Murder By Decree Review

Murder By Decree
In 1888, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are called to invesitigate the Jack the Ripper murders, and uncover a conspiracy that extends from the gutters of Whitechapel to ‘the highest in the land’.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
Release Date:

01 Mar 1979

Running Time:

124 minutes



Original Title:

Murder By Decree

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell is a de facto remake of this 1979 Sherlock Holmes movie, which proposes exactly the same far-fetched, later-discredited ‘solution’ to the mystery of Jack the Ripper – involving a Masonic conspiracy, the Queen’s own surgeon and a hit-list of East End harlots who have their throats cut to conceal a Royal scandal.

This more obviously fictional earlier draft is the better bet, with a well-constructed screenplay from John Hopkins and a very fine Holmes and Watson teaming from Christopher Plummer and James Mason.

 Mason makes a lot out of a tiny little scene about eating peas and provides a human centre for a fairly cynical tale, while Plummer is a more impassioned Sherlock than usual, dryly sorting through clues but appalled by the truths he uncovers and even, at one point, moved to tears.  It has the expected Ripper business of prowling through foggy alleyways and riotous behaviour in Whitechapel gin-mills, but ventures into unsual areas with a series of guest star turns from David Hemmings as a Scotland Yard inspector who turns out to be a radical out to use the killings to inspire a revolution, Donald Sutherland as an enormously-whiskered psychic who claims to have an insight into the case, John Gielgud as the smug Prime Minister who decides to institute a Watergate-style cover-up to maintain public order and (especially) Genevieve Bujold as a former Royal mistress unjustly confined in an insane asylum.  Director Bob Clark had a big hit with Porky’s, but was also behind some interesting horror films, including Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Dead of Night (aka Deathdream).

This is lots of fun and the actors definitely look like they're having a good time.
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