MURDER BY DECREE
It is an ingenious and interesting thesis, although one that says more about the publics penchant for conspiracy theories than it has any basic in factuality. The only basis for the claim is the intriguing alternate interpretation of a piece of graffiti found at the scene of the Catherine Eddowes murder The Juwes are not men that will not be blamed for nothing and the documentarys theorising that Juwes is not simply poor spelling but an obscure reference to a triumvirate of Freemason assassins. (Knight and the documentary also give much credence to the story recounted by Joseph Sickert that he was the illegitimate grandson of Annie Crook, something that was later proven to be false by researcher Simon Wood). In that there is no proof that the Ripper even wrote the graffiti, the theory rests on exceedingly shaky hearsay evidence and tends to fall apart in the light of logic ie. Why would the Crown think that anyone would take the stories of gin-soaked whores seriously enough to discredit the country? Why would the Ripper stop in an area that was prowling with police to write an obscure and grammatically baffling piece of graffiti? Why would the Freemasons, who normally pride themselves on their secrecy, want to advertise their presence upon this particular occasion?
In a fictional setting, the Freemason conspiracy idea has no requirement to credibly establish itself, which may well explain why this has become the most prevalent Jack the Ripper theory on film. It also formed the basis of the disappointing Ripper film From Hell (2001), while the earlier A Study in Terror (1965) also brought Holmes into solve the Jack the Ripper killings and involved a more diffuse conspiracy. (The subsequent Spanish film Holmes & Watson: Madrid Days (2012) also has Holmes solving the Jack the Ripper murders). The addition of Sherlock Holmes makes a fascinating combination but results in an exceedingly complex plot that almost needs a Holmes to make head or tail of all the strands of conspiracy. The expected intellectual joy of watching a Sherlock Holmes story unfold vanishes under the weight of the exposition the script is required to tell.
Murder By Decree is not exactly helped by the casting of Christopher Plummer who makes a colourless Sherlock Holmes. That said, James Mason fares far better and gives a superbly droll performance as Dr Watson. Director Bob Clark plays up the atmosphere well, creating a densely fog-laden London of narrow streets with some claustrophobic chill. The sets are particularly well designed.
The director was Bob Clark. Bob Clark had previously made several fine B-budget genre films with Children Shouldnt Play with Dead Things (1972), Dead of Night (1974) and the proto-slasher film Black Christmas/Silent Night, Deadly Night (1974). Murder By Decree was probably the best-made of Clarks films alas he squandered such opportunity by next turning to the excruciating teen film Porkys (1982). Clarks subsequent output has certainly been notable for his ability to hop genres from the much-loved nostalgia film A Christmas Story (1983), the Dolly Parton vehicle Rhinestone (1984), the war film Turk 182 (1985), the screwball comedy Loose Cannons (1989) and the childrens films Baby Geniuses (1999) and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) if not exactly for Clarks ability to turn out any majorly noteworthy films.
The other Jack the Ripper films include:- those that conduct supposedly straight tellings of the details of the case such as Jack the Ripper (1959), the Spanish Jack the Ripper of London (1971) with Paul Naschy, Jess Francos Jack the Ripper (1976) with Klaus Kinski, Jack the Ripper (tv mini-series, 1988) starring Michael Caine, The Ripper (1997) and the Alan Moore graphic novel adaptation From Hell (2001) with Johnny Depp or that feature The Ripper as a central character like Alfred Hitchcocks The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), and its remakes The Lodger (1932), The Lodger (1944) and Man in the Attic (1953), as well as Room to Let (1950), although most of these vary widely from the known details. More prevalent have been speculative treatments, including the likes of:- the Ripper being an alien spirit that possesses Scotty in Star Treks Wolf in the Fold (1966) and with similar stories occurring in episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5) and The Outer Limits (1995-2002); the Ripper being Dr Jekyll in both Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and Edge of Sanity (1989); Jack the Rippers daughter featuring in Hands of the Ripper (1971); H.G. Wells and the Ripper travelling through time to the present day in Time After Time (1979) and its tv series remake Time After Time (2017), as well as a time-travelling Ripper appearing in episodes of tv series like Fantasy Island (1977-84), Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-9) and Timecop (1997-8); The Ripper having travelled out West in the Knife in the Darkness (1968) episode of the Western Cimarron Strip (1967-8);The Ripper being resurrected or copycated in the present day in The Ripper (1985), Bridge Across Time (tv movie, 1986), Jacks Back (1988), Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001), Bad Karma (2002), The Legend of Bloody Jack (2007), The Lodger (2009) and Whitechapel (tv mini-series, 2009); a parody segment of Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) that speculates that the Ripper was in fact the Loch Ness Monster; the Babylon 5 episode Comes the Inquisitor (1995) that reveals the Ripper was taken up by aliens and redeemed; even turning up as a character in the French animated film Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (2013). Also of interest is the tv series Ripper Street (2012 ), a detective series set in London in the immediate aftermath of the Ripper killings.