Anchor Bay has been justly praised for restoring most of the Hammer catalogue as well as arcane horror titles from the Seventies. Their latest presentation of Bob Clark's underestimated classic MURDER BY DECREE is quite simply spectacular. The film has never looked better and until now has been unavailable except on a long out-of-print video tape.
The notion that Jack the Ripper was a golem created by the Royal Family with aid from the Freemasons to murder all the witnesses to a marriage that could topple the throne is a gripping one. And Director Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS) is more than up to the challenge. He has created an audio commentary that is quite pompous and the only reason he gets away with it is the film truly merits his giant ego in the director chair.
The casting of Christopher Plummer might seem a bit off until one sees how deftly he pulls his characterization together. Only Robert Stephens before him achieved this three-dimensional portrait of the master. The real treasure in MURDER BY DECREE is the definitive rendering of Dr. Watson by the glorious James Mason. He is perhaps the greatest of all the Watsons in screen history. This film is everything one hoped last year's FROM HELL would have been. While covering the same material, and with a great deal more in its budget, it simply is eclipsed by the dedication and class of Bob Clark's vision.
There have been other attempts to have Sherlock Holmes meet Jack the Ripper but none have been as on target as this one. The screenplay by John Hopkins is based on Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack and incorporates a number of characters that really existed in London during the reign of terror in 1888.
Who was Jack the Ripper? Author Patricia Cornwell has spent over $4 million dollars to research her claim that painter Walter Sickert was indeed the Grandfather of All Serial Killers. Cornwell's book is entitled Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed and yes; a film is undoubtedly in the works.
The supporting cast of characters reads like the Who's Who of British Theatre: John Gielgud as the Prime Minister, Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade, and Anthony Quayle as the head of Scotland Yard. All are first-rate in their portrayals. Also featured in supporting roles are Donald Sutherland, David Hemmings, Geneviève Bujold and Susan Clark.
The supplementals include a theatrical trailer, a behind-the-scenes still and poster gallery, talent bios, and a DVD-ROM of the original screenplay. The 1.85:1 widescreen edition, enhanced for 16 X 9 TVs is breathtaking. In other words, this is a DVD worthy of anyone's collection. Full marks to Anchor Bay once again! (David Del Valle)
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