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Murder by Decree (1-Feb-1979)

Director: Bob Clark

Writer: John Hopkins

Music Composed by: Carl Zittrer; Paul Zaza

Producers: Rene Dupont; Bob Clark

Keywords: Mystery, Sherlock Holmes

Following apparent police disinterest in the matter, a group of storekeepers in Whitechapel ask sleuth Sherlock Holmes to investigate and stop Jack the Ripper in 1888 London. After probing bordellos and alleyways of the seediest parts of the city, he and Watson uncover a Masonic conspiracy reaching into high levels of the British government. Not the only film depiction of Holmes meeting Jack the Ripper, but certainly the best; failed miserably at the box office.

NameOccupationBirthDeathKnown for
Geneviève Bujold
1-Jul-1942   Coma
Susan Clark
8-Mar-1940   Katherine Papadapolis on Webster
Frank Finlay
6-Aug-1926 30-Jan-2016 Othello
John Gielgud
14-Apr-1904 21-May-2000 Prospero's Books
David Hemmings
18-Nov-1941 3-Dec-2003 Blow-Up
James Mason
15-May-1909 27-Jul-1984 North by Northwest
Christopher Plummer
13-Dec-1929   A Beautiful Mind
Anthony Quayle
7-Sep-1913 20-Oct-1989 Ice-Cold in Alex
Donald Sutherland
17-Jul-1935   The Dirty Dozen


Christopher Plummer   ...   Sherlock Holmes
James Mason   ...   Dr. Watson
David Hemmings   ...   Insp. Foxborough
Susan Clark   ...   Mary Kelly
Anthony Quayle   ...   Sir Charles Warren
John Gielgud   ...   The Prime Minister
Frank Finlay   ...   Insp. Lestrade
Donald Sutherland   ...   Robert Lees
Geneviève Bujold   ...   Annie Crook
Chris Wiggins   ...   Dr. Hardy
Teddi Moore   ...   Mrs. Lees
Catherine Kessler   ...   Carrie
Terry Duggan   ...   Danny
Peter Jonfield   ...   William Slade
Roy Lansford   ...   Sir Thomas Spivey
Ron Pember   ...   Makins
Ken Jones   ...   Dock Guard
June Brown   ...   Annie Chapman
Hilary Sesta   ...   Catherine Eddowes
Anthony May   ...   Lanier
Betty Woolfe   ...   Mrs. Hudson
Iris Fry   ...   Elizabeth Stride
Geoffrey Russell   ...   Home Secretary
Peggy Ann Clifford   ...   Lees' Housekeeper
Ann Mitchell   ...   Jane
Katherine Stark   ...   Molly
Elaine Ives Cameron   ...   Ellen
Stella Courtney   ...   Betty
Judy Wilson   ...   Emily
Roy Pattison   ...   Carroll
Victor Langley   ...   Prince of Wales
Pamela Abbott   ...   Princess Alexandra
Robin Marchall   ...   Duke of Clarence "Eddy"
Richard Pescuid   ...   Doctor
Pat Brackenbury   ...   Nurse
Dan Long   ...   Constable Long
Michael Cashman   ...   Constable Watkins


Review by Walter Frith (posted on 7-Jun-2007)

Bob Clark's 'Murder by Decree' is truly one of the most outstanding buried treasures in all of film history. With the English detective Sherlock Holmes having such a rich history on the big screen with multiple portraits of him in the 1930's and 40's courtesy of Basil Rathbone, the film makers were forced this time to look at Sherlock Holmes from a different perspective. Rathbone's portrayal of Holmes is probably the most well known version of the character to film buffs the world over. First of all this time, they got somebody who wasn't English to play Holmes. Although many thought that Rathbone was English born, he was actually born in South Africa but was often mistaken as English. Canadian Christopher Plummer, mistaken himself sometimes as being English, plays Holmes with a shrewd and intelligent prowess. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Plummer Grew up in the village of Senneville, Québec, Canada and is the great grandson of former Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott. Another change from the 30's and 40's, is that the story is more violent this time around with some gruesome murders shown in a quick but effective manner which is in keeping with the evolution of adult material put forward in the movies in the 1970's and the entire film is exquisitely photographed using dark English streets full of cobblestone buildings, fog and eerie street lamps. And the film's final after thought is one that definitely stirs up controversy involving English aristocrats of the highest order. Bob Clark certainly shows us through the several films that he's made, that he is a director of impressive diversity. Clark would follow-up 'Murder by Decree' with two more more films after that that take a much different path. 1980's 'Tribute' starring Jack Lemmon was about a terminally ill stage entertainer trying to establish contact with his estranged son before he dies. Then Clark would make 1982's 'Porky's, the ultimate teenage sex comedy for its time and a film that would have a million imitators. If you sat down to watch the last three films mentioned, you would hardly guess they were all made by the same director. Clark, who just turned 62 this past August 5th, has dabbled extensively in Canadian made productions despite being American born (from Louisiana) and educated at Hillsdale College in Michigan. 'Murder by Decree' won six Genie awards. These are Canada's version of the American academy awards. Included in those six Genie's was a win for Clark in the best director category while Christopher Plummer won the best actor prize. A major bonus for 'Murder by Decree' is the portrayal of Dr. John Watson, Holmes' assistant, played wonderfully in a droll and rigid manner by James Mason. Mason is one of the finest actors to ever come out of England and was never knighted by the monarchy as a "Sir" while other less deserving people have received the honour. Many speculate that the reason Mason never got his due was his portrayal in 1951 of Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in 'The Desert Fox' which caused a major stir in England upon its release. Many felt that Mason should not have accepted the role for political reasons but he did a splendid job and this really was a silly concern among those who worried about it. For most people's money that I have talked to, many feel that Mason is right up there with Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, John Gielgud and other distinct British actors who did receive their knighthood. 'Murder by Decree' has Holmes and Watson investigating the murder of several prostitutes and homeless women on the streets of London in 1888. Their deductions lead them to question many people and a key interrogation takes place in a mental institution when Holmes talks to Annie Crook (Geneviève Bujold) and finds that she has been kept in the institution unnecessarily and has also had her child kept from her for no good reason. This answers many important questions for Holmes and Bujold won the Genie for best supporting actress in an outstanding role that has her on screen for about ten minutes of the entire film and it's a classic case of quality over quantity reigning supreme. 'Murder by Decree' is written by John Hopkins, a writer whose style was definitely bleak. Recurring themes in his works were human loneliness, isolation, and alienation. Ironically, he died tragically at the age of 67 in 1998 after slipping, falling and hitting his head on a swimming pool deck and drowning after he fell in. With such a high brow subject as Victorian England on his plate, he filled the audience with enough intelligent dialogue and social afterthought long after the film's villain is captured. There is a final scene where Holmes speaks to the British Prime Minister and a couple of his dignitaries where he makes his case for what was found during his investigation and how some allegations are true while others are merely circumstantial. The film seems to satisfy film goers who like a sense of closure with their films while still satisfying others who like to leave a certain amount to the imagination. [Visit Film Follow-Up by Walter Frith]

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