Murder by Decree (1979)


(director: Bob Clark; screenwriter: John Hopkins/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; cinematographer: Reg Morris; editor: Stan Cole; music: Carl Zittrer/Paul Zaza; cast: Christopher Plummer(Christopher Plummer), Donald Sutherland (Robert Lees), Genevieve Bujold (Annie Crook), James Mason (Dr. John H. Watson), Anthony Quayle ( Sir Charles Warren), John Gielgud (Lord Salisbury), David Hemmings (Inspector Foxborough), Frank Finlay (Inspector Lestrade), Susan Clark (Mary Kelly); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Len Herberman; Ambassador (MGM); 1979-UK-Canada)

One of the more imaginative Sherlock Holmes films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the more imaginative Sherlock Holmes films. Veteran filmmaker Bob Clark’s (“Breaking Point”/”Porky’s”/”Rhinestone”) best film. It’s a thriller about the alleged cover-up of the Jack the Ripper serial murder case in Victorian London. The John Hopkins’ script is a solid literary adaption from the Arthur Conan Doyle book.

In foggy London master sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is urged by the local anti-royalist merchants to investigate on his own the monster brutally murdering prostitutes in London’s West End with surgical knives. Holmes does this while decked out in his deerstalker cap and thoughtfully puffing away at his cancerous pipe. He impresses his delightful loyal assistant Dr. Watson (James Mason) with his power of deduction. Meanwhile Scotland Yard’s new politically connected superintendent, Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle), suspiciously refuses to use Holmes’s services.

Holmes uncovers that key politicians, Freemasons and royalty all have knowledge of the murders but are keeping hush. This takes him on hansom cabs over the cobblestone streets as he treks to brothels and madhouses for answers.

Donald Sutherland is funny as a kooky psychic, playing the part of someone the Yard actually used in the real case. Genevieve Bujold excellently plays a suspect. She’s the discarded mistress of a noble, now placed in an asylum, who provides crucial info.

Plummer makes for a fine Sherlock, except he wears one or two disguises I could have done without. The first-rate supporting cast also deserves kudos .

Only problem with the pic is that it goes on for too long without the material to support that. Otherwise the ambitious film does a great job connecting history with fiction, and adds its voice to the conspiracy theory believers over the handling of the Jack the Ripper case.