“You create allegiance above your sworn allegiance to protect humanity: you shall not care for them, or acknowledge their pain. There lies the madness.”
Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) try to unravel the mystery of Jack the Ripper, who has been killing prostitutes across London; when they learn that a high-level conspiracy may be behind the murders, they attempt to track down the woman (Genevieve Bujold) who holds the key to the entire affair.
This oddly unsatisfying Victorian-era thriller should be much better than it is: despite the inspired casting (Plummer and Mason are wonderful together), an effective recreation of foggy London, several unexpectedly humorous moments, and a satisfying denouement, it’s too bloody difficult to follow. Only during the final 15 minutes of the film — once Holmes neatly unravels the entire affair in front of the British prime minister (John Gielgud) — does one finally understand who all the key players are, and why Holmes has been tracking them; indeed, Murder by Decree is a rare thriller which may be more enjoyable upon second viewing. Plummer and Mason are the main reasons to check this one out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Christopher Plummer as Holmes
- James Mason as Watson
- Susan Clark as frightened prostitute Mary Kelly
- Watson chatting with a prostitute who’s inordinately proud to still have all her teeth
- The clever ending, in which Holmes solves everything
No, but fans of Sherlock Holmes will certainly want to check it out. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.