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In late Victorian London, Jack the Ripper has been killing and maiming actresses in the night. The Burtons are forced to take in a lodger due to financial hardship. He seems like a nice young man, but Mrs. Burton suspects him of being the ripper because of some mysterious and suspicious habits, and fears for her beautiful actress niece who lives with them.Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Merle Oberon fell in love with the film's cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, and they married the following year. Because of facial scars Oberon sustained in a car accident, Ballard developed a unique light for her that washed out any signs of her blemishes. The device is known to this day as the Obie (not to be confused with the Off-Broadway award). See more »
The police inspector says that a fingerprint was taken from one of the Ripper murder scenes, and the inspector himself carries a vial of fingerprinting powder. However, the Ripper murders took place in 1888; the first criminal identification from fingerprints took place in Argentina in 1892, and the British police did not adopt fingerprinting until 1901. See more »
Old Cockney Man:
"Murders being committed in our midst. Police inadequate. We intend offering a substantial reward to anyone, citizen or otherwise, who shall give information bringing the murderer or murderers to justice." Hmm.
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The legendary true story of 19th century London's "Jack the Ripper" has been told countless times in TV and film. Here, the facts are augmented into more of a character study and an observation of the perceptions and suspicions from people when confronted by a person who is decidedly "different". This remake of a silent Hitchcock film focuses on the title character Cregar, an unusual, detached man who takes rooms in an affluent household at the same time that a deranged killer is carving up local "actresses" (1940's censorship disallowed the portrayal of what the victims were in real life -- prostitutes.) One ironic, but unlikely, twist is that once Cregar takes the rooms, it is discovered that a prominent local actress (Oberon) is living in the home as well! Oberon and her aunt Allgood and uncle Hardwicke become increasingly suspicious of the new lodger as he slinks out late at night, burns certain possessions of his and gets sweaty and unnerved at the mere mention of actresses. Is he The Ripper or does he have some similarly-themed problem which will cause him to be thought of as The Ripper even though he isn't? This is basically the thrust of the tale (stunted occasionally by some amusingly awkward musical moments from Oberon and her voice-double.) The fog machine was working overtime during this film and it almost covers up the fact that this was filmed on a backlot. Still, there's enough atmosphere to give the movie some sense of the time and place. Oberon is stunning to behold in a parade of ornate gowns and hairstyles, her unique face lit well by the man she would soon marry and her graceful manner at it's peak. Sanders has little of interest to do as a police inspector who finds time to try to woo her while the body count racks up. As the aunt and uncle, Allgood (especially) and Hardwicke provide delightful, thoroughly solid performances. The most memorable aspect of the film, however, is the startling performance of Cregar and the innovative ways in which he is filmed and lit. (The camera setups, at various times, are leagues ahead of other films being done during this period.) There is an eerie extra light on Cregar when he isn't in silhouette. He gives such a vivid, stark performance (at times literally breathing down the viewers' necks!) that, once seen, he is unlikely to be forgotten. Fortunately, at 84 minutes, the film doesn't overstay its welcome and provides a nice bit of creepy entertainment. Even at this length there are some slightly unnecessary and dull interludes among the townsfolk, but for the most part, the film works. Though the violence is, by now, so tame as to be nonexistent, the menace of the killer is still effective and occasionally very creepy. (Some modern slasher films like 1981's "The Fan" drew obvious inspiration from this one.) Cregar, who died of a heart attack after quickly shedding 100 pounds in order to change his image, is an actor whose screen presence ran circles around many of his contemporaries. That he died so young (he was 28 years old in this film!) and before seeing his full potential realized is one of Hollywood's great losses.
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