Today: July 23, 2024

Murder By Decree

In the history of fiction, few characters have proved to be as enduring or as malleable as Sherlock Holmes. In fact, with Nexflix’s The Irregulars and Dexter Fletcher’s Sherlock Holmes 3 due for release this Christmas, Conan Doyle’s creation has never been so popular. Which makes StudioCanal’s decision to re-release this much-neglected movie on DVD and blu-ray a very sound decision. 

Murder By Decree (1979) is an Anglo-Canadian production, adapted from Stephen Knight’s novel Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. Knight’s best-selling story made no reference to Holmes, but the idea of turning the Ripper murders in Holmesian fiction had already been test driven in 1965’s A Study in Terror. Since then, there’s been an alarming glut of Holmes versus Ripper tales. Alarming, because many of them cast the real life Ripper as nothing more than a comic book villain. “Zap, pow, biff”, reads the movie poster for A Study in Terror… “”Here comes the original caped crusader!” Fortunately, thanks to sensitive direction and clever casting, Murder By Decree is a very different beast.

Director, Bob Clark is probably better remembered for his autographical comedy, Porky’s (1982) but he began his career in schlock-horror B movies. And this experience has clearly stood him in good stead when it comes to bringing Whitechapel’s sleazy, smog laden streets to life. Although there’s something oddly North American-guide book about Clark’s vision of Victorian London, the overall effect is eerily atmospheric.

As Holmes fans will appreciate, the Sherlock portrayed on film rarely resembles Conan Doyle’s vision. After all, Holmes starts out as a man in his mid-20s—a vigorous, eccentric, bohemian, with a healthy disregard for pomp and social conventions. He’s also a man with “a great heart as well as a great brain” (The Three Garridebs) And, as such, he has much more in common with Guy Richie’s ‘reimagining’, than the stiff, stuffy Sherlocks which so often clog up afternoon TV schedules. 

Fortunately, despite being decked out in cape and deerstalker, Christopher Plummer manages to step out of stereotype and create a believably well-rounded Holmes. His Great Detective doesn’t have the visceral energy of Jeremy Brett’s or the old world charm of Basil Rathbone’s. But his Holmes is a man of compassion and it’s that which makes the horror of the Ripper murders are all the more powerful.

Watson is played, with evident relish, by James Mason who always brings grace and gravitas to any role. Donald Sutherland puts in a haunting turn as the real-life psychic Robert Lees. While Geneviève Bujold acts her socks off with a performance which won her a Canadian Cinema & TV Genie Award for Best Supporting Actress. (Plummer won Best Actor).

130 years after he made his first appearance, the Great Detective still inspires a level of fandom usually reserved for the likes of Dr Who. And while Murder By Decree is certain to be viewed by a knowlegable and critical audience, there’s sure to be some heart-felt appreciation for this a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Sherlockian Universe.

Murder By Decree is released as part of StudioCanal’s Vintage Classics Collection which showcases iconic British films—all fully restored with all-new extra content. Included in this brand-new restoration is a new audio commentary with film journalist Kim Newman and crime fiction historian Barry Forshaw.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

Previous Story

Sing 2

Next Story

WIN! The Boys Season 2 on Blu-ray!

Latest from Blog

Memory

Memory (2023)

Memory is an exquisite American drama in the tender embrace of Michel Franco’s cinematic prowess.

7 Of The Hottest Threesomes in Cinema

They say that, “three is a crowd” but in cinema that is not always the case. Over decades of cinema the concept of a menage-a-trois has been used in a plethora of

Challengers

When he was promoting Challengers, celebrated filmmaker Luca Guadagnino told Little White Lies that he doesn’t watch tennis because it’s “boring”. It’s all the more amazing, then, that Challengers is one of

Longlegs

Following early screenings, Longlegs mania became something bigger than anyone could have predicted. After an eerie and ambiguous marketing campaign made up largely of short, cryptic teasers, hype was already pretty high

Inside No 9 Complete Collection Unboxing

Earlier this year, one of the finest television creations in the history of the medium came to a poignant conclusion after 9 impeccable seasons. Over 55 self-contained episodes, Inside No 9 made

A Bittersweet Life Unboxing

Taking a brief detour from horror, Second Sight Films have given their much-loved Limited Edition treatment to South Korean neo-noir thriller A Bittersweet Life (2005). Filmmaker Kim Jee-woon may jump wildly around
Go toTop

Don't Miss

Frankenstein: The True Story

Rating: 4/5. Bottom line: A memorable romp that will delight

The Hound of the Baskervilles–A Digital Theatre Experience

No strangers to digital streaming, Original Theatre have been called