In preparation for the new Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes movie which I saw and enjoyed and will be reviewing later, I decided to watch one of my old favourites.

Murder by Decree came out in 1979 at what seems in hindsight to have been the peak of “who was Jack the Ripper?” fever, and stars Christopher Plummer as Holmes and the great James Mason as Watson. It largely follows the theory that there was a masonic conspiracy to protect Jack from being discovered because he was a distinguished surgeon who was acting in the best interests of the UK – I won’t say too much more, but its worth noting that the same theory (using real names) is the basis for the graphic novel and Johnny-Depp-starring From Hell.

I love this film. It’s a bit dated now but I still enjoy it, largely because of Plummer’s portrayal of Holmes, full of sympathy and righteous indignation (and an overly bouffant hair-do, but we’ll skip over that) and the glory that is Mason, all whiskers and silky voice and loyal companionship, urging Holmes to carry a revolver while at the same time deploring his impatience (“squashing a fellow’s pea”). Their partnership is very convincing.

The film is also chock full of stalwart British actors of the period, from Frank Finlay via David Hemmings to John Gielgud, each a delight in their own way. And of course Donald Sutherland’s cameo as a medium, all staring eyes and exotic whiskers, has to be mentioned. And it’s great to see parts of south London as they were before their recent gentrification.

As a story it’s as full of holes as the theory it’s based on but I still think it works for me, mostly because it’s a great opportunity to see Christopher Plummer in his element; he is one of my absolutely favourite actors and a bit underrated in my opinion. This is worth a try if you have an interest in Holmes and/or Jack the Ripper .

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