Murder by Decree, 1979.
Directed by Bob Clark.
Starring Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle, Geneviève Bujold and Frank Finlay.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson find themselves on the trail of Jack the Ripper as they investigate the notorious Whitechapel murders.
Sherlock Holmes has offered a go to for the film and TV world for many years. There have been countless incarnations on the big and small screen of Holmes and Watson. In recent times of note, we’ve had Robert Downey Jr. donning the famous hat and pipe, as well as the immensely popular BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch. Murder by Decree was “yet another” Holmes cinematic escape, way back in 1979.
Jack the Ripper has been murdering prostitutes in the Whitechapel area. Holmes is called upon to uncover the identity of the killer. When Holmes takes on the case he uncovers a conspiracy to protect the identity of the killer and the orchestrators that stretches all the way to the highest echelons of society. As you’d expect from a Holmes adventure the story takes you on a merry dance before everything becomes clear. The plot is engaging and well paced.
In this incarnation, Sherlock is played with aplomb by Christopher Plummer. Plummer is one of Hollywood’s most reliable actors. It’s unlikely an audience will see him phoning in a performance. As Holmes he portrays the master sleuth as playful, sensitive and of course very self-assured. James Mason takes on the role of Watson and is also excellent. More so is the connection between the two. Plummer and Mason have great chemistry on screen which in any Holmes and Watson adventure is absolutely essential. The remainder of the cast is good, including David Hemmings and a rather odd Donald Sutherland.
Director Bob Clark paints a dark, eerie and foggy London. The film looks great. It’s beautifully lit. In addition, the screenplay by John Hopkins flows nicely and the dialogue is playful between the two protagonists. The film balances the Gothic macabre with some wry humour well. The film isn’t perfect, and the denouement is a little too long, but it’s entertaining.
In all, this is one of the better incarnations of the classic characters while the basis of the story would later be remade as From Hell with Johnny Depp. Holmes will forever be reliable fodder for moviemakers. The enduring smartass will solve many more crimes in the coming decades.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film *** / Movie ****