Directed by: Bob Clark
Starring: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Anthony Quale, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Frank Finlay, June Brown, Genevieve Bujold
DVD Re-release Date: April 2nd, 2012
Originally released in 1979, Murder By Decree is one Sherlock Holmes film that hasn’t been forgotten. It influenced the likes of From Hell and helped carry on the triumph of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic creation which has led to modern successes such as BBC’s Sherlock (woo) and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (boo). And guess what? You can buy this film once more as it is re-released on DVD 2nd of April – today!
This time the great Mr Holmes is played by Christopher Plummer in his non-purple nosed years. He is supported by James Mason as Dr. Watson who, although perhaps a bit old for the role, manages to pull it off with grace. Perhaps with too much grace… he feels too overpowering a character in a way that he threatens Holmes captaincy. Even though the two men perform well together they just don’t have that special aura that Holmes and Watson should produce.
However, with his deep commanding voice and lanky demeanour, it’s easy to see why Plummer was cast. There is however, one let down, and that is emotion. Holmes, who forever proclaimed he was opposed to whatever was emotional, shed a few tears in Murder By Decree and it decreases the strength of his character dramatically.
Murder By Decree place the duo in deepest London during the Jack the Ripper murders. Being purposefully excluded by the police from the investigation, Holmes turns to psychic Robert Lees (Sutherland) who claims to have seen the murders before they happened. Holmes and Watson then plunge themselves into the investigation and slowly discover the disturbing truth behind the calculated murders.
Although the film unravels slowly the pace is perhaps a bit too slow. However, it more than makes up for it in plot and setting, which is pretty much perfect. It has to be said though that no expenses were spared on hats. With deerstalkers, top hats, bowlers and all kinds of previously undiscovered hats, this film will be a top-five-fave for all you hat-spotters out there. You even see what lurks beneath these head warmers; curly hair enough to make your eyes burn and sideburns as long as a man. I kid you not.
All in all Murder By Decree is well worth a watch. It doesn’t stick out as a distinctive Sherlock Holmes film but it defiantly sticks out as a distinctive crime film. Any crime fan (and by that I mean fans of crime films, not crime itself) has to have this on their shop-bought shelves. With as many flashbacks as a heart could desire, and a startling scene where Watson gets felt up by a prozzie, Murder By Decree is a film any movie fan should be proud to own.