Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper

It’s only natural to wonder why Sherlock Holmes—at the height of his career and deductive powers in 1888—didn’t help run down Jack the Ripper in 1888.

Well, maybe he did, but just couldn’t let Watson write about it afterwards. The 1978 movie Murder by Decree (with Christopher Plummer as Holmes) uses an old conspiracy theory involving the Royal family and Freemasonry to explain why it all had to be swept under the table after the Ripper is killed.

But there was a better version of Holmes vs. the Ripper made 13 years earlier. A Study in Terror (1965) has John Neville doing an enjoyable interpretation as Holmes—not as good as Jeremy Brett, but then what Holmes is?

Donald Houston may grate on some as a hero-worshiping Watson, but I was okay with it. The rest of the cast—including great actors such as Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay—are all top notch. There’s a strong plot, a reasonable explanation for covering it all up afterwards, and a real sense of just how incredible Holmes’ deductive skills are.

Also, A Study in Terror has Mycroft Holmes in it. We really don’t get to see enough of Mycroft—Sherlock’s smarter but sedentary older brother. He only appears in two of the original stories (HERE is one of them) and, well, that’s really not enough to satisfy us. He’s just too good a character.

Of course, one of the points of Mycroft is that he has no desire or energy to actively investigate anything (he makes a living being the brains secretly behind the British government), so any accurate portrayal of him doesn’t allow much leeway to involve him in an adventure. In this film, though, he’s sent by the government to enlist his brother’s help in catching the Ripper. Superbly played by Robert Morley, Mycroft’s scenes with Sherlock are a delight.

The film glitches a little at the end—showing Sherlock foolishly allowing the villain to get the drop on him so that the two can fight to the death. Heck, he didn’t even bring Watson along for back-up. But this doesn’t spoil an otherwise excellent “what if” Sherlock Holmes film.

By the way, Inspector Lestrade is played by Frank Finlay. In 1978, Finlay plays the role again in Murder by Decree. (Anthony Quayle is in both movies as well, though playing different parts.)

I’ve always wanted to see A Study in Terror—mostly because I felt (correctly, it turns out) that Robert Morley would be the perfect actor to play Mycroft. The movie was recently released through Columbia Pictures’ manufacture-on-demand service—a service offered by several studies now that is filling in missing gaps for getting older movies and TV series on DVD. Of course, that means these movies aren’t available for rental—you gotta buy one to see it. But with A Study in Terror, it was money well spent.

1 comment:

  1. A Study in Terror also features a young Judi Dench (most recently featured as M in the James Bond films with Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan).


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