- Movie Rating -

Murder by Decree (1979)

| February 9, 1979

It’s just a tempting idea, isn’t it?  The notion of reinventing Sherlock Holmes and putting him on trail of Jack the Ripper – famous detective, infamous criminal.  The best was James Hill’s 1965 adventure A Study in Terror with John Neville has Holmes.  Then  in the 70s there were two different films of varying quality.  The better of the two was Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time which saw Holmes (Malcolm McDowell) using H.G. Wells time machine to travel forward through time to find the infamous ripper in modern day (1979) San Francisco.  The lesser of the two, I’m afraid, was the well-cast but fatally talky Murder by Decree.

Based on a pair of speculative novels about the ripper (without Sherlock Holmes) and directed by Bob Clark, the man behind A Christmas Story and Porky’s, the movie surmises a plot in which Holmes (Christopher Plummer) tracks Jack the Ripper only to discover the throne of England itself has created a veil of secrecy in order to protect potentially damaging information about the murders in White Chapel.

It’s hard to really give anything away since the information that Holmes throws at the British crown is so intricate that it would take at least another hour for me to sit here and recount them.  Suffice to say that the conspiracy goes all the way to the top, and the dialogue lays out every single detail, all the players, all the plotters, all the machinations.  Every . . . single . . . detail.

That’s the problem with Murder by Decree, it talks and talks and talks.  There is very little of the thrill of Holmes digging for clues, or the fun of having him pull up some superfluous bit of nothing only to reveal it to have been completely relevant after all.  We love Holmes when he is three steps ahead of us, we love his mind.  Here the screenwriters seem to think that the story is too serious for such frivolity.  In that case, why cast Holmes in the first place?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Mystery/Suspense