Murder by Decree
|Murder by Decree|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Bob Clark|
|Produced by||Bob Clark
|Written by||John Hopkins|
|Based on||The Ripper File
Sherlock Holmes characters by
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
|Music by||Paul Zaza
|Cinematography||Reginald H. Morris|
|Distributed by||AVCO Embassy Pictures|
|1 February 1979 (Canada) 1979 (UK)|
Murder by Decree is a 1979 British-Canadian mystery thriller film directed by Bob Clark. It features the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who are embroiled in the investigation surrounding the real-life 1888 Whitechapel murders committed by "Jack the Ripper". Christopher Plummer plays Holmes and James Mason plays Watson. Though it features a similar premise, it is notably different in tone and result to A Study in Terror. It is loosely based on The Ripper File by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd.
The film's premise of the plot behind the murders is influenced by the book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, by Stephen Knight, who presumed that the killings were part of a Masonic plot. The original script contained the names of the historical suspects, Sir William Gull, 1st Baronet and John Netley. In the actual film, they are represented by fictional analogues; Thomas Spivy (Gull) and William Slade (Netley). This plot device was later used in other Jack The Ripper-themed fiction, including the graphic novel From Hell.
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The film was directed by Bob Clark. It stars Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and presents a largely different version of Holmes from the Rathbone days, with the aesthete still prevailing, yet tinged with a humanity and emotional empathy. James Mason's Dr. Watson is also a departure from previous incarnations. Although he may appear at first to resemble the bumbling Nigel Bruce version of the character, he soon shows his level head and scientific and medical training to be as valuable assets as they were in the original stories. The supporting cast includes Donald Sutherland, Susan Clark, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings and Geneviève Bujold. Frank Finlay plays Inspector Lestrade, a part he had previously portrayed in the similar 1965 film A Study in Terror in which Quayle likewise played a supporting role. Plummer had earlier portrayed Holmes in 1977's Silver Blaze.
The film was nominated for 8 Genie Awards in 1980, of which it won 5, including Best Achievement in Direction (Bob Clark), Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Geneviève Bujold) and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Christopher Plummer).
Vincent Canby, writing in the NY Times in February 1979, gave the film a positive review;
The film, directed by Bob Clark, based on an original screenplay by John Hopkins, makes use not only of the theory that Jack the Ripper was actually the Duke of Clarence, son of Queen Victoria, but also of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, who are apparently in the public domain, or at least available for assignments outside the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.
With Christopher Plummer as a charming, cultivated Holmes, a fellow who reveals himself to be a man of unexpected social and political conscience, and with James Mason as an especially fond and steadfast Watson, "Murder by Decree" is a good deal of uncomplicated fun, not in a class with Nicholas Meyer's "The Seven Percent Solution," but certainly miles ahead of many other current films that masquerade as popular entertainment.
Mr. Hopkins's screenplay is funny without being condescending, more aware of history, perhaps, than Conan Doyle's mysteries ever were, but always appreciative of the strengths of the original characters and of the etiquette observed in the course of every hunt.
- Christopher Plummer (Sherlock Holmes)
- James Mason (Dr. John Watson)
- David Hemmings (Inspector Foxborough)
- Susan Clark (Mary Kelly)
- Frank Finlay (Inspector Lestrade)
- Anthony Quayle (Sir Charles Warren)
- Donald Sutherland (Robert Lees)
- Geneviève Bujold (Annie Crook)
- John Gielgud (Lord Salisbury, The Prime Minister)
- A Study in Terror
- Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
- The Last Sherlock Holmes Story
- From Hell (film)