Murder by Decree (1979)

Murder by Decree (1979), directed by Bob Clark.

The black carriage trundles through the convincingly dark, dank, filthy streets of Whitechapel. We get glimpses of the shining, staring eyes of the madman. Jack the Ripper is at work, killing and mutilating prostitutes under the noses of the helpless police.

Why don't they call in Sherlock Holmes? Because were he to solve the case, he might bring down not only the Government, but the Monarchy itself.

It seems natural to bring Holmes and the Ripper together, but AC Doyle never did so. Maybe it would have been in bad taste at the time.

These days Sherlock Holmes has been absorbed into the fantasy/action genre, but this film is very much in the traditional vein, closer to the texts. The ageless Christopher Plummer is spot-on as the brainy Holmes, tormented this time by the injustice of the authorities and his own culpability in the horrific death of one of the women. James Mason is a satisfying Watson: loyal and stuffy, but not a fool.

Combining the traditional Holmes with grimy London and bloody crime is a nice approach: the steadfastness of the detective comforts us while the Ripper terrifies us. The mutilations are mostly just suggested, but that's enough. The glimpses of Mary Kelly's agonies through a dirty window are hard to bear.


From Hell (2001) has a similar plot, done with more splatter. The films are probably independent; this solution -- one of many -- to the mystery (Freemasons, royal secrets) had been established earlier.

The DVD has a commentary track by the director, and also a PDF of the screenplay: "Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack".

No proper subtitles, but it has old-style closed-captions, useless for most people in the HDMI age. When available I extract them, convert to SRT and embed them in a MKV version of the title.