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. The production design is consistently impressive, and Clark stages the murder scenes in horrific fashion, the raddled whores meeting their doom in a realistically squalid Whitechapel. A superior period thriller that overcomes the absurdity of its premise to make some telling comments about the abuse of power, Murder By Decree's proposed solution to the Whitechapel murders ensures that it isn't beloved of Ripperologists, but it still stands as the most intelligent film made on the subject.