On This Day 9th February

OTD 1979 Murder By Decree premieres featuring Chris Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson.

Murder by Decree, U.S. Premiere (1979)

Director Bob Clark’s 1979 film, Murder by Decree found Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. It was not the first time the Detective had met with the legendary serial Idler A Study in Terror had been released previously in 1965. The film starred Christopher Plummer as a surprisingly youthful Sherlock Holmes and James Mason as a somewhat older Dr. John Watson. The age difference between the two actors (Mason was some two decades older than Plummer) resulted in a more paternal than fraternal chemistry, but their interactions were nonetheless charming in their own way. For example, Holmes demonstrates to Watson the concealed weapon that he has devised lead weights in the ends ofhis scarf by tossing it about the room and breaking nearly every fragile thing in sight. Watson merely sighs, reveals that he is familiar with the device, and says nothing as Holmes leaves the room, dragging his scarf behind him, broken glass and porcelain continuing to tinkle humorously.
The film’s plot which entwines Jack the Ripper with the Freemasons and the royal family is a familiar story arc to most audiences, and one that has been reused in other Jack the Ripper films. Plummer’s take on Sherlock Holmes, however, somewhat deviated from the traditional interpretations of the character. Strangely demonstrative and passionate, Plummer admitted that the film’s script “brought out a lot of unforeseen passion in Holmes.” Other traditional Sherlockian departures include an appearance by Donald Sutherland as Robert Lees, a psychic who eventually assists Holmes in solving the case.
The film premiered earlier in Canada on February 1 of the same year.

The film’s premise of the plot behind the murders is influenced by the book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1976), by Stephen Knight, who presumed that the killings were part of a Masonic plot. The original script contained the names of the historical suspects, Sir William Gull and John Netley. In the actual film, they are represented by fictional analogues: Thomas Spivy (Gull) and William Slade (Netley). This plot device was later used in other Jack the Ripper-themed fiction, including the graphic novel From Hell.


After the Metropolitan Police fail to apprehend the serial killer Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes is approached to investigate the recent murders of prostitutes that happened in the Whitechapel district of London. Helped by Dr. Watson and the medium Robert Lees, Holmes discovers that all the victims were companions of Annie Crook, a woman locked in a mental institution.

Things get complicated as members of the police hierarchy and also several politicians, all Freemasons, seem to be protecting one of their own. Furthermore, Inspector Foxborough, the policeman who is in charge of the case, is in fact the secret leader of the radicals, a political movement waiting for the British government to fall because of its incapability to solve the Whitechapel murders. Holmes must rely on his skills to find and confront the murderer.


Ian Richardson, the great, acerbic actor, died OTD 2007. He played Holmes in the 1983 The Sign of Four https://t.co/Omvl5D3wiG & in The Hound of the Baskervilles https://t.co/WuitMVP7dk

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