Murder By Decree (1979)

One from the to watch pile…
Murder By Decree (1979)

The cover to the Australian Umbrella release of Murder by Decree


Film: This is one of those strange films that I am SURE I must have seen. Surely during the 80s or 90s whilst in a channel hopping mood I must have stopped on this film. I imagine I wouldn’t have just paused but instead stopped once I realised that what I was watching was not just a Sherlock Holmes film, but a Holmes vs Jack the Ripper film!!

Now that I am a more refined and educated film fan, I now would stop for SO many other reasons. First, this film has a screen play by John Hopkins, who also did the Bond film Thunderball. 

Next, directed by Bob Clark! Film fans should know this name as the director of Porkys!, but more importantly to horror fans, Deathdream, Black Christmas and Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things!

Then the cast; oh, the cast! the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Christopher Plummer, North By Northwest’s James Mason, Deep Red’s David Hemmings, Lifeforce’s Frank Finlay, Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s Donald Sutherland, Dead Ringers’ Genevieve Bujold and let’s not forget Sir John Gielgud!!! I imagine any director of the 70s would have been swooning over such an amazing cast!!

James Mason and Christopher Plummer


The film tells of 1800’s London, during Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror, when a group of concerned storekeepers approach Sherlock Holmes (Plummer) and his faithful, long-suffering cohort Dr. Watson (Mason) to assist in the hunt for the Ripper even though the police, including Inspector Foxborough (Hemmings) would wish him to have nothing to do with it.

Holmes continues the investigation regardless of the constabulary’s objections, and in doing so comes across all sorts of odd-bodkins, such as a psychic (Sutherland) and a conspiracy that leads all the way to the prime minister of England, and even royalty itself!!

There’s been many translations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character on TV, in comics and on the big screen but in my opinion this is one of the better ones. Christopher Plummer plays Holmes with an amazing sense of subtlety, not like more modern translations where he’s more a combination of of an idiot savant and a member of a boy band, and it’s a mature portrayal. His relationship with the far more sensible Dr Watson is understated and whilst frustrating for Watson, there is and underlying sense of friendship between the two that is played skilfully by our veteran actors.

The leads skill has a trickle down effect as the ensemble cast all play their parts with an equal amount of gusto, and it makes the story convincing and thoroughly engaging.

The Amazing Follicles of Donald Sutherland


Essentially, this film, even though not Sherlock Holmes cannon, it still really feels like a proper Holmes story, and the combination of Clark’s direction and the aforementioned cast’s convincing portrayals of the characters make this happen. If I am to criticise this film for anything it is a trifle overlong, and sags here and there.
Score: ****

Sir John Gielgud


Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment region 4 DVD release of the film, which runs for approximately 124 minutes is presented in a clean, but average 1.77:1 image with a matching 2.0 audio track.

Score: **1/2

Extras: Absolutely none! Not even a menu screen!!

Score: 0

WISIA: The quality of the actors involved make this definitely a rewatcher.

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