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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Murder By Decree

Murder By Decree


Picture: C†††† Sound: C†††† Extras: C-†††† Film: B



Jack The Ripper is one of the most visited characters in film, as recently witnessed by the under appreciated Hughes Brothers film From Hell (2001), as well as the never-produced Diary Of Jack The Ripper that Anthony Hopkins was supposed to do with director William Friedkin.The character and the mystery of his identity have made him practically mythical.


The twist with Bob Clarkís Murder By Decree is that Jack is challenged by Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer), a fictional character with a myth just as large.Of course, this meeting occurred before cinematically in the 1965 feature film A Study In Terror, directed by James Hill.He is a British director known for helming some of the best episodes of TVís original The Avengers.That version is supposed to be the more violent, less mythic of the two, but this film more than holds its own.Jack The Ripper is on the loose, so a desperate citizens group persuades Sherlock Holmes to take on the case.What he finds includes treachery, a woman who might be in a mental hospital for the wrong reasons, more difficulty than usual with the authorities, a strange man with psychic premonitions, and the most gruesome murders ever seen.


Murder by Decree also tries to present the case as closely to the actual murders as possible, which helps give it a credibility that helps it hold up well, especially against the similar investigative detail in From Hell.


The film was shot in a highly stylized fashion, but this anamorphic 1.85 X 1 transfer is still a bit softer than it should be, possibly a late analog master recycle.This is an atmospheric film, but something is lost, though this is the best home video version to date.The Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic sound is nothing special, demonstrating the monophonic soundís age.This could have been interesting in even a simple stereo remix, but all involved stuck with the original theatrical optical mono instead.


The original theatrical trailer is included, along with biographies of Plummer and Clark, still galleries for posters, publicity stills, and behind-the-scenes shots.There is also a commentary by director Clark that is not bad, but does not go on non-stop, as it should.The DVD-ROM format offers a complete script to the film, but any computer with a DVD-ROM drive will also require Adobe Acrobat to access it.Unlike just offering the script frame-by-frame, putting it in ROM form allows printing and greater access to the text, so this is better, except for those without DVD-ROM on their PCs.


The film start Christopher Plummer as Holmes, James Mason as Watson, Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold, Sir John Gielgud, David Hemming, Anthony Quayle, Susan Clark, and Frank Finley.Music by Carl Zittrer & Paul Zaza, Screenplay by John Hopkins, and Directed by Bob Clark.


For whatever reason, theatrical feature films of Sherlock Holmes always seem to turn out well. It should be noted that Anthony Quayle and Frank Finley appeared in A Study In Terror, so their work here references their presence in that other Holmes/Ripper film.That begs the question on where the DVD of that film is, but at least Anchor Bay issued this version.


Though it has its minor problems, it has aged well and makes for one of the key Sherlock Holmes films.If you like Holmes, mysteries, the story surrounding The Ripper murders, or want to have a well-made film, Murder By Decree is one to get.



-Nicholas Sheffo


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