Category Archives: Jack The Ripper

Blu-Ray News #295: Murder By Decree (1979).

Directed by Bob Clark
Starring Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Donald Sutherland, Geneviève Bujold, John Gielgud

Pitting the brilliant Sherlock Holmes against the insidious Jack The Ripper is an inspired idea, and it’s been the basis of some good books and movies. Bob Clark’s Murder By Decree (1979) is a really good one. (Saw it in the theater back in ’79, and it boosted a fascination with the Ripper that I still can’t crawl out from under.) 

Christopher Plummer plays the great detective and James Mason is wonderful as his trusted friend Watson. Peter Cushing will always be my favorite Holmes, but Plummer is very, very good. Frank Finlay, who played Inspector Lestrade in a previous Holmes/Ripper picture, A Study In Terror (1966). Murder By Decree walks the line between mystery and horror perfectly.

Kino Lorber has announced a Blu-Ray for Murder By Decree, with a hint at some really cool extras. The mileage I put on my old laserdisc of this one confirms that I recommend it very highly.

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Filed under 1979, Avco Embassy, DVD/Blu-ray News, Jack The Ripper, Kino Lorber, Sherlock Holmes

Blu-Ray Review: Jack The Ripper (1959).

Produced, Directed & Photographed by Robert S. Baker & Monty Berman
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Music by Stanley Black (UK); Jimmy McHugh & Pete Rugolo (US)
Film Editor: Peter Bezencenet

Cast: Lee Patterson (Sam Lowry), Eddie Byrne (Inspector O’Neill), Betty McDowall (Anne Ford), Ewen Solon (Sir David Rogers), John Le Mesurier (Dr. Tranter), George Rose (Clarke), Philip Leaver (Music Hall Manager), Barbara Burke (Kitty Knowles), Anne Sharp (Helen), Denis Shaw (Simes), Jack Allen (Assistant Commissioner Hodges), Jane Taylor (Hazel), Dorinda Stevens as (Margaret), Hal Osmond (Snakey), Paul Frees (narrator, US version)

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I’m sure I’m not the only kid who caught Jack The Ripper (1959) on TV and has had a fascination with the murders ever since. Back then, researching a subject wasn’t as simple as typing a few words into Wikipedia, and I’ve got a stack of Ripper books to prove it.

Since Jack The Ripper was never caught, a book or movie or whatever can go wherever it wants, presenting its own theory of what happened — or just using the basic story as a springboard for a bit of violence and sex. This movie sticks to the usual path, and its “solution” is in line with some of the common theories from the “experts.” The Ripper scenes are very well done, and they do a pretty good job of concealing the fact that they walk along the same Whitechapel street set over and over again — the fog machine guy sure worked overtime.

My favorite Ripper picture is Murder By Decree (1978) and this one comes in second. Its Hammer-ish feel — courtesy of writer Jimmy Sangster and producers/directors Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman, who’d done Blood Of The Vampire the year before — suits the subject matter perfectly.

I’ve never seen Jack The Ripper look good, so I was really eager to see how the Severin Blu-Ray turned out, knowing they’d gone to great lengths to find some nice material to work with. And I was hoping to get a lesson in how the various versions of the picture came to be. And while this isn’t a shining example of everything a Blu-Ray can be, it does show what dedication and hard work can accomplish.

So here’s the back story. Joseph E. Levine made a fortune buying foreign films, sprucing them up for American release, and filling theaters through masterful advertising campaigns. Two of his biggest successes were the US versions of Godzilla, King Of The Monsters (1956) and Hercules (1958). Jack The Ripper was given the same treatment.

Wth the Severin Blu-Ray, you get the British cut of the picture, looking pretty good, but cropped to 1.33. Then there’s the US version in its proper aspect ratio, transferred from a vintage, well-used print found in the Library Of Congress. (Wow, Congress is good for something!) It’s got some lines and splices, and the color insert is there. (I actually like seeing an old movie look like it’s been run a few times — that’s how they usually looked when I first saw them.) In short, Severin did a very nice job with somewhat compromised material.

Of the two, I prefer the US one. The widescreen framing is a huge plus, it’s cool to hear Paul Frees over the Paramount logo, and the music is the score I know from the soundtrack LP.

There was a third version — a cut for the rest of Europe with some extra violence and a bit of nudity tossed in for good measure. Some of those scenes are included in the supplemental stuff. You also get a nice little documentary, the US trailer, an expert interview and a still gallery. A nice package.

But for me, however, the real treat is bringing this Ripper out of the fog after all these years. For that, I’m certainly grateful. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Jack The Ripper, Paramount, Severin Films

Blu-Ray Review: A Study In Terror (1965).

Directed by James Hill
Screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford
Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Music by John Scott
Film Editor: Henry Richardson

Cast: John Neville (Sherlock Holmes), Donald Houston (Doctor John Watson), John Fraser (Lord Carfax), Anthony Quayle (Doctor Murray), Barbara Windsor (Annie Chapman), Adrienne Corri (Angela Osborne), Frank Finlay (Inspector Lestrade), Judi Dench (Sally Young), Charles Regnier (Joseph Beck), Cecil Parker (Prime Minister), Robert Morley (Mycroft Holmes)

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Who knows who thought of it first, but pitting the brilliant Sherlock Holmes against the insidious Jack The Ripper was an inspired idea. Just scratching the surface, the two have squared off in several books, a video game — and two movies I like quite a bit: A Study In Terror (1965) and Murder By Decree (1979). A Study In Terror has recently been released on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Seemed like a good time to revisit it.

The premise is really simple. Jack The Ripper is doing his thing in Whitechapel, and someone decides Sherlock Holmes is the one man who bring the murderous fiend to justice. And indeed he does. Along the way, we get dense fog and plenty of Hammer-inspired bloodletting. (The influence of Hammer and James Bond really made for some cool movies in the mid-60s.)

The victims bear the actual names, but they look more like runway models than streetwalkers. (That kind of historical inaccuracy I can live with.) John Neville makes a fine Holmes — intense, aloof and entirely logical. David Houston, who appears in Hammer’s The Maniac (1962) and my all-time favorite film, Where Eagles Dare (1969), makes a good, typically-bewildered Watson. Frank Finlay makes a great Inspector Lestrade (though I wish he had more screen time), and Robert Morely is fun as Holmes’ brother Mycroft. And Dame Judi Dench has an early role in this thing.

The picture’s executive producer was Herman Cohen, who’d made a lot of great movies at AIP, before heading over to England to produce the wonderful Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959). Cohen hated the ad campaign put together by Columbia for A Study In Terror, which leaned on the camp approach of the Batman TV show — “The Original Caped Crusader!” — completely missing the bloody, lurid Hammer-ish-ness of the whole thing. I’m sure it had a big impact on the film’s disappointing box-office.

Mill Creek has done us a huge favor with this Blu-Ray, featuring a superb-looking 1.85 transfer at a rock-bottom price. Desmond Dickinson’s color photography is well-presented, and the sound nicely preserves every scream and police whistle. It even comes in a slipcover bearing the original UK post art. Very nice.

James Mason and Christopher Plummer in Murder By Decree (1979).

While we’re on the subject, the Holmes/Ripper thing spawned another film. the terrific Murder By Decree. This time, Christopher Plummer plays the great detective and James Mason is wonderful as his trusted friend Watson. Interestingly, Frank Finlay is back as Inspector Lestrade. This one needs a US Blu-Ray release.

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Filed under 1965, Columbia, Desmond Dickinson, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Herman Cohen, Jack The Ripper, Sherlock Holmes