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In 1888, Jack the Ripper is on his killing spree. Scotland Yard Inspector O'Neill is pleased to welcome to London his old friend Sam Lowry, a New York City detective who has come to visit him and is only too happy to help out with the case. Sam becomes attracted to Anne Ford, a modern woman for the age, but her guardian, Dr. Tranter doesn't quite approve. The good doctor also seems to be out when the Ripper murders occur. As the population edge ever loser to taking the law into their own hands, the police slowly close in the killer. Written by
JACK THE RIPPER (Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman, 1959) **1/2
The titular serial-killer has captivated film-makers and audiences ever since the Silent days: in fact, this was already at least the sixth time after the 1926, 1932 and 1944 versions of THE LODGER, PANDORA'S BOX from 1929 and 1953's MAN IN THE ATTIC his vicious exploits were brought to the screen (and countless more would follow)! Other notorious Victorian figures to which the cinema would return time and again are grave-robbers Burke and Hare and their eminent accomplice Dr. Robert Knox: indeed, THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (which would also see the involvement of Baker and Berman) appeared shortly after this one and, interestingly enough, both would be released in "Continental Versions" a brief trend that incorporated entirely gratuitous and often jarringly-inserted nudity intended for more liberal markets, such as France (the copy I acquired of the title under review actually reverts to that language for its three 'alternate' scenes)!
Anyway, the script here (by the late Hammer stalwart Jimmy Sangster) attempts to give a face and a motive to the reputedly methodical perpetrator of these crimes making him a respectable surgeon deranged by the obsession to seek out and chastise the ex-prostitute apparently responsible for his similarly-gifted but eventually wayward son's suicide; to be fair to it, some of the earlier and later 'Ripper' outings did likewise and their conclusions proved just as simplistic! Nevertheless, Sangster managed to subtly touch upon a number of issues along the way such as female emancipation (and the way it was looked at with suspicion by the male gender), illicit 'after-hours' cabaret activities (and how defenseless young women were practically blackmailed into acquiescing) and also the immediate socio-economic effect of the killings (resulting in deserted streets and a people constantly on edge and distrustful of strangers and authority who find mob violence an efficient outlet for their frustration, with a hunchback and mute morgue attendant initially a clichéd device the most convenient scapegoat).
More pragmatically, the finger of guilt seems to be pointing in the direction of John Le Mesurier, a sterling presence in many a classic British comedy but here playing it atypically albeit effectively stern (especially given his character's declared aversion to the Police, seedy environments and foreigners, notably Americans: with respect to the latter, let us not forget that the events of 1776 were little more than a hundred years removed from this era and the natural animosity between the two sides had not abated completely).
Incidentally, here we have fictitious support to the manhunt from the United States, with the young cop not only involved in the obligatory romance (as it happens, Le Mesurier's ward and also unwitting sponsor of the Ripper's intended target) but actually solving the case!; however, so as to uphold the established truth of its being an affair still shrouded in mystery, Sangster concocts an improbably bloody demise for the villain.
Despite the obvious low-budget (not helped by the fuzziness of the print on display), the period reconstruction seems fairly authentic even if such thoroughness, at this stage, did not extend to the murder sequences, which are dealt with too swiftly for them to give an inkling of the adopted clinical approach (that said, the film-makers could have easily worked their way around this hurdle by turning the camera away while keeping the brutal action going in the background!).
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