“Murder by Decree” – 1979. Dir. Bob Clark

With Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Donald Sutherland and Sir John Gielgud.

“We’ve unmasked madmen, Watson, wielding scepters. Reason run riot. Justice howling at the moon.”

Sherlock Holmes is after Jack the Ripper. That is an interesting premise in itself. That was one part that drew me to this film; the other was its excellent cast: Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes, James Mason as Dr. Watson, Donald Sutherland as Robert Lees a psychic and John Gielgud as Prime Minister Lord Salisbury and the film is directed by the guy who directed “A Christmas Story”. Doesn’t that sound like the strangest combination ever?

The movie starts out with a point of view from Jack the Ripper as he stalks a woman down London’s dirty night streets. He stalks her, and then strikes, killing her. As the opening progresses to its next scene, we find Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sitting at a theater, they converse in witty banter and begin a discussion about the Royal family.

This film isn’t as good as it should have been – given the subject matter and the cast at hand. It drags pretty heavily at times and I found myself getting bored with the film. What really saves the film is the great chemistry between Plummer and Mason. It’s as if they’ve been heterosexual life partners for ever (which in the story they essentially have). What I really liked about the film was the use of Donald Sutherland. He’s in the film for a brief few scenes, but the scenes he’s in he steals with this eerie and haunting performance.


As the film progresses to Holmes tracking the killer down, a story arc evolving the Free Masons begins to play out, and my interest was brought back to the film. It picks up a little more, and then to the climactic showdown between Holmes and “the Ripper” is so excellent. The film is campy and smug, but isn’t that what a Sherlock Holmes movie is supposed to be like? A “back in the day” version of James Bond?

Sir John Gielgud and Christopher Plummer share the final scene of the film. I wish I could talk more about it, but that would be giving the film away completely – but in a sense it’s an epic throw-down between Holmes and the Prime Minister of England. It’s pretty sexy. Both of the actors show how powerful actors they are, and how they can completely captivate us with the English form of acting. It’s brilliant.

I still haven’t seen the new RDJ Holmes film, and to be honest, I’m really not all that interested, but if you do have an interest in Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, or any of these actors I would highly recommend you check this film out. It’s not the best film you’ll ever see, but you certainly aren’t wasting your time.

Review: 7.5/10

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

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