Archive for the Sherlock Holmes Category

Meals for Monsters: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Cult Movies, Detectives, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by knifefighter

Movie review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

I’ve wanted to write about THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971) for a long time.  Up until recently, though, the meal would have needed to be ramen noodles.  It’s a rarity: the DVD will run you an average of a hundred dollars, and even a videotape costs about twenty.  However, Netflix just added it to its instant watch library.  To celebrate that this masterpiece can finally be easily seen, I dedicate this month’s column to George C. Scott’s finest role.

Scott plays Justin Playfair, a judge who, upon the death of his wife, had a mental breakdown.  He believes he is Sherlock Holmes.  He dresses the part, acts the part, lives and breathes Holmes’s life.  All his brother has to do to gain access to Playfair’s fortune is have him declared legally insane.  Should be an easy task for someone so delusional.  So he enlists the help of Dr. Mildred Watson, beautifully played by Joanne Woodward.  After the initial shock that his Watson is a woman, Playfair drags her along his quest to find, and finally defeat, Moriarity.  At first she agrees, fascinated by a “classical case,” but Watson eventually becomes enamored with Playfair’s kindness and enthusiasm.  Along the way, they collect clues, aid distressed citizens of New York City, and begin to fall in love.  Is there a real Moriarity after him?  Is Playfair really insane?  And does that matter?

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS is as close to a perfect movie as I’ve seen.  The actors, although superstars, fade so well into their roles that it doesn’t take long to forget that you’re watching the same guy who played PATTON (1970), or the woman who played the doctor in SYBIL (1976).  The script has some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve encountered, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments.  And considering that I normally despise romance movies, this little love story is enchanting.  The clumsy gestures Playfair and Watson make toward each other is not only relatable, but recognizable.  They are so painfully human that, especially for people who never felt they were completely normal, we can see ourselves in their stumbles and eventual successes.

Now that I’ve gushed like a drooling fangirl, it’s time to create a menu for this movie.  Sherlock Holmes drinks tea.  Makes sense, as he’s British and all.  But simply brewing up tea would be much too dull for THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.  Instead, I created a Holmes Cocktail:


2 parts Earl Grey tea
1 part rum

Directions: Sweeten to taste (sweetener isn’t necessary if you don’t normally take your tea that way.  But if you prefer your brew with a little sugar, adjust the sweetness as you would normally for non-alcoholic tea).

A running gag throughout the movie is what a horrible cook Watson is.  Despite her lack of skill, she is determined to cook dinner for Playfair.  Much to her embarrassment, she burns the soup on the stovetop.  In honor of her, I present:


1 pound ground beef
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 small can diced tomatoes
2 large cartons beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Brown the meat until there is no pink left.  Drain the fat.  Add the vegetables, tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil.  Enjoy.

Watson isn’t the only person to be charmed by Playfair.  The local librarian has befriended him, and allows him full access to the library any time he needs, for as long as he needs.  After being abandoned by Watson and burying himself in his work, the librarian consoles Playfair with a jelly donut.   What better dessert is there than that?


I tube refrigerated biscuit dough
Vegetable oil
1 jar jelly (pick your favorite flavor)
Bowl of sugar

Directions: Heat about two inches of oil in a pot until it bubbles when a wooden spoon is placed in it.  Drop in biscuit dough, three or four at a time depending on the size of the pot.  When it browns, flip it over (should just be a minute or two).  When golden on both sides, remove from oil and toss in the sugar.  Place on a rack to cool.

While the donuts cool enough to handle, warm the jelly on low heat until liquid.  Poke a hole in the donut with a knife, and fill with jelly using a turkey baster.

A bit of trivia about THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: yes, this movie is where the band got its name.

If you don’t have Netflix, it’s worth dropping eight bucks for one month just so you can see THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.  If there’s any movie that deserves a bigger audience, maybe with a Criterion release, it’s this one.  At least we finally have the option of seeing it, if only on a digital view.  And what better way to celebrate than settling down for a nice, easy meal and a movie with someone you feel a great affection toward?  And afterwards, maybe go fight some windmills.  Because, although it’s likely they aren’t giants, they just might be.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel



Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Detectives, Garrett Cook Articles, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and Garrett Cook


(THE SCENE: A moving train, travelling through a picturesque European countryside circa the 1890s. On the train, in a private compartment, sits MICHAEL ARRUDA reading a book titled “Huckleberry Hound of the Baskervilles.” MA looks up at the camera, then at the book, and then back at the camera.)

MA: It’s a re-imagining.

(There is a knock on the door, and GARRETT COOK enters dressed as a woman.)

MA: Now I know why L.L. took this weekend off.

GARRETT COOK: Hey there. I made it.
MA: Right on time, too. You know, that costume looked horrible on Robert Downey Jr., and it’s not so hot on you either. You don’t have to wear that for the whole review, you know. (MA’s cell phone rings.) Yeah, I know cell phones didn’t exist in the 1890s. It’s an anachronism. Hello? Yeah, he made it. (to GC) It’s LL. He said since it’s your first Cinema Knife Fight, you should wear the dress.

GC: What? Give me the phone. Hey, L.L, I get the dress, but I don’t think they had thongs in the…

MA: He hung up. Let me start the review, and we’ll get this over with quickly, so you can change.

Garrett and I are here on this train today to review the new Sherlock Holmes movie, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson.

I enjoyed the first film in this series, SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), as it was one of those movies I didn’t really expect much from, but was pleasantly surprised.

This time around, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) square off against their arch-enemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Moriarty is hell-bent on getting the European powers-that-be to go to war with each other, and he’s doing this by arranging bombings and assassinations of key officials, always behind the scenes of course, and never leaving any evidence. It’s up to Sherlock Holmes to match his superior wits against those of the genius villain, Moriarty. Of course, in this series, Holmes is not only a super sleuth, but also a super fighter. Throw in a little James Bond, and this Holmes is as adept with his fists and guns as he is with his powers of deduction.

This Holmes is less apt to utter “Elementary, my dear Watson” than “Hand me that machine gun.” Still, I can’t deny that through it all, Holmes remains entertaining.

GC: Yes, well the movie does take Sherlock Holmes out of the tea parlor intrigues we’ve come to expect from our Victorian detectives. Thing is, a lot of those expectations come from PBS and our imaginations and misconceptions.

If you hear interviews with Robert Downey Jr., he constantly brings up that Holmes used to be a more dynamic character. Holmes was a martial artist, Holmes packed heat, and while Holmes was the archetypical Victorian detective in a lot of ways, he was still a forerunner to pulp heroes and superheroes as we know them.

When we watch Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett playing the character, we see Holmes as an urbane genius with mild eccentricities. But you’ve gotta remember this is the same guy that shot down the Hound of the Baskervilles and also the same guy, who in ”A Study in Scarlet” lectured Watson on why he really didn’t need to know that we live in a heliocentric universe.

MA: Good points.

GC: Sherlock Holmes is not just a great detective, but one of the deadliest men on the autism spectrum. And Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes does everything to remind you of this. One of my favorite things from the first SHERLOCK HOLMES movie was that, each time we see Holmes engage in a fight, we get to watch him reason out and imagine the consequences of each action he takes. Which adds a lot to the (all too frequent) fight scenes.

MA: I liked this better in the first movie. It started to get old in this sequel.

GC: That’s because SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS takes both the eccentricity and the combat readiness of the detective a little too far. When Watson first meets up with Holmes, he finds that he has turned his office into a jungle of sorts and is trying to perfect a form of “urban camouflage,” and soon he’s wearing a dress and shooting people. Like this.

(GC pulls a gun out of the bodice of the dress and fires off a shot. A scruffy Victorian thug manifests out of nowhere, clutches his chest and dies. MA applauds.)

MA: Nicely done. You fit in here very well.

GC: Having seen me do that, you have no reason to think I’m a skilled film critic or at least no more reason than you would have before reading this piece.

MA: That’s okay. We shoot people around here all the time. Actually, we do much worse. (with his foot, MA slyly pushes a machete underneath his seat, concealing it.)

GC: Watching Holmes wear a dress and shoot scruffy Victorian thugs, you have little reason to think he’s a great detective, which is one of my biggest complaints about A GAME OF SHADOWS. You don’t get to watch Holmes doing detective work all that often. While it’s refreshing that you get to see Holmes as a man of action, the only times you get to see Holmes as a great detective are during his confrontations with Moriarty.

MA: I definitely agree with you here. It would have been nice to see Holmes do some old-fashioned detective work.

Getting back to the story, the bottom line is the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s just an excuse for the audience to see Holmes in action. The only other plot point of note is that the case leads Holmes to a fortune teller gypsy woman, Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace, who was Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films), whose brother has gone missing and is somehow mixed up with Moriarty, and so she wants to find him to save him, and Holmes wants to find him to learn more about Moriarty’s plot. Rapace is excellent in the role, and her scenes with Downey Jr. are energetic and entertaining.

The conclusion to this story is never in doubt. We all know who’s going to come out on top, and so there’s not much suspense in this one, even as it builds to its explosive climax.

I could take or leave SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, depending on my mood. I’ve seen much worse sequels (I thought this was a better sequel, for instance, than Downey Jr.’s IRON MAN 2 (2010)), but it didn’t rise above my expectations by any means.

(A pair of thugs suddenly appear outside the window and attempt to break into the compartment. MA hits one over the head with a club, while GC removes a bra from inside his dress and strangles the second thug with it. They kick both thugs off the moving train.)

MA: Nice job.

GC: Thanks.

MA (pointing to bra): I can’t say that we’ve ever used a bra as weapon before in this column. How about that? A first!

GC: I try.

MA: Getting back to the movie—there is non-stop action, one action sequence after another, and you barely have time to breathe. While on paper this sounds like a lot of fun, I always find movies like this get boring after a while, and this movie is no exception.

I wish things had slowed down long enough to give Downey and Jude Law a chance to act, because I certainly would have enjoyed seeing them do more. Now, they do a lot of fighting, chasing, and shooting, but their best scenes are actually when they’re talking. Imagine that!

By far, my favorite part of this Sherlock Holmes movie, and the first one, is the camaraderie and chemistry shared by Downey and Jude Law. They really work well together, and they make for a very entertaining and enjoyable Holmes and Watson. And I like Robert Downey Jr. a lot as Sherlock Holmes. After two movies, I’m almost ready to say I like him better as Holmes than as Tony Stark. Almost.

Noomi Rapace brings a lot of energy to her role as Madam Simza Heron. I thought her scenes with Downey really sizzled. Jared Harris also made for a fine Professor Moriarty. He was an effective evil genius.

GC: I thought Jared Harris as Moriarty was the best part of the movie. The confrontations between Holmes and Moriarty are fantastic.

If you’ve seen Guy Ritchie movies, one thing you expect is a great monologue from an intimidating criminal mastermind. I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends of mine quote crime boss Brick Top’s “Nemesis” speech when they first saw SNATCH (2002). The Napoleon of Crime delivers on this.

Jared Harris makes this movie, and his chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. is explosive, down to the final battle of wills and intellects.

MA: And Stephen Fry was also memorable in a supporting role as Sherlock Holmes’s brother, Mycroft Holmes. He generated a few welcome laughs in the movie. SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS certainly has a strong cast.

It also has a catchy music score, again written by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer has a very impressive resume of film scores going back to the 1980s. His recent credits include both the Christopher Nolan BATMAN movies and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series.

As Garrett noted, Guy Ritchie, who directed the first HOLMES movie, is back at the helm for this one. There are lots of satisfying action scenes and some picturesque European locations (even if they are CGI creations) and the pacing is good, as there’s one action sequence after another, but in terms of story, this one never really grabbed me.

(A man appears from behind MA’s seat and grabs him by the back of the neck, strangling him.

GC: That’s because unfortunately, Guy Ritchie makes all of the mistakes you’ve seen him make before, with the exception of marrying Madonna ten years too late into her career and letting her convince him to remake a Lina Wertmuller film.

(MA gesticulates to GC that he needs help. GC removes a hairpin from his hair and sticks the thug in the eye with it. The thug releases MA and flees, screaming.

GC: Ever use a hairpin in this column before?

MA (catching his breath): Nope.

GC: Two firsts.

I brought up the overabundance of uninformative action scenes, but there’s also the problem that the film’s female characters are almost completely undeveloped. Holmes’s love interest, chirpy femme fatale Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is seen all too briefly, and worse yet, she’s not particularly interesting as a character during her time in the movie.

MA: I agree. She’s not in this movie enough, and I was disappointed she wasn’t in it more.

GC: Noomi Rapace’s character Simza the gypsy is motivated by her desire to find her misguided anarchist brother, but we don’t get to see her character grow and develop. We’ve had an entire film to get to know Holmes, Watson and their relationship, but Simza is a recent addition to the cast. With a bit less action, this could have been possible.

MA: Yep, definitely. There was way too much action in this one, and not enough character development.

Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney wrote the screenplay, and I’m sure they wrote what was expected of them, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The story didn’t take me to places I didn’t expect, nor did it truly captivate me. It played out, like so many other movies nowadays, like a video game. Let’s watch Sherlock Holmes fight this group of bad guys. Okay, now let’s watch Holmes get on this train and take on that group of baddies. And so on. For me, this gets stale after a while, even with a top-notch performer like Robert Downey Jr. on the screen.

That being said, it’s still hard not to like SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, because it looks good, it’s got terrific acting, lots of action, and is permeated by a general sense of fun. However, it never rises above the average in terms of story, plot development, and characterization, and as such, as easy as it is on the eyes, for the mind and heart, it’s mundane.

Watching SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is like being at a shopping mall during the holidays. It’s all richly decorated and looks great, and there’s certainly a lot going on, but it’s loud and noisy and not that satisfying. After a while, you really just want to go home.

I give SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS two and a half knives.


GC: I agree with most of what you said, Michael, but I liked it slightly more than you. I found it to be a fast-paced, clever blockbuster, well-acted with strong set pieces, one of which in particular proves that Ritchie and crew do actually care what fans of the detective care about their work, so I give SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS three knives.

All the leads are magnetic and fun to watch. The lesser characters are also fun, and more importantly, this is the right time for the American public to be exposed to Holmes’s adventures. If, even for two hours in the dark, American filmgoers change the way they look at smart people and the military industrial complex, it’s a good thing. In times of rampant misinformation and factphobia, if American filmgoers are exposed to analytical thinking and people who are heroes because they think analytically, it’s a good thing.

MA: Uh-oh. Don’t go getting all philosophical on me now.

GC: How about it’s a timely, exciting holiday blockbuster?

MA: That’s better. So, that’s it. You found SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS to be really exciting and fun, and I found it a bit too shallow and action-oriented, but nonetheless entertaining.

Okay, we’re done. Garrett, thanks for filling in for L.L.

GC: No problem. Happy to do it. Thanks for asking me. I can’t believe he told me to keep this dress on, though. (Exits).

MA (to camera): I can’t believe it either, especially since—he didn’t call. LL’s not the only one with a dark side in this partnership, heh, heh.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and Garrett Cook

Michael Arruda gives SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS ~ two and a half knives!

Garrett Cook gives SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS ~three knives.

(“Cinema Knife Fight” title coined by L.L. Soares)


Posted in 2011, Aliens, Coming Attractions, Mystery, Period Pieces, Psycho killer, Remakes, Sherlock Holmes, Spy Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: The Circus. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk by cages of lions, tigers, gorillas, and other wild animals.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So here we are— attending your family reunion.

L.L. SOARES: Very funny. Nah. It’s feeding time, and I’ve signed on to feed the animals.

MA: Really? What are you feeding them?

LS (takes out salt and pepper shakers and shakes them over MA’s head): You.

MA: Ha ha. Good one!

LS: I’m dead serious.

MA: Well, lucky for me, we’re not at a normal circus. This here is a vampire circus! (Caged animals suddenly sprout fangs and start sipping blood from liquid dispensers mounted on the sides of their cages.)

LS: Who knew!

MA: And we’re here at this bloodsucker’s circus because the first weekend of December, there isn’t anything of note opening at the theaters, so we’ll be treating our readers to a DVD review, of the weird Hammer Films movie, VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972).

VAMPIRE CIRCUS is one of the stranger Hammer vampire movies, made at a time when it seemed Hammer was releasing multiple vampire movies each year. It’s also one of Hammer’s more erotic vampire films, if I remember correctly. I’ll be looking forward to taking another look at it.

There’s not a lot of star power involved with this one. No Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee on hand, but the director, Robert Young, is still actively making movies today.

LS: I remember seeing stills of this one as a kid in old issues of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, and really wanting to see it. I eventually did, but it’s been awhile. And Synapse Films put out a very nice Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack a year or so ago. This will be a good one to revisit, for old time’s sakes.

MA: Yes, VAMPIRE CIRCUS is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray—as well as streaming video—so there are plenty of opportunities to catch this one.

LS: On December 9, we’ll be back at the theater, as we’ll be reviewing TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011). Ahh, a British espionage thriller, with the talented Gary Oldman as George Smiley. I’m not a big fan of spy movies, but this one sounds interesting.

MA: Yeah, this one looks like a neat Cold War spy thriller, and I’m really looking forward to it, even though I have to admit, I don’t like the title at all. Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme.

LS: You don’t like the title? It’s based on the classic novel by John le Carre!

MA: Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, stuck his thumb inside a pie.  Awful.

But I almost always enjoy Gary Oldman. Plus the stellar cast also includes John Hurt, Colin Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010), Toby Jones, and Mark Strong (KICK-ASS, 2010). With a cast like this, I’m expecting a lot.

It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, who directed LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), with a screenplay by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, based on the le Carre novel of the same name.

All in all, I have some high expectations for this one.

On the other hand, on December 16, I’ll be reviewing the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes sequel, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011). While I really enjoyed SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) and bought into the Downey Jr. interpretation of an action- oriented Holmes, I can’t say that I have high hopes for the sequel.

LS: Me neither, which is why I’m not reviewing this one. You’re on your own buddy!

MA: Gee, thanks.

LS: Actually, I didn’t see the first one so I’m not all that interested in this one. Although it was cool to see in the trailer that Noomi Rapace will have a major role in it. Noomi played Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009).

MA: Again, I liked the first one. I thought Robert Downey Jr. made for a fun Sherlock Holmes, as he brought along his Tony Stark/Iron Man pizzazz to the role, and he shared good camaraderie with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson. The two actors generated some neat chemistry together.

But SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is a sequel, and most sequels just don’t compare to the original. I’ve seen the trailer for this about a million times and feel I’ve seen the entire movie already, so that hasn’t helped, and since it’s a sequel, it probably means there will be more action, more subplots, and fewer things that make sense. While I’m not dreading this one, I don’t expect it to be all that good.

Guy Ritchie’s directing it, and he directed the first one, and it’s written by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, two newcomers who did not write the first one.

LS: On December 21, we’ll be reviewing THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011). What a funny coincidence, since the star of the original film is in the new Sherlock Holmes movie. I have seen all three of the Swedish films based on the books by Stieg Larsson, and enjoyed them a lot, but I guess an American version of the series was inevitable. Since David Fincher is directing this one, I am very curious to see how it turns out. Fincher has given us everything from SEVEN (1995), to FIGHT CLUB (1999), to THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010). My first reaction is to say that since the Swedish films are so good, there’s no need for an American remake, but if anyone can bring something new and interesting to this movie, it’s Fincher.

MA: I’m looking forward to this one. I’ve enjoyed all the trailers I’ve seen for it, as it looks like it’s going to be a very stylish mystery thriller. I haven’t seen the Swedish version, so this one will be fresh for me.

Steven Zaillian wrote the screenplay, and he has a bunch of screenwriting credits, including the Steven Spielberg classic SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993). It also has a great cast, led by Daniel Craig, and also features Stellan Skaarsgard and Christopher Plummer.

LS: And don’t forget Rooney Mara, who will be taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander!

And just in time for Christmas, I’ll be reviewing the new horror sci-fi movie THE DARKEST HOUR (2011). This is the closest thing to a horror movie that’s coming out in December, so I’m looking forward to it. Invisible aliens attack the Earth for our energy and are able to smash humans to atoms if they get too close. How do you fight such an adversary? I guess we’ll find out.

MA: Since this one is opening at Christmas, I won’t be available to see it, and I can’t say that I’m feeling too bad about it. It looks like yet another alien invasion story. Frankly, I’m tired of this plot, as there have been a lot of these tales on the big screen the past couple of years.

So, that wraps up December. Also, as the year winds down, look for our annual BEST OF and WORST OF columns on our picks for the best and worst movies of 2011.

LS: Have a good weekend everyone, and we’ll see you soon with our review of VAMPIRE CIRCUS. Speaking of which (turns to MA). What blood type are you?

MA: Why?

LS: Just wondering. Just in case someone I know is a picky eater.

(Behind MA a giant gorilla with massive fangs sticking out of its mouth looms in the shadows).


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Jack the Ripper, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Psycho killer, Psychological Horror, Screaming Streaming, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , , on August 19, 2011 by knifefighter

Movie Review: MURDER BY DECREE (1979)
By Michael Arruda


Today on SCREAMING STREAMING! it’s MURDER BY DECREE (1979), an atmospheric mystery/thriller that pits Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and it’s now available on streaming video.

I remember liking MURDER BY DECREE when I first saw it back in 1979 . I was especially intrigued by the Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper storyline . Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of Jack the Ripper movies since then, and so the plot points and revelations made here in MURDER BY DECREE regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper don’t possess the power they once did.

And if you’ve seen any movies or read any books about Jack the Ripper (and who hasn’t?), the plot of MURDER BY DECREE offers nothing new . Yes, prostitutes are being viciously murdered in Whitechapel by Jack the Ripper, and the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is called in to investigate, along with his partner Dr. Watson (James Mason).

A psychic named Robert Lees (Donald Sutherland) informs Holmes that he believes the Ripper murders are the result of a government conspiracy, and the clues that Holmes and Watson uncover during their investigation seem to back up this premise . Holmes is led to Mary Kelly (Susan Clark), who confides in him that she is protecting her friend Annie Crook (Genevieve Bujold) and her child from threats which she intimates are from the highest positions in the British government, including the crown itself . Holmes finds Crook in an insane asylum, and what he learns from her confirms his theory regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper . He and Watson then set out to catch the Ripper and expose the conspiracy.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric period piece, you can’t go wrong with MURDER BY DECREE . The film looks terrific, as it depicts 19th century London at its foggy best . It has the look of the Hammer Films period pieces from the 1950s and 1960s .

And if you’re looking for good acting by veterans of the field, MURDER BY DECREE satisfies here as well . The film enjoys strong acting performances, especially from its two leads: Christopher Plummer, as Sherlock Holmes and James Mason, as Dr. Watson. They share an amiable chemistry, and when they are onscreen together, they are fun to watch . The rest of the cast is also excellent.

The film even gets off to a good start with some creepy murders in the London fog .

But then it slows down halfway through and never really picks up again . Towards the end, when the story should be picking up steam, it falters, and its conclusion, whereby Holmes explains all that he has learned and proved, is interesting, but it’s nothing new nor all that dramatic.

Even though there are some eerie murder scenes, MURDER BY DECREE is rated PG, so don’t expect much blood and gore . FROM HELL (2001), this ain’t! Further complicating matters is that some of the key murder and action scenes are shot in slow motion, and this doesn’t work at all, as it only results in slowing down the suspense.

The two main reasons to see MURDER BY DECREE, then, are the strong acting performances from its veteran cast, and the atmospheric photography of this period piece thriller.

Christopher Plummer is very good as Sherlock Holmes, and he plays the world’s greatest detective as a more compassionate and human man than he’s usually portrayed in the movies . Plummer’s Holmes is also very emotional, especially when the investigation brings him closer to the lives—and deaths— of the women he’s investigating .

James Mason, one of my all-time favorite actors, makes a very likeable Dr. Watson . Mason was an accomplished actor who starred in all types of films, and he enjoyed some memorable roles in genre movies, from the heroic Sir Oliver Lindenbrook in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), to the conniving Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973), to the evil Straker in Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT (1979), to name just a few . Here, he makes a very distinguished Watson, applying some understated humor to the role.

The rest of the cast is full of veterans of the field . David Hemmings, a popular actor from the 1960s, who I remember most from movie roles in the 1970s, plays Inspector Foxborough, a Scotland Yard inspector with ulterior motives . Hemmings made a ton of movies, and one of his last was THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003) with Sean Connery, before his death later that year at age 62.

Frank Finlay plays Inspector Letrade, and he’s another actor I’ve always enjoyed, from his performances in Richard Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS movies in the 1970s to Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE (1985), that bizarre space/vampire movie that should be on everyone’s “must see at least once” list . Finlay was also in THE PIANIST (2002), the film in which Adrien Brody won the Best Actor Oscar, but my all-time favorite Finlay role was his portrayal of Professor van Helsing in the 1977 Great Performances production of COUNT DRACULA, a neat and faithful retelling of Bram Stoker’s tale . Alas, as good as Finlay is, he doesn’t do much here in MURDER BY DECREE.

Donald Sutherland fares better as psychic Robert Lees, and his performance serves as a solid reminder as to why he was such a popular actor in the 1970s . Genevieve Bujold makes the most of her one scene as Annie Crook, so much so that she delivers probably the best performance in the film, other than Plummer and Mason . She’s really good . Susan Clark is also very good as the tragically doomed Mary Kelly.

MURDER BY DECREE was directed by Bob Clark, the man most famous for directing the Christmas classic A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) . Of course, Clark is also known for a less family-oriented Christmas movie, the 1974 Christmas horror movie BLACK CHRISTMAS, starring Margot Kidder . Clark also directed PORKY’S (1982) . Quite the varied resume!

MURDER BY DECREE doesn’t showcase Clark’s best work . The film lacks effective pacing, and the murder scenes don’t really pack the punch that they should, hindered by the annoying slow-motion photography .

John Hopkins wrote the screenplay . Hopkins is one of the writers who worked on the Sean Connery Bond film THUNDERBALL (1965) . In MURDER BY DECREE, there’s entertaining dialogue between Holmes and Watson, but there’s not much else that makes this one special in terms of writing .

Neither the direction nor the writing does much in the way of building suspense in this movie.

I remember liking MURDER BY DECREE when I first saw it back in 1979, but watching it now, all these years later, it doesn’t hold up all that well . It’s a beautifully photographed movie, it enjoys solid acting, and the first third of its story is rather compelling, but then it slows down and it remains slow all the way to its dramatic revelations, which, if you know the Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories, really aren’t that dramatic or surprising.

MURDER BY DECREE is one of those movies that, if you catch it in the right frame of mind, you might like it, but the fact is, there are better Sherlock Holmes movies, and there are better Jack the Ripper movies .

Watching MURDER BY DECREE is like looking at a mediocre painting . It catches your eye, and as you stay to look at it, you like what you see, but before long you tire of the experience and move on, and since it didn’t knock your socks off, you see no need to look at it again.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda