|A Study in Terror (1965)
Run time: 95 min
Genres: Crime | Drama | Horror
Director: James Hill
Writers: Donald Ford, Derek Ford
Stars: John Neville, Donald Houston, John Fraser
Great detective Sherlock Holmes faces the villainous Jack the Ripper in this highly entertaining suspenser, buoyed by a flawless British cast. If you like your Holmes straight up and unadulterated, then adding this thrilling, sexy, witty, colourful adventure to your Sherlockian knowledge is…oh, come now, do we really have to say it?
Release Date: 10 August 1966 (USA)
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This is a model B-movie: fast-paced, engaging, atmospheric, full of great twists. Most "A" productions would only wish they were this good! Neville makes a suitably arrogant and surprisingly physical Holmes, and Houston is a perfect Dr.Watson. The director does wonders with an obviously low budget. Much, much better than the similar "Murder By Decree". (***)
Having just watched this film I thought I would add my penny’s worth to IMDB.
I have to admit that I am a fan of Murder By Decree and there have been comparisons between that film and A Study In Terror. In my mind they are quite dissimilar.
A Study In Terror is what I would call a Sherlock Holmes film with the murders of Jack the Ripper playing second to the characters whereas Murder By Decree is a film about Jack the Ripper with Sherlock Holmes playing second to the murders and the plot. I think this is borne out in that Murder By Decree you could have actually had any two detectives investigating the murders and the film would have worked. A lot of attention is paid to the historical facts and the timing and places of the murders. In A Study in Terror the victims are ‘cannon fodder’ and the facts not that historically correct. There was no mention of the ‘Jewes’ message left on the wall after the infamous double murder and, although Mary Kelly was murdered indoors, it was in a ground floor room. That is not to say A Study In Terror is not a good film, it is. We have an instantly recognisable Sherlock in John Neville who plays the part well; the supporting cast are good in their own right to. Interestingly Frank Finley played Lestrade in both A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree and Anthony Quale also appears in both films but in different characters.
I cared more about the victims in Murder by Decree (especially the scene with Annie Crook in the mental institution) than I did A Study in Terror and I think that is why I like that film more. Still A Study in Terror will keep you interested and I would recommend both films but for different reasons.
In 1888, Sherlock Holmes (JOHN NEVILLE) and Dr Watson (DONALD HOUSTON) discover the identity of the Whitechapel serial killer known as Jack The Ripper.
An enormously enjoyable fictional confrontation between Conan Doyle's most celebrated detective and a true crime, which has caused constant fascination since it occurred over one-hundred years ago. The script writers Donald and Derek Ford came up with an excellent screenplay that succeeds in capturing all the eccentricities and intelligence of Sherlock Holmes and his solution to the Ripper killings are quite believable made up of many facts and myths that surround the case that looks never to be solved. Director James Hill who was more famous for his animal adventures with BORN FREE (1965) and his attempt to take swinging sixties pop to the seaside in EVERY DAY'S A HOLIDAY (1964) shows that he was a most versatile film maker who could generate excellent suspense and disturbing horror sequences. Just check out the last killing which is brilliantly shot from the Ripper's point of view with hand held cameras (presumably!) and gaudy lighting saturated in lurid reds. Hill recreates the Victorian London era with great enthusiasm and he is most ably assisted by cinematographer Desmond Dickinson (who is this author's favourite cameraman) and there are first rate performances from Neville as Holmes and Robert Morley as his brother Mycroft. There is a classic scene where Holmes is probing a clue over his violin and Mycroft asks "Why in all these years have you never learned to play that infernal instrument?".
As I wrote in my review of 'Jack the Ripper' (1959), it's only in recent years that movies about Saucy Jack have bothered with historical accuracy and providing a 'real' solution to the question of the Ripper's identity. The German silent productions 'Waxworks' and 'Pandora's Box' used the character as a sort of bogeyman, more akin to Dracula, Mr Hyde or the Phantom of the Opera than a real-life serial killer, and the various versions of 'The Lodger' and the aforementioned Jack the Ripper simply used Jack as a hook on which to hang entirely fictional mysteries, with no real people or situations in them.
'A Study in Terror' is no exception to this rule, and is all the better for it. This Herman Cohen-produced, James Hill-directed picture is an unpretentious little B-picture that pitted Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper a full thirteen years before Bob Clarke's big-budget, star-packed 'Murder By Decree'. While 'Murder…' is a good film, with a gripping storyline and strong performances from the likes of Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Donald Sutherland, it does take itself rather seriously in its attempt to present a supposedly surprising, and at the same time authentic, conclusion (which would have already been known to anyone who watched the BBC TV production 'The Ripper File', or read Stephen Knight's 'Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution'). 'A Study in Terror' does not try to do this and is concerned only with giving the viewer an entertaining ninety-five minutes.
Interestingly, '…Terror' was the first Jack the Ripper movie to propose aristocratic involvement in the murders, eight years before the late Joseph Sickert came out with his somewhat similar, but allegedly true theory that covered much the same ground, involving not just an aristocrat, but a Prince, who married beneath him. Admittedly, Sickert's theory claimed that the murders were committed to keep the marriage a secret, rather than to avenge a wrong, but it does seem curious that the fiction and alleged fact are so similar.
Although this film does present the real victims killed by Jack the Ripper and does so in the right order, there are many inaccuracies, the most notable being that the actresses playing the unfortunate individuals, including Carry On and Eastenders star Barbara Windsor and Edina Ronay, daughter on the famous chef Egon, are, in the main, considerably younger and more attractive that the real victims (Windsor, who played Annie Chapman is, even today, at almost seventy, considerably better looking than the real 'Dark Annie'), but this is an exploitation movie, and eye candy is a integral part of this subgenre. In fact this is a perfect example of an exploitation picture when you examine its constituent elements. The makers exploited not only the 1960's horror boom, but also the perennial interest in Jack the Ripper and the enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes perfectly.
For a B-movie, 'A Study in Terror' boasts a surprisingly strong cast, including Dame Judi Dench, John Fraser, Adrienne Corri, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay and Anthony Quayle, who all lend strong support to John Neville and Donald Houston as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. Crucially, Neville, like Basil Rathbone before him and Jeremy Brett after, not only looks right as Holmes, his strong, sharp features recalling Conan Doyle's description of the character, but his portrayal of the character is more in tune with the classic conception of Holmes than Christopher Plummer in 'Murder By Decree'. Similarly, Donald Houston gives an entertainingly blustering, Nigel Bruce-like performance as Watson, whereas James Mason's portrayal of the character was a little too low-key for my taste. Finlay and Quayle apparently enjoyed the experience of crossing Holmes and the Ripper so much that they came back for more in 'Murder by Decree', with Finlay repeating his performance as Inspector Lestrade. Personally, I think he's better in this film, and Anthony Quayle, as Dr Murray, invests his character with a quiet strength and dignity that is missing from his unsympathetic Sir Charles Warren. As Mycroft Holmes, Robert Morley is amusing in his scenes with Neville's Sherlock, particularly expressing his exasperation at his brother's less than tuneful violin playing.
One area in which 'A Study in Terror' holds the edge over 'Murder by Decree' is it's ending. Without giving too much away for anyone who has yet to see either film, '…Terror' has a thrilling, literally explosive climax that befits a film of it's type, whereas '…Decree' drags a little, again because the makers want us to take it so seriously. My suggestion is to watch both movies and make up your own minds on this subject