MURDER BY DECREE (1979)
Article 4879 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Bob Clark
Featuring Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings
Country: UK / Canada
What it is: Holmes meets Jack the Ripper
Famed consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is hired by private citizens to solve the Jack the Ripper killings. Holmes agrees to do so, but a nagging question remains – why hasn’t Scotland Yard sought his help in solving the case?
This isn’t the first cinematic encounter between Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper; that would be A STUDY IN TERROR from 1965, and I was quite startled and delighted to find out that that movie and this one share two actors – Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay, with the latter taking on the same role in each film. The earlier movie was quite good. This one goes it one better by adding a conspiracy that embraces the government, the police force and the Freemasons into the mix. Christopher Plummer is excellent as Holmes, while James Mason is also very good as Watson; the latter manages to channel Nigel Bruce while managing to keep the buffoonery of Bruce’s performance in check (though there are a few laughs). Great performances abound; both Finlay and Quayle do fine jobs, as do David Hemmings, Susan Clark, John Gielgud and Donald Sutherland (the latter as a medium whose presence adds to the fantastic content of the story). Still, the pivotal performance in this movie is Genevieve Bujold’s performance as Annie Crook; she has only one real scene, but she does it so powerfully that it kicks the movie to a whole different level where it becomes much more than a mere Holmes pastiche and adds an emotional center to the film. I didn’t expect a Sherlock Holmes movie to do so, but this one had me tearing up towards the end. This one is complex, powerful and emotionally satisfying; I recommend it.