A Study in Terror
Sherlock Holmes: John Neville
Dr. Watson: Donald Houston
At least once every dozen years or so, someone decides to tackle the question: Could Sherlock Holmes have solved the Jack the Ripper case? Obviously low budget, A Study in Terror does its best, managing to produce a somewhat realistic examination of Holmes versus Jack. There are flaws, and quite a few problems, but overall the film holds together fairly well.
Despite the cliched nature of the story, A Study in Terror does quite well in presenting a Jack the Ripper Case. The mystery unfolds slowly over the film, engaging the viewer while still managing to confuse and baffle the facts surrounding the case -- a necessary step when setting up a good mystery. The solution, I suspect, will surprise a good many viewers. It certainly surprised me.
Despite several era problems (see below) the film's atmosphere was quite remarkable (especially given its B-movie budget). A lot of work (and love) went into the sets, costumes and props. It is quite obvious, throughout the film, that attention to detail was paid. As a perfectionist myself, I was quite impressed by the look of this film.
Less Delightful Elements
History is quite clear. The Jack the Ripper slayings took place in 1888. Therefore, any involvement by Holmes would have occurred in the same year. This means that sets, costumes, and props must be fitted to this period. While visually stunning, on several occasions it became quite apparent that the film did not employ the use of a historian. While most people would likely overlook these mistakes, for myself they were glaringly obvious. For example:
At one point Holmes takes a hansom cab out to a country estate. This, of course, would not have happened -- Holmes would have traveled by train, and then by trap/dogcart to the estate.
Some of the costumes are entirely too ornate, speaking to a much earlier period. At times I would have sworn the story was taking place in the late 17th century. There were other costume problems, as well, including Holmes traipsing around London in a deerstalker -- something he would have only worn in the country. Words cannot express my displeasure at seeing Holmes in a bow-tie.
I refer here, of course, to Neville as Holmes, and Houston as Watson. It is not that they are poorly cast, per se, simply that they do not, in any shape of form, look the part. They are still recognizable, but both Neville and Houston are entirely too young for the roles. Neville, too, is entirely too attractive to play a convincing Sherlock Holmes. The writing of the characters was off, too, Watson coming across as a little slow, Holmes appearing as somewhat of an action star (he's literally a ninja in this film). Perhaps even more jarring is that Canon phrases are borrowed and used, often completely out of context, throughout the film, a very obvious attempt to ligitimize an otherwise illegitimate film. The only exception to all of this is Robert Morley as Mycroft. Morley's performance is utterly brilliant. He, literally, stole the show.
The film isn't bad. It isn't fantastic, either. It's a middle of the road, standard Sherlock Holmes pastiche, with both good and bad elements. It is, however, worth watching. In fact, I would go so far as to give it three out of five pipes. Had I thought ahead and made half pipes, I would have perhaps limited this to two point five, but, because I'm feeling nice, and Morley really was a brilliant Mycroft, I'm going to round up.