Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is on the trail of Jack the Ripper.
A Masonic conspiracy is at the centre of things. The head of the police, Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle) attempts to divert the course of justice, radicals jeer the pleasure-loving Prince of Wales (Victor Langley), the Duke of Clarence (Robin Marchal) is revealed as human but unwise, prostitutes are knocked off – rather nastily – because they may or may not know the whereabouts of a certain baby, and Geneviève Bujold goes convincingly mad in a country asylum whose visiting hours only take place in the middle of the night.
The lighting is terrifically moody, exploiting a perpetually fog-enshrouded dockland, a gloomily-lit Baker Street and sundry grisly carvings up by firelight. The marvellous sets – timbered tenements and cobbled alleyways – are superlatively in period, blending in with some real locations and a not-too-convincing model of the Houses of Parliament at night, with all the requisite feeling for late Victorian skullduggery.
The cast does its best and – being an Anglo-Canadian production – a handful of our Commonwealth friends rise to the challenge and utter their few words with commendable British inflections.
James Mason is a delightful Watson – really making the most of lines like “Holmes, I wish you’d refrain from cleaning your pipe with my hypodermic needle!” – and David Hemmings gives an excellent account of a politically active Scotland Yard Inspector.
Sadly, the scattering of clues and red herrings is not really justified by the outcome – a lengthy anticlimax in which Holmes confronts the real culprits and tells them what they already know and we have already guessed.
Dr John H. Watson
Sir Charles Warren
Prime Minister Lord Salisbury
Sir Thomas Spivey
Home Secretary Henry Matthews
Peggy Ann Clifford
Prince of Wales
Duke of Clarence