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A Study In Terror
cast: John Neville, Donald Houston, Anthony Quayle, Frank Finley, and Adrienne Corri

director: James Hill

91 minutes (15) 1965 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
A Study In Terror is not the only film to pit Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper. Neither is it the best, falling well short of the standard set 13 years later by Bob Clark's Murder By Decree. Concluding with a memorable speech by Christopher Plummer's Holmes about "madmen wielding sceptres," his 1978 conspiracy thriller had the advantage of providing a satisfactory explanation to the conundrum: if the master sleuth really did solve the mystery of the Whitechapel murders, why are we - to this day - none the wiser?

This earlier effort is a mixture of lurid exploitation piece, with Babs Windsor among the body count of murdered prostitutes doing her 'tart with a heart' acting, and stodgy social commentary, represented Anthony Quayle's po-faced pathologist denouncing the degenerate morals of the East End. The murders have something of the voyeuristic nastiness of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but with the self-reflexive twist of a filmmaking murderer. The pub scenes on the other hand do conjure up a bit of an atmosphere of bawdiness, with their raucous music hall singing.

The plot, such as it is, hangs on the Ripper's surgical skills, the estranged son of a tetchy upper class type, a burly publican and a woman disfigured in an acid attack. I won't say any more, because some viewers might genuinely want to enjoy the detective story mechanics at work here. Stylistically A Study In Terror is Hammer-esque Victorian Gothic, although the percussive incidental music has a strangely Latin American feel. At best, the film is something of a curiosity, with Donald Houston (later to star in Moonbase 3) amiable enough as Watson. It also features a cameo by Robert Morley as Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes, Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade and a brief appearance by a very young (not yet Dame) Judi Dench as Anthony Quayle's soup kitchen running daughter.

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