A Study in Terror
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Three of 19th Century England's most famous characters come together for the first time in this
sumptuous, exciting mystery, as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson set out to bring down history's most notorious serial killer: Jack The Ripper! When a suspicious package arrives at the master sleuth's Baker Street home, he and his old friend must join the hunt before more murders are committed... even though the trail may lead to places they'd rather not go. John Neville is one of the most authentic Holmes portrayers ever, and he's ably supported by Donald Houston as Watson, as well as such British acting royalty as Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay, Barbara Windsor, Cecil Parker and, in one of her earliest screen roles, Academy Award(r) winner Dame Judi Dench (1998, Best Supporting Actress, Shakespeare in Love). If you like your Holmes straight up and unadulterated, then adding this thrilling, sexy, witty, colorful adventure to your collection is... oh, come now, do we really need to say it? Newly remastered.
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Executive Producer Herman Cohen, renowned as a purveyor of colorful shlock, did this sort of thing better with "Horrors of the Black Museum" and "The Black Zoo", although "A Study in Terror" is still an improvement on some of his earliest films. The east end of London in this film looks like the studio set that it is, and the copious clouds of pumped-in fake fog do little to disguise that fact. The on-set interiors, however, are fine and first-rate, as is the vivid cinematography (which is highlighted on the DVD).
Alas, the casting of bosomy, young starlets (a standard Cohen ploy) as Jack's victims, along with their garish costumes, does little to add authenticity to the film, but who needs authenticity with Holmes and Watson on the case? They were never real, anyway. The performances from a surprisingly talented supporting cast--Anthony Quayle, Adrienne Corri, Robert Morley--are quite good and probably better than you'd expect to find in an endeavor such as this. Director James Hill does what he can with a lackluster screenplay, so the end result is a movie that is not exactly good but also not near terrible. Mediocre, I'd say, would best sum it up.
Finally, when I received the blu ray in the mail I noticed that it was released by Mill Creek Entertainment. I'll admit that I'm usually very skeptical when I see Mill Creek or Echo Bridge listed as the distributor for a DVD or blu ray, especially considering that they are one of those companies that churns out 10, 20 and 50 movie-packs of horror and sci-fi movies of varying quality (and vintage) and no restoration. I'm happy to report that this blu ray looks great, the picture and sound are clear and crisp, the colors vibrant, and the product, in that regard, well worth double the price I paid for it.
First of all, it is very, very highly recommended. As a film it is one of the very best Sherlock Holmes adventures to reach the screen, although it is not a story written by Conan Doyle. The premise is that Sherlock Holmes is called upon to investigate the Jack-the-Ripper murders and from that premise there emerges some intriguing story possibilities which are nicely brought on in a well-writen screenplay. And yet it is so true to Conan Doyle in nearly every way. Any Holmes aficianado should find plenty to like in the picture.
What strikes one immediately about it is the superior craftsmanship that went into it making. The sets (by the great Vetchinsky) and the photography (by Desmond Dickinson) are striking. It is so very nice to see work like this, artistic work, which adds so tremendously to the enjoyment of a story well told. We simply do not have production designers and cinematographers of this calibre working in pictures anymore. It is like viewing paintings of the great masters and sitting in wonderment at the sheer skill that went into the creating of these images. One's admiration for the work of these men grows with nearly every scene. Interestingly, in addition to the beautiful sets that were created for the film the use of authentic London locations was expert.
Of course the cast is the main thing in a Holmes film and here is where the film cannot be bettered. John Neville, an extremely fine actor, was absolutely perfect as Holmes, second only to Basil Rathbone. He had a tremendous screen presence and his interpretation was flawless. Far, far better than Jeremy Brett, who was much too dour and without humor to really convince as Holmes, Neville's Holmes was unforgettable, a superb, indeed brillaint essay. He was supported by an extraordinary supporting cast of British thespians, including Donald Houston as a warm and human Watson, Sir Anthony Quayle, Judi Dench, Kay Walsh, Robert Morely and Frank Finlay. Director James Hill showed great skill in the handling of these actors - and showed equal skill in the handling of even the small "extra" parts. Quite remarkable.
The only flaw in the film is its rather too-gruesome murder scenes and its somewhat tasteless sexiness, two hallmarks of producer Herman Cohen. But fortunately they aren't on the screen too long and they don't take away too much from an otherwise nearly-perfect Holmes film.
Vastly superior to the revolting MURDER BY DECREE made fourteen years later and which covered the same story points as this film, A STUDY IN TERROR is a dvd every mystery fan should have in his collection. The dvd presentation is very good, with an obviously excellent film print used as the source.
Top international reviews
On this U.S. import the picture is presented in the right format and is good quality.