Thursday, May 28, 2015

Murder By Decree!

Murder by Decree is a robust 1979 movie with an exceedingly strong cast which purports to tell how Sherlock Holmes and Dr.John Watson confronted the malevolent violence of "Jack the Ripper".

The story is one familiar to anyone who might have seen From Hell based on the work of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell puts forth the theory that the Ripper was actually working for Queen Victoria to cover up an affair by Prince Albert which produced a bastard heir to the throne. Sadly this knowledge does undermine the movie a bit, but it's clear from the beginning that both films are plowing the same territory.

Mason, Finlay, and Plummer
The most peculiar thing about the movie though is Christopher Plummer's decidedly different take on Sherlock Holmes himself. This Holmes is polite, thoughtful, emotional, and downright caring. Not the usual self-absorbed hyper-intellectual normally presented. And frankly I missed the old cantankerous Holmes. This character did not feel like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective for me despite Plummer's layered performance and despite the omnipresent deerstalker hat and Inverness cloak.

One oddity about this movie is the presence of Frank Finlay in the role of Lestrade, since Finlay had portrayed the ineffectual Scotland Yard man in another Ripper meets Holmes film, specially A Study in Terror. Watching these two back to back, it was odd to see Finlay show up again among a different cast and in a very different atmosphere.  Anthony Quayle is in both movies too, but plays radically different parts in each.

One of the delights of the movie is the portrayal of Dr.Watson by James Mason, who finds at once humor, feeling, and intelligence in the role. This Watson is no buffoon, but a man who seems oddly put upon by his friend Holmes but is very willing to support and work for him. My favorite scene in the movie might be the exchange between Holmes and Watson about the way he eats a pea. I know it sounds strange, but there you have it.

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  1. I just caught Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) on Netflix. I was surprised how much I liked this..This must have been a busy period for him…

    1. Just saw a few minutes of that Body Snatchers on TV. It's not as good as the original but it does have a great atmosphere, especially at the beginning.

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