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  Jack the Ripper Victorians Fall
Year: 1959
Director: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman
Stars: Lee Patterson, Eddie Byrne, Betty McDowall, Ewen Solon, John Le Mesurier, George Rose, Philip Leaver, Barbara Burke, Anne Sharp, Denis Shaw, Endre Muller, Esma Cannon, George Woodbridge, Bill Shine, Marianne Stone, Garard Green, Jack Allen
Genre: Horror, Thriller, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1888 and the place is Victorian London, where tonight on these now-quiet streets there is a prostitute emerging from a pub, drunk and trying to put her makeup on. Her powder box falls into the gutter, and as she crouches to pick it up she looks up to see the only other person around is standing over her, asking the name "Mary Clarke?" in rough tones. She isn't that person, but before she can make that clear a knife appears the man's hand and stabs her: she is the first victim of one of the world's first serial killers, Jack the Ripper, and the city is whipped up into a frenzy of suspicion, swooping down on anyone who they don't like the look of, including visiting American Sam Lowry (Lee Patterson)...

Wait a second, how come the lead character in Terry Gilliam's sci-fi classic Brazil and the protagonist in this rather tawdry little shocker have the same name? Coincidence? Possibly, because there wasn't much else to connect the two films, this being a minor exploitation flick from Britain, one of the few from that nation to exploit the possibilities of investigating, or at least positing a solution to, the most sensational set of unsolved murders of the nineteenth century. Fresh explanations seem to erupt every few years from various theorists known as Ripperologists, but they don't take this seriously, one of the horrors drawn from a Jimmy Sangster script after he struck box office gold with his Hammer screenplays.

This was a rather more impoverished production, with some underdressed sets and cheap black and white photography, bolstered for the Continental market by the inclusion of topless extras as was often the case in those days. None of that in the British or American releases, however, though if there had been it might have increased its takings since the U.S. distributor Jerry Levine thought he could make a hit out of this and pushed it with a huge publicity campaign, only to see that optimism, not to mention a hefty advertising budget, go down the drain when Americans weren't as interested as he had hoped. In its country of origin, it did fairly well as it rode the crest of the wave of the European horror boom of the nineteen-fifties.

There was one aspect Sangster took from his research that made it to the screen, a suspicion that the actual Jack had medical knowledge, so here our three prime suspects all work at the local women's hospital. Two are surgeons, Sir David Rogers (Ewen Solon) and Dr Tranter (John Le Mesurier - imagine him as a murderer!), and one is a hunchbacked, mute assistant straight out of a mad scientist movie, Louis Benz (Endre Muller); they all seem obvious, so could all be red herrings, or maybe that's what the film wants us to think, or perhaps... well, you get the idea, preserving the mystery was uppermost in the story. That said, it may have been easier to predict who would be revealed as wielding the scalpel by the grand finale than they might have expected, though that finale was notably lurid for its day.

As for Lowry, in spite of having no purpose in the plot other than to romance Tranter's ward Anne Ford (Betty McDowall, whose voice was better known than her appearance after years starring in popular radio soap opera The Archers), he was actually present to make sure international markets were served by having an American prominently cast (though Patterson was technically Canadian). He also got to be the sidekick to the actual inspector on the case, O'Neill (prolific character player Eddie Byrne), and helped out when the other concern the script brought up was apparent, which was not simply being murdered by a maniac, but the threat of mob violence. Time and again after each murder a crowd will assemble and starting seeking someone to blame, and if their chosen victim had an alibi it didn't really matter, they wanted a scapegoat so if they said their target was guilty, then guilty he was, who needed evidence? This added an interesting tension to what was rather too basic as a thriller and not macabre enough for a chiller, though the bit everyone remembers, where the monochrome film turns to colour to see the killer's blood bubbling up between floorboards, had a certain nasty ingenuity. Music by Stanley Black.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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