Sherlock Holmes is drawn into the case of Jack the Ripper who is killing prostitutes in London's East End. Assisted by Dr. Watson, and using information provided by a renowned psychic, Robert Lees, Holmes finds that the murders may have its roots in a Royal indiscretion and that a cover-up is being managed by politicians at the highest level, all of whom happen to be Masons.
|Title||:||Murder by Decree|
|Release Date||:||February 1, 1979|
|Genres||:||Crime, Mystery, Thriller|
|Production Co.||:||Highlight, Famous Players Ltd, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC)|
|Production Countries||:||Canada, United Kingdom|
|Writers||:||Arthur Conan Doyle, Elwyn Jones, John Lloyd, John Hopkins|
|Casts||:||Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Geneviève Bujold, Susan Clark, Anthony Quayle, Frank Finlay|
|Plot Keywords||:||jack the ripper, sherlock holmes|
Murder by Decree Reviews
- "There is still decency." A marvellous film.by 4 September 2000on
49 out of 53 people found the following review useful:
This is a remarkable little movie that has never reached classic status for some reason. Aside from an incredible cast, all of whom suit the dignified proceedings admirably, there are two other stars who lift this film above the level of an excellent thriller. One is the production design. The old Hollywood style of foggy streets and dark alleys, with sinister cabs skulking along, is the stuff nightmares are made of. The East End is horrible, a hell on earth. The other unsung hero is the music. A beautiful soundtrack which ranges from chilling strings and harps to the charming end music. Christopher Plummer is fabulous as Holmes, heroic and ingenious but with a strong sympathy which no other actor in the role apart from Jeremy Brett has captured. His scenes with Mason are a joy; the pair really work together, complete with catchphrases and a mutual respect. Donald Sutherland is also captivating as Robert Lees...his eyes are those of a man living in helpless terror. The film's finest moment is the scene between Holmes and Annie Crook. Genevieve Bujould is heartbreaking in the role,a perfect piece of casting despite her accent, and Holmes' reaction to her plight is deeply moving. Make no mistake, the theory of the Ripper murders is barmy, but wonderful entertainment. It does slander Sir Charles Warren and Lord Salisbury unbelievably; Anthony Quayle puts in a gloriously over the top turn in repulsive corruption. There is an interesting subtext to the film as well, namely the fight between decency and corruption. Annie's innocence and goodness is uncorrupted even by her plight, and the decency of Mary Kelly is a ghost that hangs over the last half an hour. The end credits are beautiful, with gorgeous theatrical and old-fashioned cast and credits, such as "Frank Finlay was Inspector Lestrade." There is decency in the most unlikely of places, and Holmes and Watson are the solid rocks while around them people sink and swim in the chaos. A moving, brilliantly realised and frightening film.
- Expansively produced, wonderfully atmospheric, credibly acted Ripper yarn.by 14 June 2001on
26 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
This isn't the first time Holmes has met Jack the Ripper in the movies, but this particular encounter leaves all others for dead. Handsomely photographed and produced, this notable addition to the Holmes cycle not only presents a credible yet intriguing Sherlock in Christopher Plummer, but just as importantly a Doctor Watson more akin to Conan Doyle's creation than the silly ass usually presented on the screen by Nigel Bruce and his successors. Full marks to James Mason.
The support cast is also top-notch, though some false beards were a trifle obvious. Another minor complaint lies in the poorly conceived, tacked-on ending in which Holmes is examined by John Gielgud's unyielding Prime Minister.
Otherwise this is a remarkably handsome film that transports the viewer right back to a teemingly authentic Sherlock Holmes London.
- The Plummer-Mason double-act is on top formby 22 April 2005on
25 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
Sherlock Holmes has been played by numerous actors, the great Basil Rathbone being the best in my humble opinion, but Christopher Plummer does a fine job in this offering. There is just the right amount of sarcastic wit in his chats with Watson. James Mason is the highlight of the movie, his portrayal of Holmes' sidekick nicely judged and at times very funny. This film is so good as a result of its main cast, all of whom are talented actors. The director manages to create a chilling atmosphere at times, whilst the style of the film is nicely British. Murder by Decree demonstrates how the Brits can hold their own in a world of Hollywood domination. Its worth a look any day.
- Original and nice Sherlock Holmes movieby 1 July 2004on
23 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
This isn't an adaptation based on Arthur Conan Doyle novels , the plot line is a fictional story . The fable mingles Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Jack the Ripper. In the film appears Doctor Watson (James Mason) and Constable Lestrade (Frank Finlay) but not Doctor Moriarty though there is doubt if he's the murderous ; will be the killer? . The plot has a twisted ending and contains outstanding surprises .
The movie displays a first-rate set design and is very atmospheric . The shady and spooky slums are pretty well designed . Some shots create creepy and horror moments . The film blends thriller , suspense , detective action , terror and a little gore and is quite interesting . Acting by Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes is excellent , likeness to Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett as TV Sherlock ; furthermore James Mason as Watson is sublime . Other secondary actors are David Hemmings , Susan Clark , Frank Finlay , Genevieve Bujold , all of them are splendid . In 2002 the Hughes Brothers made a special version with Johnny Depp titled "From Hell" . Rating: 7 , above average . Well worth seeing .
- Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripperby 24 December 2006on
18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
In 1888 London, Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) are asked by a citizen's group to find and stop Jack the Ripper. For some reason the police don't want Holmes to investigate. However he does and as the bodies pile up Holmes and Watson slowly uncover a trail that might lead to the highest reach of British government.
This was released and died VERY quickly in 1979. I'm probably one of the few people who saw it in a theatre. The critics almost unanimously praised it, it had a huge cast of good actors...but it just died. That's too bad because this is a very good Sherlock Holmes film.
It's atmospheric (LOTS of foggy streets), has exquisite production design and is beautifully directed by Bob Clark (I love the way the first murder is done--very effective). Also the acting is great. Plummer gives a very good, different interpretation of Holmes--he makes him more emotional than other actors have...but it works. Mason nicely underplays the role of Watson--he does not make him a bumbling fool like Nigel Bruce did back in the 1940s. In small roles Susan Clark, John Gielgud and especially Genevieve Bujold are excellent. Donald Sutherland, Anthony Quayle and David Hemmings unfortunately are not that good.
There are some problems with this movie though. It's too long (a long sequence involving Watson and some prostitutes could have been completely cut) and is needlessly convoluted. Also they throw politics in the plot which seems out of place. And, strangely, Holmes' deductive reasoning is almost never used. He comes across more as a protector of the people than a detective. Plummer's performance though carries it through. It's quite bloody too--not enough for an R rating but pretty strong for the PG it got back then (PG-13 wasn't a rating yet).
Reservations aside though, I think this is one of the best Holmes' film ever made. Recommended.
- Vivid teaming of Holmes/Watson and Jack the Ripperby 21 March 2005on
21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
MURDER BY DECREE
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono
London, 1888: Whilst investigating a series of murders committed by 'Jack the Ripper', Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) uncover a Masonic conspiracy which leads them to the very heart of the British Establishment.
During the summer of 1973, the BBC ran a six-part documentary series entitled "Jack the Ripper" (also known as "The Ripper File"), in which two popular fictional detectives (played by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor) investigated the 'true' identity of Jack the Ripper, using all the evidence available to them at the time. Their conclusions form the basis of Bob Clark's all-star period thriller MURDER BY DECREE, which condenses vast amounts of information into a single digestible screenplay. The film's lavish recreation of Victorian London (extravagant opera houses, cobbled streets and miles of gloomy Whitechapel alleyways populated by hundreds of costumed extras) belies its modest $4m budget, and for once, the starry supporting cast - including Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings, John Gielgud and Donald Sutherland - seems perfectly suited to the material.
A combination of Gothic thriller and historical whodunnit, John Hopkins' comprehensive screenplay outlines the social and political divisions which prevailed in England at the time of the Ripper murders, hindering the police investigation and prompting a number of conspiracy theories which persist to this day. However, the script also contains a number of memorable character touches (the episode of the 'errant pea' is most prized by fans) which prevents the narrative from surrendering to mere facts and figures. Plummer and Mason are ideal as Holmes and Watson, though Genevieve Bujold almost steals the film during a heartbreaking sequence in which Holmes looks for clues in a crumbling asylum. You may not agree with the film's conclusions - the same evidence was re-evaluated by author Stephen Knight in his popular non-fiction account 'Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution' (1976) and David Wickes' excellent TV movie JACK THE RIPPER (1988) starring Michael Caine - but MURDER BY DECREE is generally acknowledged as one of the best Ripper/Holmes movies ever made.
Incidentally, the film's PG rating seems extraordinarily lenient. While MURDER BY DECREE doesn't exactly revel in violence, it conveys the grislier aspects of the Ripper's crimes with enough potency to warrant a PG-13 (unavailable at the time of this film's initial release).
- Forget the later versions -- this one is the best.by 27 February 2006on
25 out of 37 people found the following review useful:
I happened across this film recently and found it to be a superb forerunner to FROM HELL which was filmed many years later. To be frank, this version is a lot more believable. It impressed me deeply because of the excellent depiction of the cramped, narrow, damp and winding back streets of Whitehall, all shrouded in permanent fog, and with a queasy, chromatic musical score to alert you that not all is well and dark deeds await.
The characters are believable and well played: Plummer underplays Holmes when so many other actors take him over the top: James Mason is an earthy, skeptical Dr. Watson whose blusterings are amusing without ever become a pain in the tail; we have a cooperative and good-natured Lestrange, a suitably shell-shocked Mary Kelly, and Anthony Quayle puts in not only an incredibly gruff and abrasive performance as Scotland yard's Charles Warren, but also wins the movie's bizarre-makeup award. Donald Sutherland also modestly underplays his role as the sickly psychic with a mustache that Wyatt Earp would have envied. And of course, the unmasked villains are suitably sinister and reek of the madness being perpetrated on the panicky London slum.
Also deserving a nod are John Gielgud and others who play high government officials with the proper stuffy condescension and total disregard for "inferiors" of whatever class or religion, putting the stability of the monarchy far above those the ruling class are supposed to be caring for. It's hard to visualize Holmes an an insurrectionist, but if this was not the appropriate situation, nothing would be.
This film would merit a 10 out of 10 except for the peculiar character played by David Hemmings, who seemed out of place to begin with and brought too much attention to himself as someone to keep an eye on, as if he were a walking clue for the more inattentive viewer. Good performance, just an awkward and blatant addition to the story characters.
Forget the drug-hazed and farcical Johnny Depp character of FROM HELL: rather, watch the clear-headed relentless Holmes take on Saucy Jack with such a fervency that he overlooks more hidden, sinister forces attempting to steer him towards satisfying their own ends....
- Not your typical type of Sherlockby 27 July 2010on
11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Several sources, including a loud and proud quotation on the DVD-cover itself, claim that "Murder by Decree" is the best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. Like most opinions are, this is highly debatable. Me personally, for example, I'm a big fan of the 1940's Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone as the superiorly intelligent detective and Nigel Bruce as his goofy sidekick Dr. Watson. Some of the entries in that franchise, like "The Scarlet Claw" and "House of Fear" to name just two, are near-brilliant and, in my humble opinion, even better than this film. One fact that remains inarguable, however, is that "Murder by Decree" is the most special and unclassifiable Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. The script actually takes the fictional characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle and places them amidst all the convoluted speculations and grotesque conspiracy theories surrounding the mystery of the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders. "A Study in Terror" was the first attempt to blend the characters of Holmes and Jack the Ripper, nearly fifteen years earlier in 1965, but Bob Clark's film digs a whole lot deeper and makes a lot more efforts to come across as plausible and convincing. "Murder by Decree" is a unique Sherlock Holmes film for yet another reason, namely the depiction of our heroic protagonists. Christopher Plummer portrays the most humane Holmes in history, with a regular sense of humor instead of witty remarks that ooze with superiority as well as feelings sadness and compassion. He even wipes away an emotional teardrop at one point! On the other hand, there's James Mason illustrating the most anti-stereotypical Watson ever, as his lines and contributions are sharp and savvy instead of silly. Sherlock Holmes is called in for help by the Whitechapel store owners after the third Jack the Ripper murder. The crimes are despicable and the locals fear that the police aren't making enough efforts to capture the killer since the victims are "only" prostitutes working in a poor London neighborhood. Thanks to his amazing investigating talents, careful observing senses and stupendous deductive skills, Holmes gradually uncovers a complex conspiracy that almost solely involves elite culprits like politicians, Freemasons and even British royals. He has to operate with extreme caution, though, as his investigation might lead the Ripper to more targeted victims. The script of "Murder by Decree" is clever. Too clever, in fact, as I presume you're not even supposed to guess along for the Ripper's identity. Holmes is always several steps ahead of you and the film ends with a long monologue in which the detective explains the entire murderous scheme in great detail to a trio of eminent conspirators. Although puzzling, the story remains fascinating and absorbing the whole time. Bob Clark, a multi-talented genre director especially in the seventies, also masterfully captures the exact right Victorian ambiance. The film is literally filled with dark and foggy London alleys, uncanny old taverns and marvelous horse carriages. I only detected a couple of minor details, actually, and they're mainly personal opinions. The film doesn't properly epitomize the "horror" of the Jack the Ripper case (hardly any nasty images or sinister moments) and the sub plot revolving on Donald Sutherland as a paranormally gifted witness affects the credibility in a negative sort of way.
- very niceby 17 August 2004on
11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. John Watson (James Mason) with a little help from a phsychic (Donald Sutherland) become embroiled in the Jack-the-ripper case. This intermingling of real and fictional charecters is for the most part intriging and for my money, much more enjoyable than the more recent "From Hell" (But then again, if ANYone can make a valid adaption of anything by Alan Moore, please tell me). However, not the best Serlock Holmes movie I've seen and Plummer, while a fairly good Holmes, is still second to Jeremy Brett. All in all another strong accomplishment by the great Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story and Black Christmas are classics all) this time working with a John Hopskins script. By the way, I have yet to see "A Study in Terror" and thus can't make any comparisions or any thesis on which is better.
My Grade: B+
DVD Extras: Commentary by Bob Clark; poster and stills gallery; Behind-the-scenes still gallery; Talent bios; and theatrical trailer
- Superbly atmospheric, produced but flawed...by 7 December 1998on
12 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
"Murder by Decree" could have been one of THE great Sherlock Holmes films but suffers from problematic scenes that need to be edited or cut altogether. Outstanding art direction and recreation of London in 1888 help to salvage it. It also features winning interpretations of Holmes and Watson by Christopher Plummer and James Mason (my favorite Dr. Watson), and fine performances by a strong supprting cast. It also features one of the scariest moments I've ever seen in a film, when the black eyes of the killer appears in a tight close-up. Scary! Overall: sluggish at time, but entertaining.
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