A STUDY IN TERROR has Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper in an original story not based on a Conan Doyle novel. This well-appointed 1965 addition to the sleuthcase is a treat for fans of the dauntless deducer, done up with vigor and panache by John Neville.
That the dapper, razor-witted Holmes and his ebullient wingman Dr. Watson (Donald Houston) are after the mysterious slasher who terrorized London is all the plot info required, other than to mention the case-cracking duo face a gallery of suspects burdened by insanity, trauma, blackmail, disfigurement, class resentment and a dodgy neighborhood’s sea of vice. Directed by James Hill, the story and script was worked by brothers Derek & Donald Ford, then rewritten without credit by Henry Craig. Though produced on a lean budget of £160,000 (£2,672,311 in 2021), it is skillfully presented to suggest a more plush outlay.
Energized by a smart script, Neville and Houston contest a strong supporting cast, highlighted by colorful turns from Anthony Quayle, as a passionate pathologist, Robert Morley, as Sherlock’s huffy brother ‘Mycroft’, and ravishing Edina Ronay, as ill-fated Ripper target Mary Kelly. In a small part, 29-year-old newcomer Judi Dench has one of her first movie roles. The action scenes are well done, particularly the climax, and the ravaging Ripper attacks carry sufficient shock. Fine color camerawork from credits Desmond Dickinson, and John Scott provides an offbeat score.
It did fairly well in Europe, but for the US release Columbia undercut it by foolishly tying the advertising to the Batman TV series (Holmes wears a cape, so does Batman, so…duh?) and a glancing gross of $700,000 only hooked 140th place among ’65s harvest. Though this struck out financially, director Hill had much better luck with his next project. That one also involving prowling, but of a happier sort: Born Free.
Thirteen years later, co-stars Quayle and Finlay appeared in another, more successful Holmes vs Ripper matchup, Murder By Decree, starring Christopher Plummer and James Mason.
With John Fraser, Frank Finlay, Barbara Windsor, Georgia Brown (belting a raucous “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay“), Peter Carsten, Adrienne Corri, Barry Jones, Cecil Parker, Kay Walsh, Jeremy Lloyd. 94 minutes.
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Frank Finlay played the same role, that of Inspector Lestrade, in both A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree.