London does not know it yet, but after tonight nothing will be the same in the city, because there has just occured a murder of a prostitute in the district of Whitechapel. Another prostitute meanwhile, in a tavern nearby, is trying to steal the wallet of a moneyed gentleman who is slumming it with his friend in this seedy area of town, but he rumbles her and she is held upside down until the wallet falls out of her dress. Then the landlord, Max Steiner (Peter Carsten), throws her out, which seals her fate, for the killer on the loose is Jack the Ripper - this is a job for Sherlock Holmes (John Neville).
It's not A Study in Scarlet, it's A Study in Terror! Wait, that's not even a proper pun. Anyway, as Sherlock Holmes horror movies go, this Herman Cohen production was not really up there with The Hound of the Baskervilles, for it was not based on an original Arthur Conan Doyle tale for a start. In fact, with a script written by British exploitation experts Derek Ford and his brother Donald Ford, it grows clear that nobody connected to the film's production is very sure whether this is supposed to be a lurid shocker or a shot at class.
Certainly John Neville and Donald Houston play their roles of Holmes and Watson very much in the shadow of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which makes the film look as if it was based on their films of the forties rather than anything by Doyle, and it will probably prompt you to ponder why they were not pitted against the notorious Victorian killer in an instalment of their's (probably because most of their films were not set in the late nineteenth century, but there you go). As it is, Neville and Houston do very well, even if they do look like impersonators.
Opinion is split between whether this film or the next decade's Murder by Decree is the best Holmes versus The Ripper movie, but really neither shows off the great fictional detective to his best advantage. Neville does seem more authentic than Christopher Plummer, and the cod-Doylian dialogue that he and his felllow actors are given is amusingly rendered, but the plotting that brings Holmes into the real world is less than gripping. Here there are no vital theories implemented to give the story a ring of truth, and apart from the names of the dead prostitutes there's little to connect this to the actual case.
What this Holmes and Watson are drawn into is a tale of a fallen aristocrat who, having studied to become a surgeon, may be the murderer. But first the crimefighting duo must track him down, and with the killings being the work of someone well versed in medical practices there is naturally more than one suspect, the chief one being a doctor, Murray (Anthony Quayle), who has set up a hostel for the poor in Whitechapel. Is he too obvious? Well, I'm not going to spoil the twist, but there's only one other character who could be unmasked as Jack anyway, so you pretty much have the choice of two. The Fords add Holmes' brother Mycroft (Robert Morley) to the mix, but too much seems like padding and pussyfooting around the solution. Still, it's a nicely mounted production, and Holmes buffs might well get a kick out of it. Music by John Scott, which includes that instrument most evocative of Victorian London, er, the bongos.