Monday, September 19, 2011

A Study in Sherlock: Murder by Decree (1979)

For another instalment in A Study in Sherlock and to add to my on-going contribution to the RIP Peril on the Screen Challenge, I give you Murder by Decree.

Holmes: Christopher Plummer
Watson: James Mason

Le Plot: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meet Jack the Ripper and discover a layered conspiracy wherein people are protecting the Ripper....

Should I start with the positive? There's not a lot positive would you like the best first?  Okay.

I loved the Victorian London setting and, for a 1979 film, I thought they did a greatly luminous job: all cobblestones and gas lanterns and grimy brick, bells, dogs barking, fog.... hansom cabs, hoofs on pavement and a generously portentous feeling of uncertainty.

Jack's eyes are an inhumane black that penetrate the screen and give this (rather abysmal ) adaptation moments of perfect Hallowe'eny goodness.

I like James Mason's voice.
Christopher Plummer is Canadian.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned is about the range of the good.  I detested this movie. In fact, I detested it so much I didn't even finish it.  John Gielgud shows up! Donald Sutherland (knack! Canadian!) also shows up with a few well-played premonitions but the casting is all wrong, the plot reeks and my Sherlockian sensibilities were not bemused ( as they are in, say, the Guy Ritchie enterprise), rather ....bored.

Look, Watson, I have my deductive face on! 
Plummer, god bless his thespian soul, is just not a very good Holmes. He's not caricatured in the Matt Frewer way (more on Frewer and his less- than- stellar offering in another post); but he just doesn't suit---despite earnest trying.  He doesn't have the look ( Roxburgh didn't, also, but he had more of the feel.)
Plummer doesn't have the shrewdly resonant intelligence and irony of Holmes and the Watson/Holmes chemistry....

.....It's like James Mason ( great voice! Really! It's James Bloody Mason!) is in a completely different movie and he plays to the baffled Nigel Bruce-ean type rather than to the Jude Law/ Ian Hart/ Martin Freeman type. Since I am a huge Watson fan, I like my Watson's to be smart men-of-action. In other words, I like the Watson that Doyle created.

So, we've got Whitechapel, we've got gory murders, we've got foggy streets and ciphers and codes and something to do with the "Juwes" and royal uproar and crinolines brushing the damp street .... and even Sherlock playing Bach's cello suites on his overheard violin ----

...and there's Freemasons!
...and it's a co-Anglo/Canadian production ( more on those when we get into the baffling horror that is the Christopher Lee take on Holmes)

Holmes, you may have your deductive face on, but I am wearing exactly the same expression I did in the previous picture.
Shut up, Watson, I am admiring the fake set and trying to remember all of the words to Edelweiss

If you want Jack the Ripper in your Holmes, I have heard that this film is particularly good--it's novelization written by ELLERY QUEEN and all...

...and you can always find Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson,
The Whitechapel Horrors by Edward B. Hanna or The Mycroft Memoranda by Ray Walsh and plenty more. It makes a lot of sense to pit Holmes against the Ripper: especially as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was consulted by the police regarding the unending mystery. (My favourite is that some theorists list him as a suspect! how bizarre)

Long live Sherlockian pastiches! and long live Sherlock on Film.  Unfortunately, not this film.

Previously: The Hound of the Baskervilles


DesLily said...

I have to admit that as much as I love christopher plummer in movies the thought of him being holmes doesn't set right and I havent' even seen the movie!

ducKy Boyd said...

So Captain von Trapp was really undercover for all that time? Or leading a double life? Please don't tell me the Baroness was really Irene Adler. :P

Gina said...

I guess one could always turn down the sound and just watch Plummer and Mason . . .

. . . because dang, they are HOT.