116 of 121 people found the following review helpful
In my view this is one of the best Sherlock Holmes movies yet made, with a strong, literate story, an outstanding cast and great atmosphere. London prostitutes have been gruesomely slaughtered by Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes enters the case. The street women are scared to death but seem to be protecting someone. One, Mary Kelly, wants to help. Another, Annie Crook, has gone missing. The more Holmes probes and searches, the more it appears that some in high places are interfering with his investigation. Annie Crook is found and the secret discovered, but not before more lives are wasted and a secret which could shake the throne is uncovered. Justice more or less triumphs, but for Holmes and Watson it is a sad, bittersweet victory.
The movie features, in my opinion, outstanding interpretations of Holmes and Watson. Christopher Plummer gives Holmes not only brilliance but also humanity. He responds deeply to the terrible injustice he finds behind the Ripper killings. Mason plays Watson as an equal partner, with humor, wisdom and courage, and with none of the blundering and bluster that Nigel Bruce imprinted on the character. The cast features Genevieve Bujold as Annie Crook and Susan Clark (great in Night Moves) as Mary Kelly. David Hemmings, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Frank Finlay and Donald Sutherland give a lot of depth to the movie.
As by way of a modest spoiler, the people who made From Hell by rights should have given a modest credit line to director Clark and writer John Hopkins. One other fascinating point concerns Clark. For some reason, this appears to be by far the best movie he ever made. Clark, shortly after Murder by Decree, gave us one of the broadest and corniest movies around, Porky's, and seems to have stayed more or less at the Porky's level ever since.
If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes along with first-rate acting, I think you'll like this film. The DVD transfer is very good.
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
The New York Daily Post referred to this movie as the "greatest Sherlock Holmes movie ever made" and who am I to disagree with their esteemed reviewer. Well, I write reviews for a large metropolitcan newspaper also, but I have to say I can find no qualms with their opinion.
I grew up watching the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies on quiet Saturday mornings on BBC2 in my native Scotland, so I am probably always going to enjoy sitting down to a couple of hours with my longtime detective friend and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson. Although for me Rathbone will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes (never really cared for Jeremy Brett)I have to admit to finding Christopher Plummer as an entertaining, if somewhat unusual, Holmes in this late 1970s movie.
Based not on one of the Conan Doyle books but on a notion that the Baker Street detective investigated the Jack the Ripper murders (much like in the lesser production "Study in Terror" a decade earlier) this sceenplay moves along at a fair speed and examines the actual evidence collected at the time to weave together a theory not unlike that of the more recent Johnny Depp movie "From Hell."
What really makes this movie stand out is the quite incredible cast that Clark (yes, incredibly the same guy behind "Porky's") put together in this Canadian production. Alongside Plummer is none other than James Mason as Watson. We also have Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Susan Clark, Frank Finley and Genevieve Bujold. Put these actors in a handsomly presented production design (quite incredible actually) and combine it with the intriguing and fast paced script and you have what (I would have to concur with the Post is the best Holmes movie ever put to film.
84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
I love Sherlock Holmes movies in their many incarnations, especially Robert Stephens version in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (PLEASE RELEASE ON DVD in Billy Wilder's original LONG FORM PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!).
However, I must think Christopher Plummer is the best Sherlock ever. He brings so many textures and depth to his Sherlock, for once, making him a living, breathing man. In Private Life...Robert Stephens gives you a brilliant, heart-wrenching performance - at the point he realises he was been betrayed, and with no words he conveys SO MUCH it nearly tears you apart. Plummer gives you a similar heart-shredder, as he find Annie Crook in Bedlam, tortured, no longer sane, having retreated from the horrors around her and inflicted upon her, and in the following scene on the train ride back to London. In a masterpiece of blocking, you don't even see Holmes, you just his reflection in the train window while he talks about Annie. Compelling, heartbreaking, utterly BRILLIANT, demonstrating Plummer is one of the BEST actors ever to grace the screen.
The story line of Sherlock Holmes meeting Jack the Ripper was first explored by Ellery Queen novel. In it, Holmes identified the wrong person as the Ripper, hence the one Holmes story never published. It is brought to Queen and he must solved the 100 year old case. In Study in Scarlet, with John Neville as Holmes (another superior version, but cannot compare to Decree) the Ellery Queen beginning and end was dropped and the middle part of Holmes chasing Jack was turned into the movie in the 1960s. Neville is a marvellous actor, but pales by comparison to the virtuoso performance of Plummer. This version of the Ripper vs Holmes, follows the Stephen Knight book exposing the Annie Crook connection.
Lots of super support from a dream cast, such as Genevieve Bujold as Annie Crook, James Mason as Watson, David Hemmings as Foxborough, Susan Clark (Sister of producer/director Bob Clark - YES, people it is HARD TO BELIEVE the man who brought you Porkies create this masterpiece) as Mary Kelly, Frank Finlay as Lestrade, Donald Sutherland as Robert Lees the psychic, Anthony Quayle as Sir Charles Warren and John Giegud as Lord Sailsbury.
I cannot say how delighted I am this is finally out on DVD!!!
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2003
Take a factual event, in this case the Jack the Ripper Killings. Take one of the more popular theories of the murders such as the involvement of the British Royal family, Add the most famous fictional detective of all, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate and solve the theory, then mix well. Then release on DVD. The resulting movie is a good quality, thought provoking, tasty and very entertaining story. The chemistry between Christopher Plummer (Holmes) and the late James Mason (Watson) is simply outstanding as indeed are the supporting actors, if one can classify John Gielguld, Genieve Bujold and Frank Finlay as merely supporting. Again this 'Ripper' theory is only one of many, but Murder by Decree certainly makes it a convincing one.
One disappointment with the new DVD release, perhaps a documentary on the Ripper Murders in Whitechapel could have been added for interest. Apart from that the film quality and sound are mush better than I expected.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2002
Personally, I can't take seriously the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies -- although Rathbone was a competent Holmes -- because Nigel Bruce played Dr. Watson as a buffoon. In the books, Watson was an educated, intelligent man and the fact that Holmes' thoroughly surpassed him helped indicate Holmes' genius. In my opinion, it is essential for Watson to be portrayed correctly for a Sherlock Holmes movie to be correctly done. In the recent TV series David Burke played Watson to perfection and thereby enhanced Jeremy Brett's reputation as an outstanding Holmes. In Murder by Decree Christopher Plummer is the best Holmes of all with able support from James Mason as Watson. The movie, in which Holmes solves the Jack the Ripper murders, is outstanding in virtually every respect. In my opinion, this is the best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made -- and a great movie regardless of genre. I can't understand why this outstanding movie isn't available on DVD yet, but it's so good that I recommend it in whatever format is available.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2003
MURDER BY DECREE
(UK/Canada - 1978)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
Whilst investigating a series of murders committed by 'Jack the Ripper' in Victorian London, Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) uncover a Masonic conspiracy which leads them to the very heart of the British Establishment.
During the summer of 1973, the BBC ran a six-part documentary series entitled "Jack the Ripper" (also known as "The Ripper File"), in which two popular fictional detectives (played by Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor) investigated the 'true' identity of Jack the Ripper, using all the evidence available to them at the time. Their conclusions formed the basis of Bob Clark's all-star period thriller MURDER BY DECREE, which condenses vast amounts of information into a single digestible screenplay.
A British/Canadian co-production, the film's lavish recreation of Victorian London (extravagant opera houses, cobbled streets and miles of gloomy Whitechapel alleyways populated by hundreds of costumed extras) belies its modest $4m budget, and for once, the starry supporting cast - including Anthony Quayle, David Hemmings, John Gielgud and Donald Sutherland - seem perfectly suited to their individual roles. For the most part, Clark subordinates his deceptively simple visual style to a wealth of evidence which constitutes the heart and soul of John Hopkins' detailed screenplay. In particular, director and writer outline the political and class divisions which prevailed in England at the time of the Ripper murders, exacerbating a number of problems surrounding the police investigation and leading to all manner of conspiracy theories which persist to this day. However, the script contains a number of memorable character touches (the episode of the 'errant pea' is most prized by the movie's many fans) which prevents the narrative from becoming bogged down in a series of facts and figures. Plummer and Mason are ideally suited to the roles of Holmes and Watson, though Genevieve Bujold almost steals the film during a heartbreaking sequence in a lonely asylum where Holmes discovers the key to the unfolding mystery.
You may not agree with the film's conclusions (the same evidence was re-evaluated by author Stephen Knight in his popular non-fiction account 'Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution'  and David Wickes' excellent TV movie JACK THE RIPPER  starring Michael Caine), but MURDER BY DECREE is generally ackowledged as one of the best Ripper/Holmes movies ever made.
Incidentally, the film was given a PG rating at a time when the MPAA was allowing some extraordinarily vivid material to go unchecked within this particular category, and while MURDER BY DECREE doesn't revel in violence, it conveys the grislier aspects of the Ripper's crimes with enough borderline potency to warrant a PG-13 these days.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2004
Christopher Plummer and James Mason make an excellent Holmes and Watson. The movie does an excellent job of capturing foggy, gas-lit London, 221B Baker Street, and the seediness of the East End.
Some frightening, effective scenes as "Jack the Ripper" stalks his victims. Much more graphically violent and bloody than most Holmes' affairs, but most of it is cleverly implied.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2004
Christopher Plummer captures Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was a complex character, often seemingly aloof and yet full of passion when properly provoked. In the closing scenes and particularly in the scene in the asylum, Plummer plays Holmes to perfection. Mason is a fabulous Watson. Although perhaps a bit older than Watson is generally portrayed, Mason and script and director avoid the common sin of showing Watson as a dim-witted sidekick. Watson is a partner here, and one who holds his own during investigation and action. Forget the historicity of the conspiracy theory, this is just enthralling film-making and story-telling.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2010
I basically bought the Lionsgate DVD on a recommendation of a DVD insider who figured the disc to be better than Anchor Bay
It is not. It is the EXACT same disc - the exact same menu, transfer , bonus material and chapter stops. Only this time it came from Lionsgate and not Anchor Bay.
That being said I will say Anchor Bay actually is still the DVD to get because it has the cool booklet
About the movie, well with all the other reviews about it , there is not much to add, but I will say that I do thoroughly enjoy it. Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes, James Mason as Dr. Watson & a good supporting cast such as David Hemmings keeps the film going. It is Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper blended with Govt. corruption of sorts.
Is it the best Holmes film ? Arguably maybe it is , but to me, I would not go that far. It certainly is an excellent well done movie, but I have a stronger passion for Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. Maybe it is the best post Rathbone. Bob Clark's best movie - that is quite possible.
Very gothic, good atmosphere and pace make this one an easy keeper..
This film as well as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes & The Seven Per-Cent solution are all worth watching / looking into.
Highly recommended movie, and if you were to get the DVD, I would go with the Anchor Bay one for the booklet :-)
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2007
Since everyone with any sense knows this is a great film, I will just give my thoughts on the actual DVD.
The transfer is wonderful. Sharp, but still giving you that slightly understated sense of color vibrance you expect from English films reflecting this time period.
The sound is in mono, but there are hardly any scenes that would warrant any great speaker seperation. Yet the sound is pretty good. There were times in the outdoor scenes where the actors' lines were partially obscured, but it was forgivable.
The commentary is great. It has somewhat large gaps, but I found it insightful about the production of the film, as well as Jack the Ripper and Holmes lore.
The production stills are a nice touch, but the feature I found cool beyond anything I expected was that the script is provided on the disc in the form of a PDF file you can access on your computer. Very cool, indeed.