which I doubt will ever be surpassed in its portrayal of the Jack the Ripper murders or as a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
An error has occured. Please try again.