Murder by Decree (1979) (NTSC)

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Released 5-Oct-2017

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mystery None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1979
Running Time 128:12 (Case: 124)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bob Clark

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Christopher Plummer
James Mason
Anthony Quayle
David Hemmings
Donald Sutherland
John Gielgud
Frank Finlay
Genevieve Bujold

Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI ? Music Paul Zaza
Carl Zittrer

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, of course!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     London, 1888; women are being murdered on the streets of Whitechapel and the members of Scotland Yard, including Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle), Inspector Lestrade (Frank Finlay) and Inspector Foxborough (David Hemmings), seem more interested in covering up clues than catching the killer. The Whitechapel citizens’ committee turn to famous detective Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr Watson (James Mason) to investigate. The pair’s enquiries lead them to a mysterious clairvoyant (Donald Sutherland), a young woman committed to an insane asylum (Genevieve Bujold) and a secret order of Masons, enquiries that point to the involvement at the highest levels of the British government and the Royal family.

     Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 for A Study in Scarlet. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Holmes is now the most portrayed movie character in history; over 70 people have played him in film, on TV and in series since 1905. There have been many memorable Holmes / Watson combinations including Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce, Peter Cushing /Andre Morell and Benedict Cumberbatch / Martin Freeman. The pairing in Murder by Decree of Christopher Plummer / James Mason is certainly decent and they are supported by a veritable who’s/who of talent including Anthony Quayle, Frank Finlay, David Hemmings, Donald Sutherland and John Gielgud as the Prime Minister.

     The result, however, is surprisingly sedate, wordy and uninvolving. The concept of mixing a fictional detective in the factual Jack the Ripper murders is certainly interesting, and indeed Murder by Decree was not the first film to do so: A Study in Terror had been released in 1965 with John Neville as Holmes and Donald Huston as Watson. The director of Murder by Decree was Bob Clark; he is perhaps best known for his later film Porky’s (1981) and was probably a surprising choice for a murder mystery and although he utilises the usual foggy London streets to provide atmosphere, the film lacks that certain menace and tension. Clark is not helped by a script based upon the non-fiction work The Ripper File by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd where a conspiracy theory was advanced which postulated that the murders were a cover-up for a secret that could threaten the throne of England. While interesting, it means that there is not a strong villain in the film; instead the villain is the English establishment, condemned in a long and somewhat rambling confrontation between Holmes and the PM, while the actual murderer is undeveloped, his demise an anticlimax.

     Murder by Decree is competent rather than exciting filmmaking. The sets of Whitechapel streets and London docks at night are impressive, the acting strong, the characters of Holmes and Watson generally avoid cliché. However, those wanting a definitive answer to the Ripper mystery (if such an answer still exists somewhere), will have to wait a while longer.

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Transfer Quality


     Murder by Decree is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

     The print is nothing special but it is fine for a film that is almost 40 years old. The vision of night-time foggy London streets is soft and grainy with some loss of detail while blacks are not always solid. In the daylight exterior scenes there are sections which look quite glary although close-ups of faces and interiors, such as the scene in the Opera House, have excellent detail. Colours are generally muted – after all this is gloomy Victorian London - but natural. There were occasional small flecks but otherwise artefacts were not evident.

     No subtitles are provided.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 384 Kbps.

     Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. The effects, such as horses’ hooves and carriage wheels on the London streets, had a nice depth. The score by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer was neither compelling nor intrusive so worked fine.

    I did not notice any lip synchronisation issues. Pops, clicks and hisses were not present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Nothing. The film starts without a menu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This Australian Region All NTSC print of Murder by Decree is similar to the Region 2 UK Studio Canal version, although that is PAL. The US Region 1 release includes as extras a film trailer, a stills gallery and an audio commentary by director Bob Clark which would give it the nod as the preferred version.


     With a stellar cast including Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Anthony Quayle, Frank Finlay, David Hemmings, Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud and Genevieve Bujold Murder by Decree is always worth watching. However, placing a conspiracy theory into a murder mystery results in uneven plotting while the slow pace means that the film is not as engaging, or exciting, as it could have been.

    The video and audio are acceptable. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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