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Murder By Decree [DVD] [1980] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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Region 1 encoding. (requires a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. More about DVD formats)
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Product details

  • Actors: Christopher Plummer, James Mason, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Anthony Quayle
  • Directors: Bob Clark
  • Writers: Arthur Conan Doyle, Elwyn Jones, John Hopkins, John Lloyd
  • Producers: Bob Clark, Len Herberman, René Dupont
  • Format: Anamorphic, Colour, DVD-Video, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
  • DVD Release Date: 21 Jan 2003
  • Run Time: 124 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00007AJED
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 169,130 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)



Murder by Decree has the distinction of being not only one of the best Sherlock Holmes films, but one of the best pastiches (i.e., a Holmes fiction created by someone other than author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) featuring the late-Victorian detective. Christopher Plummer is very good as Holmes, and James Mason redeems the many mishandled screen portrayals of Dr John Watson with a rare, insightful performance.

The story may not be unique in post-Doyle Holmes adventures--the private investigator pursues Jack the Ripper during the latter's murderous reign in foggy London--but the script by John Hopkins (Thunderball) is keenly intelligent, developing concentric circles of power and evil with great subtlety. Before losing himself in Porky's, director Bob Clark did a masterful job of surprising audiences with Murder by Decree, convincing viewers they were watching one kind of drama but then unleashing something very different, very unsettling. --Tom Keogh

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Mercy on 12 Jan 2007
Format: DVD
Though by no means a perfect Sherlock Holmes film, Bob Clark's Murder By Decree is an intelligent pastiche in which the Great Detective tracks down real-life murderer Jack the Ripper. This premise also informed the earlier A Study in Terror (1965), though this later movie is far more effective in terms of both suspenseful storytelling and emotional impact. That is manages to achieve this whilst subscribing to the most outlandish and unlikely of Ripper theories (it goes for the hoary `Royals and Freemasons' angle) makes it even more impressive. Those who write about this movie seem to either love or hate it; they either take exception to the characterisation of Sherlock Holmes and the attempts to weave him in amongst real-life events, or praise the opulent sets, direction, witty script, and outstanding performances. And though a Holmes fan, I can say that I fall firmly into the latter category; although Christopher Plummer doesn't look or talk like the more obviously faithful portrayals by Peter Cushing or Jeremy Brett, the fact is that their interpretations simply wouldn't have worked within the context of this story, in which Holmes is required to display a social conscience and feel outrage at the authority figures he holds responsible for the Ripper murders. Also, the film scores highly with an absolutely first-rate Dr. Watson from James Mason, who not only avoids making the character a figure of fun, but also invests him with an innate, old-world decency that increases in importance as the movie progresses. Fine performances are given by Frank Finlay as Lestrade, David Hemmings, and Anthony Quayle, and though Donald Sutherland is rather oddly cast as an introverted medium, he is nowhere near as bad as some writers would have you think.Read more ›
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mick E on 9 April 2003
Format: DVD
I can imagine that ‘Murder By Decree’ looks a bit ropey on paper. A Sherlock Holmes flick about the Whitechapel murders? But it does work. The plot mixes fiction with fact well, Holmes being brought in to investigate the handiwork of Jack the Ripper by a bunch of locals, concerned about the damage that the crimes may do to local businesses as well as public safety. Holmes and Watson are drawn into a world of political intrigue, clairvoyance, prostitution, anti-Semitism and secret societies in their search for the Ripper in an excellent, twisting plot.
There are some really good performances here; Christopher Plummer and James Mason are in top form as Holmes and Watson, Anthony Quayle snarls through his role as Charles Warren and David Hemmings is good too as Foxburgh but it’s the cameos that really grabbed my attention. John Gielgud is great as the Prime Minister and Donald Sutherland is brilliantly creepy as the medium, Robert Lees. But the scene-stealer is Genevieve Bujold in her brief, moving performance as Annie Crook that makes for the best scene in the whole film. Only niggles are some over-the-top Cockney accents by some of the supporting cast and extras and one or two poor sets. On the whole though, this is a really good view: a thriller that takes one of the most famous crimes in history and adds a touch of dash with the most famous fictional detective in history. Thoroughly recommended.
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Format: DVD
Surprisingly decent 1978 Sherlock Holmes tale - A top quality UK/Canada joint production, with Canadian veteran Christopher Plummer excellent as the iconic sleuth.
The Jack The Ripper element is tailor made for Conan Doyle's legendary detective & a rare, successful marriage of fact & fiction!
Christopher Plummer & James Mason are both really good in their respective roles of Holmes & Watson. As in the Peter Cushing/Andre Morrell pairing, both men appear to be on an equal level with a mutual respect & reliance on one another - certainly not like the 1930's movies which often made Watson look oafish & a liability at times.
There's also a wonderful supporting cast - David Hemmings, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud etc. Most of these fine actors are no longer with us & the acting world is a poorer place for it.
I find that the presence of the mostly British cast makes all the difference in this genre.
The key factor for this type of movie is ATMOSPHERE, and it has it in spades! The narrow, cobbled streets, gaslights, the creeping fog, it's all here!
The London of 1888 is well brought to life by some great set designs & matte painting/miniature visual effects. Strongly authentic!
The plot is almost identical to the 2002 Ripper movie, From Hell starring Johnny Depp - but the Holmes presence makes for a different movie.
There's a slight horror feel to this with the sinister, point of view Ripper attacks & modest injection of gore. However the murders are never as graphically depicted as the afore mentioned From Hell, with the possible exception of the appalling slaughter of Mary Kelly.
This film is actually quite similiar in feel to the excellent, 1988 TV Feature, Jack The Ripper starring Michael Caine & Lewis Collins.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Supremely creepy and massively unnerving film experience. More terrifying than a thousand saw/hostel torture porn flicks. This gloomy (it mostly takes place in either fog ridden daylight or pitch black nighttime) thriller based upon fact is so downright scary I found myself gasping at the next flesh crawling moment. And I thought that From Hell was good. This film takes the legendary (true) tale and gives it a shot of adrenalin whilst still staying faithful to the facts. Christopher Plummer here is magnificent as the world famous, and world renowned, detective. And he's ably backed up by a staggering cast of greats. At a rather lengthy 1 hour and 58 minutes this sails along. There are no subtitles however. And the 12 certificate here is baffling. The bloodshed is mostly left to the imagination (no epic throat cutting as seen in the Heather Graham starrer here) and for that reason alone this film scores dividends. Highly recommended.
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