A Study in Terror – UK, 1965

A Study in Terror is a 1965 British horror thriller film directed by James Hill from a screenplay by Derek Ford and Donald Ford (Corruption). It was produced by Herman Cohen, Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser (the latter being the owners of Tigon).

In the dark alleys of nineteenth century London, the notorious Jack the Ripper is committing a series of gruesome murders. Detective Sherlock Holmes is challenged to solve these horrific crimes.

This leads Holmes through a trail of aristocracy, blackmail and family insanity. Unlike Scotland Yard, and the real-life story, Holmes eventually discovers the identity of the Ripper…

Reviews:

“The story feels legitimately Holmesian, and the casting is exquisite; John Neville makes for one of the finest Holmes I’ve ever seen, Donald Houston plays Watson with just the right amount of stuffiness without descending into the comic antics of Nigel Bruce, and it is a treat to see Robert Morley take on the role of Mycroft.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“Despite mixed reviews and mediocre box office business at the time of its release, it’s become something of a fan favorite, and deservedly so. The solid story allows for a number of engaging characters and builds a puzzling case for our detectives, and the film is a rather classy affair that’s not afraid to show a welcomed 1960s sleazy slide…” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In

“Alex Vetchinski’s art direction provides a suitable setting, but the film’s mixture of the theatrical, actorly performances and crude shock-horror techniques makes it inept rather than uneven, something the filmmakers must have realized as the movie constantly seems about to turn to self-parody.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“The direction from James Hill, who later made Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969), is not always the most sophisticated – crude cuts between a butcher raising a knife in the air and girls being grabbed by bobbies. However, there is a fine and exciting climax in a burning pub.” Richard Scheib, Moria

“On one level, it has all the trappings of a sixties exploitation film with its emphasis on sex and violence in regards to the ill-fated whores. On the other hand, the film is a handsomely mounted production that rivals the best of Hammer Studios with its colorful art direction and evocative atmosphere.  There is also a lush orchestral music score by John Scott complete with xylophone and bongos…” Jeff Stafford, Streamline

” …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 […] Still, it’s a nicely mounted production, and Holmes buffs might well get a kick out of it.” Graeme Clarke, The Spinning Image

Contemporary reviews:

“the film marks time lamely in the intervals between its conventionally shock-cut murders, while John Neville and Donald Houston uncomfortably mouth their lines as if suspecting that nobody will listen.” BFI Monthly Film Bulletin

” …the entire cast, director and writers do play their roles well enough to make wholesale slaughter a pleasant diversion.” Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Cast and characters:

  • John Neville as Sherlock Holmes
  • Donald Houston as Dr. Watson
  • John Fraser as Edward Osborne, Lord Carfax
  • Anthony Quayle as Doctor Murray
  • Barbara Windsor as Annie Chapman
  • Adrienne Corri as Angela Osborne
  • Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade
  • Judi Dench as Sally Young
  • Charles Régnier as Joseph Beck
  • Cecil Parker as Prime Minister
  • Barry Jones as Duke of Shires
  • Robert Morley as Mycroft Holmes
  • Dudley Foster as Home Secretary
  • Georgia Brown as The Singer
  • Peter Carsten as Max Steiner
  • Christiane Maybach as Polly Nichols
  • Kay Walsh as Cathy Eddowes
  • John Cairney as Michael Osborne
  • Edina Ronay as Mary Jane Kelly
  • Avis Bunnage as Landlady
  • Barbara Leake as Mrs. Hudson
  • Patrick Newell as PC Benson
  • Norma Foster as Elizabeth Stride
  • Terry Downes as Chunky

Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England
Osterley House, Middlesex, England

Release:

The film had its world premiere at the Leicester Square Theatre in the West End of London on 4 November 1965.

Trivia:

The Holmes-Ripper idea was later taken up in Murder by Decree (1978), in which Frank Finlay reprised his role as Lestrade and Anthony Quayle once again had an important part (though this time as Sir Charles Warren of Scotland Yard.

A Study in Terror presents the first film appearance of Mycroft Holmes

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