Wednesday, 4 April 2012

DVD Review: Murder By Decree

Directed By: Bob Clark

Starring: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Donald Sutherland

There has been a huge resurgence of interest in Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation, attributed largely to the success of BBC’s excellent Sherlock and the Guy Ritchie movies. Of course, fans have kept the detective alive through many projects but the mainstream public had not taken notice since Jeremy Brett starred in his last Holmes episode. 
The side effect of this success has been the focus of companies looking to see what product they can release. In this case, the above average British/Canadian 1979 production of Murder By Decree is a movie worthy of attention by old and new Holmes fans and has been re-released by Studiocanal. 

Jack the Ripper has been used as the definitive bad guy in many fictional productions; notably in Time After Time where Malcolm McDowell's H.J. Wells goes up against the killer, and in From Hell with Johnny Depp playing Inspector Abbeline struggling to defeat him. When Murder By Decree came along it was obviously part of the Rippermania that came about in the 70s, that saw a spate of art obsessed with the conspiratorial undertones associated with the killer and his potential links to privilege and position. 

Like Cumberbatch and Freeman, Downey Jnr and Law, Plumber and Mason play Holmes and Watson like a bickering married couple. Their friendship is well established and gives forth a banter that is entertaining. I also like the fact that Watson is not a bumbling character, so famously interpreted as such after the Rathbone movies. Plummer is a fine Holmes and Mason underplays Watson more than most characters to the point that I wondered if the makers of Sherlock wanted to follow Mason’s lead. Had Plumber and Mason filmed more Holmes and Watson stories, I feel that they would have been held in as high esteem as some of their more modern counterparts. 
The supporting cast is excellent too, especially Genevieve Bujold. Sadly, the same can’t be said for David Hemmings who seems out of place.

Unlike some productions of Sherlock Holmes, this movie feels more in tune with the modern retellings despite the dated nature of the movie's production. The literature and history of the time blend well with full use of the film’s modest budget (at £4 million) being made.
The cinematography and camerawork is still effective. The mis-en-scene is at times amusing if only because of Hollywood 's perpetual idea that London was constantly shrouded in fog. Nevertheless, along with the POV shots of the killer, Bob Clark's direction is atmospheric and lively. Incidentally, Bob Clark's Black Christmas was potentially the first slasher film to put forward a distinctive style of direction, something that John Carpenter's Halloween got credit for. 

The score underpins the scenes very well and adds to the creepy atmosphere just when it needs to and yet lightens at the appropriate moments. 

My only gripe, and it's not a new gripe, is that the re-release is devoid of extras that have been previously been available, such as the Bob Clark commentary. This is an own goal in my opinion and begs the question as to who this release is aimed at? It certainly suggests the casual viewer wooed to the release through the BBC show and current movies. For a standard definition disc, it still looks good. 

I still recommend this release as it's essential to both hardcore Holmes fans and casual viewers alike. The movie deserves classic status and with this release might finally reach more viewers. It’s a great pity that should the movie become justifiably more popular that Bob Clark isn’t around to see it.

Score: 8/10

The movie is out on DVD right now but you could win a copy by sending an email to: by 20th April 2012.

A winner will be selected at random. Good luck!

1 comment:

buddy2blogger said...

Great review of the movie. I have heard about this movie and your review has whetted my curiosity :)