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A Study In Terror (1965)

With the absence of a follow up to the Peter Cushing – Hammer Film, The Hound of the Baskervilles, producer Herman Cohen turned out this very Hammer like entry in the ever popular career of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. In what was an inevitable connection, Holmes is hunting down the real life killer who made a name for himself killing prostitutes in White Chapel. I am of course referring to Jack The Ripper.

Before John Neville and Donald Houston make their appearance as Holmes and Watson, two women will have met the Ripper over the film’s opening scenes. “Hello Darling. Like a bit of fun?” So ends the life of the first victim and the second’s death is a very fanciful one the way it’s staged and carried out by the director James Hill. Cut to Holmes and Watson in their 221B Baker Street surroundings.

Injected into the screenplay are two necessary bits of business. Holmes is at this point going to impress Watson with some needless deductions prompting his “elementary my Dear Watson” and secondly his patented “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Now that we’ve got that out of the way it’s time for Holmes to quietly take up the case of the madman murdering women in White Chapel.

That won’t stop the killings from continuing and next up is the eventual Queen of Carry On titles, Miss Barbara Windsor as a young woman plying her trade on the streets late at night. With her death it’s Frank Finlay making his entrance as Inspector Lestrade who will of course turn to Neville’s Holmes for help in stopping the Ripper. Not before Robert Morley as Holmes’ brother Mycroft is sent by the Prime Minister to ask for Holmes assistance.

The name actors keep coming when Anthony Quayle enters the story as the coroner who also doubles as a doctor for the poor and underprivileged in White Chapel. He’s aided by a 21 year old Judi Dench who was just beginning her march to fame on screen and television. Fog shrouded streets are a must as are pubs, ale and plenty of cleavage. That’s just where we’ll find Holmes and Watson as they search for clues as to the identity of the Ripper.

There are a couple of other characters mixed into the story that brings the viewer along to a world of bars, gutters and if you’ll pardon the expression, whores. Director Hill even includes a P.O.V. seduction shot ending in murder that seems as if it has been made for the porno industry that would take off once the 70’s took hold. If one told you that this was a Hammer production and you were familiar with the studios output, you’d be fooled though you might ask where are the usual suspects the studio cast in both the leads and the bits. Notably missing would be Michael Ripper as the innkeeper.

I have no problem with Neville as Holmes in this outing. England born who eventually made Canada his home, Neville is probably best known for his title role in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen from Terry Gilliam. I can’t say the same of Houston as Watson. Perhaps the less said the better but sometimes I can’t help myself. He overacts terribly and is so obvious in his delivery that there’s no believability to his line readings. Producer Cohen didn’t secure Cushing to once again play Holmes but it would have been nice to see him make a pitch for his co-star, Andre Morrell who made a fine Watson in 1959.

Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper would continue to inspire both writers and filmmakers in the future. Notably the superior and highly recommended Murder By Decree. Made in 1979 it would re-enlist Finlay as Lestrade and recast Quayle in a different role entirely. Within it is a superb performance from Christopher Plummer as Holmes and he’s matched by James Mason as Watson. I’ve always been saddened by the fact that Plummer never played the role again.

A Study in Terror is a decent thriller with an above average cast for what one might call a horror film and I can’t argue with that though I can see someone else looking at it as a Holmes mystery. Easy to recommend to all those like me who enjoy the films from Hammer Studios. Then there is the Sherlock factor and his fans are legion to this day.

As of late you can pick this one up on blu ray from Mill Creek who have raised their game. Mainly known for their budget releases on numerous public domain titles, this Holmes release is a nice surprise and easy on the pocket book. Taking a page from it’s competitors, Mill Creek even includes a slip cover for this release.

6 Comments »

  1. Splendid stuff, Mike! . . . although I’m sure that ain’t Judi Dench in the screengrab.

    Houston really was up and down as an actor, wasn’t he? I’ve seen him deliver performances that are solid mahogany, and yet on other occasions — often when he’s being asked to deliver a sort of Jack Hawkins lite — he’s really quite good.

    • No that’s not the Dame. That’s the porno of the future shot. Could this film have inspired “the dirty” filmmakers yet to come? No that was just inevitable I suppose. I suppose your right with Houston but this one’s way off course. As for Hawkins, he’d have made a splendid Watson opposite an A list actor of your choosing as Sherlock. Insert choice here………Olivier?

  2. Not a bad film by any means although the thought of Cushing and Morrell in the leading roles is an attractive one, I agree Neville is fine and also that Houston slips into caricature instead of character – a shame.

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