Murder by Decree
R0 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (12th November 2017).
The Film

"Murder by Decree" (1979)

London, 1888. When Scotland Yard is unable to stop the gruesome rampage of Jack The Ripper, a citizens committee asks Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and his trusted associate, Dr. Watson (James Mason), to investigate. The pair follows a terrifying trail of clues that includes a frightening psychic (Donald Sutherland), a suspicious inspector (David Hemmings), an institutionalised woman (Genevieve Bujold) and the Prime Minister of England (Sir John Gielgud). But even if Holmes and Watson's remarkable powers of deduction can unmask the maniacal fiend, are they prepared to face the most shocking secret of all?

Anthony Quayle, Susan Clark and Frank Finlay co-star in this masterful suspense thriller directed by Bob Clark that both fans and critics have called the most exciting and original Sherlock Holmes movie ever made.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote a story of Holmes encountering the Jack The Ripper case - although many might believe otherwise due to the films "A Study in Terror" from 1965 and from "Murder by Decree" from 1979 where Holmes and Watson tackle the true life case of one of the biggest mysteries of the nineteenth century, still fascinating people to this day. Doyle first published the Holmes stories in 1887. Jack The Ripper emerged in 1888. Of course Holmes solving the murders and uncovering the secrets is entirely fictional, it is interesting to see how both films take on the same subject and present basically no right or wrong answer.

With "Murder by Decree" an impressive cast was assembled together for the production. Plummer as Holmes and Mason as Watson were impressive, with Plummer holding a candle toward the Basil Rathbone incarnation of the character, while Mason gives a little more weight of doctoral credibility and smarts to the Watson character than the well known bumbling Nigel Bruce" version. The two actors play off each other quite well, complimenting each other and genuinely a team in the investigation. It's almost a shame that the two did not continue to make any more Holmes/Watson films later, as their rapport was truly the highlight. Director Bob Clark has dabbled in a variety of genres including family favorite "A Christmas Story", teen sex comedy "Porky's", horror classic "Black Christmas", and even the abominable "Baby Geniuses" in his career. It probably is no surprise he also made a period piece suspense film featuring the characters of Holmes and Watson somewhere in his career. Clark was not much of a visual stylist that pinpoints directorial trademarks, and this film does not have anything particularly fitting with any of his other films. The film is dark in tone as well as in lighting as it takes advantage of the foggy atmosphere and the Victorian era outdoor areas well.

While the film has gotten praise as one of the better or even best Sherlock Holmes movies ever made, they are bold claims. The film does not have much in terms of being strikingly original and plays the mysterious angles safely. The only point that it gets flipped is the slightly gory scenes in the latter portions as well as the strangulation first person scenes. "Murder by Decree" is more on the average side but elevated with a stellar cast of characters.

Note this is a region 0 NTSC DVD which can play back on any DVD or Blu-ray player worldwide


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in the NTSC format. The film was most likely screened in the United States in 1.85:1 and in Europe at the 1.66:1 aspect ratio so this DVD edition sets the mattes in the middle ground. It is a dark transfer, so many objects and shadows are not as clear as they should be. Single primary colors can sometimes look pixelated and blocky in certain scenes. In positive notes, the print has very few damage marks and is consistently fine on color reproduction.

The film's runtime is 123:50.

There is an issue with the authoring - 123:50 is the length of the film but the runtime that shows up on displays are wildly inaccurate, showing 128:12. Apparently, the film and the 4 minute trailer are encoded as one title, so right after the film ends, then the trailer suddenly appears. It is bad authoring. So to make clear, this is not an extended version.

Screenshots are as follows:


English Dolby Digital 1.0
There is only one audio track and it is in the original. Dialogue is fairly easy to hear, as well as the music but it does tend to be a very flat source. On the brighter side there are no issues with hisses or pops, making the audio transfer quite fair.

There are no subtitles included on this release.


Trailer (4:22)
The original trailer is presented in a fair transfer but as stated before, this extra is very easy to miss. It will play only after the film has played and is not accessible in any other way. Also there is not a particular chapter stop dividing the film and the trailer so that is also quite frustrating.
in anamorphic 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

While the US release from Anchor Bay many years ago had a director's commentary, trailer, plus many text and stills based extras, the Australian release only gets the trailer as the sole bonus feature.


The packaging states the disc is "region 4" but it is in fact a region 0 disc.
The packaging also states the audio is 2.0 but is in fact a single channel 1.0 mono audio for the film.
Also the back cover lists "John Gielgud" as "John Guilgud", twice for that matter.


"Murder by Decree" is an interesting what if with Holmes and Watson on the trail of one of the biggest mysteries of all time, the film is unfortunately lacking in a spark of originality, but still held up high with the great ensemble cast. The Umbrella Entertainment release has a fair transfer in video and audio and only the trailer as the extra making it hard to recommend for hardcore fans, but casual fans should be satisfied.

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: D Overall: C+


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