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Murder by Decree
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Manufacturer: Starz / Anchor Bay
Starring: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Anthony Quayle
Directed By: Bob Clark
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Binding: DVD
EAN: 0013131213393
Format: Anamorphic
Label: Starz / Anchor Bay
Manufacturer: Starz / Anchor Bay
Number Of Items: 1
Publisher: Starz / Anchor Bay
Region Code: 1
Release Date: 2003-01-21
Running Time: 124
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
Theatrical Release Date: 1979-02-09

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Editorial Reviews:

Murder by Decree has the distinction of being not only one of the best Sherlock Holmes films, but one of the best pastiches (i.e., a Holmes fiction created by someone other than author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) featuring the late-Victorian Era detective. Christopher Plummer is very good as Holmes, and James Mason redeems the many mishandled screen portrayals of Dr. John Watson with a rare, insightful performance. The story may not be unique in post-Doyle Holmes adventures--the private investigator pursues Jack the Ripper during the latter's reign of monstrous murders in foggy London--but the script by John Hopkins (Thunderball) is keenly intelligent, developing concentric circles of power and evil with great subtlety. Before losing himself in Porky's, director Bob Clark did a masterful job of surprising audiences with Murder by Decree, convincing viewers they were watching one kind of drama but then unleashing something very different, very unsettling. --Tom Keogh


Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Sherlock Holmes takes on the Ripper Killings
Comment: "Murder By Decree" is a 1979 film that posits the theory that the Ripper killings was a conspiracy. This is also the movie that predated "From Hell", another Ripper movie starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. Both are well-made movies, though I felt that the script and acting in "Murder By Decree" was far superior than "From Hell".

In "Murder By Decree", Sherlock Holmes, the gentleman sleuth is called upon by some Whitechapel merchants to solve the Ripper murders. Here Holmes is played impeccably by a dashing Christopher Plummer, who also makes Holmes seem very much human and not just a cold investigator. His sidekick, Dr Watson is ably portrayed by James Mason, and the pair share good chemistry, bantering away naturally, and seem very much at ease in their roles.

As the pair follow each clue, they meet a host of interesting characters, and some really sinister ones as well - there's Inspector Foxborough [David Hemmings] who resents their intrusion, the medium Robert Lees [effectively played by a haunted-looking Donald Sutherland], the prostitute Mary Kelly [Susan Clark] who harbors a dangerous secret, the insane woman in the asylum , Annie Crook [Genevieve Bujold in a brief yet very emotional scene] who may hold the key to solving the mystery, Sir Charles Warren [Anthony Quayle], and even Sir John Gielgud [as Prime Minister Lord Salisbury].

The movie is rich in atmosphere - London looks overcast and gloomy, and the scenes of the murders in Whitechapel are pervaded by an atmosphere of menace. The movie as a whole effectively captures the darkness of the period and the score is well-done as well. Though the story itself is one of murder and evil, there are light moments that offset its grim tone - the camaraderie between Holmes and Watson, the funny situations that Watson finds himself in [he is obviously the comic relief here] are all credibly done and enhance the storytelling.

All in all, I found myself riveted throughout the unfolding of this story and would highly recommend it to fans of period thrillers & Sherlock Holmes.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Perhaps The Best Non-Doyle Based Holmes film
Comment: So it isn't the most original idea out there for Sherlock Holmes to attempt to solve the case of the infamous murders committed by Jack The Ripper. At least one other film (A Study In Terror) and several books have (had) been written along those lines so the storyline could have been predictable. Yet Murder By Decree rises above what could have been a tired and predictable story to deliver perhaps the best non-Doyle based Holmes film. It is a must-see for fans of Holmes and does supply an interesting solution (pardon the pun) to the mystery of the Ripper.

Christopher Plummer gives an exceptional performance as the great detective. Whereas others had played Holmes as the intellectual with little emotion, Plummer takes Holmes and makes him more human. While he is still the intelligent and brilliant deducing detective of other films, he does have an emotional side that comes into play several times throughout the film. James Mason might come across at first as the bumbling, idiot Watson of earlier films but as the film progresses he proves to be anything but. There are scenes were Watson does get to prove himself and he is anything but bumbling. The chemistry between Plummer and Mason is ideal for the film and there are many great scenes between them including the famous pea scene.

The supporting cast is ideal as well. David Hemmings is an interesting Inspector Foxborough though he does lack some believability in the role. Donald Sutherland is fascinating as the psychic Robert Lees and it is a shame we don't get to see more of him in the film. Susan Clark's brief appearance as Mary Kelly is impressive and it is a shame that we don't see more of her either because her scene with Plummer's Holmes is a good scene. Anthony Quayle portrays real life Scotland Yard chief Sir Charles Warren with a lot of animosity towards Holmes and other characters. Also, there is a cameo by Sir John Gielgud as the Prime Minister in one of the film's best done scenes.

But the real scene stealer of the supporting cast is Geneviève Bujold as Annie Crook. She has only one scene of dialogue in the film and only a handful of appearances in the film. Yet she becomes the emotional anchor of the entire film. She is the one character in the film (besides Mary Kelly) who really draws the emotion out of Holmes. She is the most sympathetic and realistic character in the film and while her appearance is short, it leaves a lasting impression.

The film's main pull is its stylistic approach. For the most part the film is a dark and moody trip into 1888 London and the film never lets you forget it. With its convincing mix of sets and real life locations the film is virtually flawless in taking you back in time. The cinematography of the film is important in that the film is almost at times a tribute not to the Holmes films of the 1930's and 1940's but to the film noir genre of that period. It is never overly graphic and yet the horrendous nature of the Ripper murders still comes across. The film also has a good mixing of suspense, action, and exposition that manages not to slow down the film too heavily for the most part though the pace does occasional drop. But for the most part director Bob Clark manages to keep your attention focused on the screen and in suspense while waiting to learn the secret of the Ripper.

The script from John Hopkins is a near masterpiece of screen writing. Hopkins has successfully intermingled established facts, the Holmes universe, and one of the darkest conspiracy theories of our time into a taught and tension filled mystery. Never has such a complex theory about the identity of Jack The Ripper been so well presented on screen in a way easy to understand by the average person. While the authenticity of the theory put forth in the film is debatable, it fits well into the film and that is what matters.

Murder By Decree is one of the best Holmes films out there. With a terrific Holmes and Watson, a good supporting cast, haunting cinematography, and a tension filled conspiracy, this is one of the most thought out thrillers out there. If you are a Holmes fan, this is a must-see. If not, defiantly worth your while.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Murder most splendid
Comment: Perhaps a bit dated by today's special effects standards, but this 1979 film is a wonderfully scripted Jack the Ripper tale with all sorts of clever twists and turns. Good acting by all with Christopher Plummer taking the spotlight as Sherlock Holmes on the trail of the madman at the behest of a group of Whitechapel business owners. More of a "why" than "who is Jack" type movie, it cleverly lays out a theory that is now widely embraced by folks who have studied the crimes. Great cinematography, convincing performances and a credible end. Four stars all around.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: "Forget it, Sherlock. It's Whitechapel"
Comment: This was the first Jack the Ripper movie to get the details of the crimes correct. A great cast, but given the sophisticated script this could have been even better, instead it looks more like a TV movie than a Victorian "Chinatown." Still, Mason's bufoonish Watson is one of the funniest and Bujuld's scene still packs a wallop as does Plummer's summing up at the end. (As was noted on the commentary track for "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes", it's an amusing gaffe that Holmes wears his deerstalker everywhere -- including the opera!)


Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Mediocre by Decree
Comment: In the long line of Sherlock Movies and TV shows, this is a decent attempt at one of the stories that seems something like "Jack the Ripper". Plummer and Mason are certainly good actors and the sets are fairly decent. The mystery of illicit women being abducted and murdered seems to be swept under the carpet by the government and police. Sherlock Holmes will find out why with his able assistent Dr. Watson. The atmosphere is mainly dark and brooding throughout. Perhaps if I hadn't seen the masterful British series with Jeremy Brett I might be a little more forgiving of this movie today, but I'm afraid it just seemed to drag in parts, and so I give it a good but not great rating. When I first saw this I must admit I was more impressed. But considering what all is available now, it has held up reasonably well. Nothing special about the DVD quality or extras. A good rental for most and purchase for the hardcore Holmes fans.


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