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)
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.