Wednesday 2 December 2020

A Study in Terror - 1965 film review

When I was about fourteen, I started reading Ellery Queen novels, some of which were being reprinted and available in the local library. There was also a recently published book, A Study in Terror, which involved Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. I read it, but was underwhelmed. Many years later, I learned that the book had been written primarily by a minor author called Paul W. Fairman, and that it was a novelisation of a film which had come and gone in the mid-60s without making any impact on my consciousness. The book wasn't bad, but it rather illustrated the weakness of the later ghost-written Ellery Queens - the new writers were (even though some were very capable) generally not as talented as the original pair of authors.  

At long last I've watched the film which inspired the book. It features John Neville as Holmes and a slightly uncomfortable Donald Houston as Watson. The cast is generally high calibre, with stars ranging from Judi Dench to Adrienne Corri and Barbara Windsor and from Frank Finlay to Robert Morley and Anthony Quayle. A lot of talent there! Neville isn't bad as Holmes but his portrayal is subdued. He doesn't get under the skin of the great detective in the way that Jeremy Brett or Douglas Wilmer did. 

I needn't detain you too long with a summary of the plot. A madman is out on the streets of Whitechapel, murdering sex workers. A mysterious package of medical instruments is sent to Holmes, prompting him to investigate. The script is workmanlike, with several clumsy lines when you think: 'Holmes would never have said that!' But it's watchable.

The script was written by Derek Ford and his brother Donald, though apparently it needed a lot of improvement before the film was made. Derek's later films included The Wife Swappers, Keep it Up, Jack, and What's Up, Nurse?, so he wasn't exactly Billy Wilder or Ben Hecht. When Wilder did become involved with a Sherlock Holmes film, the results was a superior film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.



Harriet Devine said...

I've seen this film many times. My late mother designed the costumes for it - and am actually in it rather briefly - I think my role was described as 'whore in pub' - it's right at the beginning, and I got tossed into the air by one of the actors, can't remember who. I was chosen for this because I was much smaller than the other whores, who were big hefty girls. I think my mother talked the director into letting me be in it.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello, Harriet. That is fascinating! I am definitely going to watch it again to see if I can spot you. What a wonderful memory to cherish.

Harriet said...

Look for the girl being lifted in the air! Blink and you'll miss me.

Martin Edwards said...

I've found you in the film, Harriet. Brilliant. And what a great experience it must have been.