Murder by Decree Film Details
Overview: Sherlock Holmes investigates the murders commited by Jack the Ripper and discovers a conspiracy to protect the killer.
Review: Awesome movie and an overlooked gem. ***Spoilers ahead!*** (and minor spoiler for “The sign of four” too) Being a Sherlock Holmes fan from my childhood, I came across this movie at the age of 12 and it instantly became an absolute classic for me. As a young boy, I didn’t dare to look at some of the scenes, but I saw those full black eyes in close-up and knew that the movie didn’t need to rely on blood to be scary: I like movies that explore real fear, psychologically, not by disgusting you with a splattered screen. Some commentators miss the portrayal of Holmes abilities that other films have used us to… Please, read again the canon or watch the very canonical Brett’s Holmes and perhaps you will discover that both Conan Doyle and the Granada TV screen writers made an effort to develop other virtues of the character: he is not a disembodied brain, but a man of action (unlike his brother Mycroft, more brilliant according to Sherlock himself, but stuck to his armchair of the Diogenes club), he can be dry but he is compassionate with respect to suffering people and very caring of his friend Watson (this is clearly shown even in the Rathbone movies where Watson is unbearably dumb and Holmes is shown as an eccentric that tries to brush off flies with a violin pizzicato). Besides, in “Murder by Decree” Holmes spots the erased words that Sir Charles wanted to disappear, and uses a chemical trick to uncover them. He analyzes the grape remains in his laboratory, identifying its origin and possible buyers. Then he matches his list with an independent list made by Watson at his request, and only one common name shows up: if it was set today, such a scene would involve the use of computers with flashy displays of the list search and the matching results. He deduces a lot from the fact that they are NOT being followed (in the tradition of the dog incident at midnight) and Watson catches up immediately in a nice portrayal of both their longtime friendship and the fact that Watson is not dumb: indeed, he must have above average intelligence to be accepted by Holmes as best friend and collaborator. After all, he is a doctor who served in the Indian army and in some pretty canonical portrayals even an elegant womanizer (see Hardwicke in “The sign of four” where he seduces the beautiful Jenny Seagrove in the time he bites an apple). But I digress: in “Murder by Decree” Holmes deductive abilities are intact, only they are not thrown in our face with an over-complex chain of reasoning: real intelligence need not be spectacular, and in fact Conan Doyle’s original holmesian deductions were so much more simple and natural than the ones we often see in Holmes less serious movies. The grape analysis and list matching is pure Sherlock Holmes because he, well, Conan Doyle, precisely anticipated modern research methods, as Vidocq and the French police had done already (for instance with the introduction of fingerprinting and serious anthropometry). It is perfectly understandable that Holmes is deeply moved by the fate of Annie Crook: he is a free mind and a privileged intellect, so Crook’s fate, imprisoned and driven to madness, is probably the incarnation of Holmes’ worst terrors. However cold he is, his reaction, first attacking the custodian (with the energy we could expect from a man of action) and then crying with compassion, is perfectly fit, and gives Holmes a dimension of humanity that enriches the character and the movie. Moreover, it reminds us that Holmes is deeply moral, that he did not choose the good side at random, just because outwitting Moriarty was funny, but for the sake of his convictions and sense of justice. I have not yet mentioned Christopher Plumer and James Mason. What could I say? Christopher Plummer is my canonical Sherlock Holmes, even more than Jeremy Brett, just because that late childhood experience of seeing “Murder by decree”. James Mason is one of the very first actors whose name I learned to pronounce (with Alec Guinnes, Peter Cushing, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton… John Gielgud came later to my knowledge, but he is in “Murder by Decree” too). The portrayal of genuine friendship that Plummer and Mason do is one of the best aspects of this overlooked masterpiece. Absolutely incredible that the same Bob Clark made “Porky’s”. This confirms my theory that masterpieces of all sorts (cinema, painting, literature) create themselves. We people are just antennas for concepts.
Country: UK, Canada
Duration: 124 min
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Also known as: Processo Arquivado por Ordem Real,Murder by Decree,Убийство по височайша заповед,名探偵ホームズ 黒馬車の影,Meurtre par décret,Verschwörung im Nebel,Murha tilauksesta,Sherlock Holmes: Murder by Decree,En studie i skräck,Omor prin decret,Ubistvo po naređenju,Törvényes gyilkosság,En studie i skrekk,Asesinato por decreto,Eglima ston Tamesi,Mord på beregning,Kauhun oppitunti,Mord på beställning,Mord an der Themse,Assassinio su commissione,Убийство по приказу,Assassinato Por Decreto,Sherlock Holmes and Saucy Jack,Mordene ved Themsen,Morderstwo na zamówienie,Ubistvo po nalogu