“Murder by Decree” – A Review

There are singular moments in history when a classic character is so perfectly embodied by an actor that, for a brief moment, the world ceases to rotate and all life and the elements applaud…

… and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen here.
I have to confess to a bit of disappointment in “Murder By Decree”… while this certainly wasn’t a bad film by any stretch, I couldn’t reconcile the Sherlock of the canon to this story at all. If the detective in this case had been named Rusty Benson or Oliver Savage or Morris Oak, I would have enjoyed it a good deal more, because I wouldn’t have been expecting the great icon.

The ultimate problem was that the wonderful Christopher Plummer was not actually Sherlock Holmes, and for that, I’m not sure who to blame.
Remember when I said that Plummy was handsome?
He has an outrageously splendid face. One of my main questions regarding “The Sound of Music” is what kind of irresponsible Mother Superior would send a nun to THAT MAN’S HOUSE?!

Hello, Ladies.
Hello, Ladies.

I experienced a bit of dissonance with his face… in the same way that I can’t look at Jonny Lee Miller and see Sherlock Holmes in his appearance, I didn’t quite make the leap here, either, but I eventually reached a place where I could deal with it (albeit grudgingly). The sharp features, the piercing eyes, that sort of aloof quality that I expected was nowhere to be seen.
I also came to deal with the fact that Holmes had THE. HAIR., and was determined to work it, come what may… when watching Jeremy Brett, there’s almost a moment of sadness every time he slicks his hair back, so I could consider this to be a bit of wish fulfillment on the hair front… but ultimately, my problem lay with the personality.
This Holmes was very charming, very warm, and very gentle… and not just with Watson, he was abnormally personable with nearly everyone. There was no emotional reserve in evidence. He pleaded, he cajoled, he practically wooed two women into confiding in him, and was not uncomfortable practically embracing them (where the other Sherlocks I’ve seen would have done it if they absolutely had to, but been rather awkward about it). There was even a thoroughly uncomfortable scene when he leapt upon a doctor in an uncontrolled rage, was pulled away from the man’s throat, and then looked around with great luminous eyes filled with tears.
Eye moisture.
I object.

shake head gif photo: eyeroll Judge-Judy-Shake-My-Head-Gif_zps3e0e5a33.gif

There was no air of constant calculation. There was no sense that he was observing and documenting… he just rather seemed to be wondering around not solving things and not rescuing people. He threw around the word “intuition” so often that I was convinced that his method of detection operated solely on his sense of smell… which had malfunctioned because of his allergies that season.
Plummy’s Sherlock was, in fact, a good deal nicer and in every way more approachable than his Captain Von Trapp had been, and lightyears more human and fallible than the Holmes of the books.

By the time, we reached the (interminable) chase and climax, I was rather impatiently checking the time, and when I realized that we still had nearly twenty more minutes, there may have been a snarl of impatience.
After all, in an hour and thirty some-odd minutes, I had seen “Sherlock Holmes” commiserate with a medium, fall down, fall down again, CRY, take a wound to the face (NOOOOOO), get run over by a brougham, get beaten with a chain… hang it all, I had had enough of this nonsense! I then had to sit through Holmes unpacking his “deductions”, none of which came as a surprise and most of which I had realized earlier.

I don’t say that with any pride. It was not difficult. A chimp could have done the same.

All in all, I wish this film had not carried the name of Holmes, as I was completely unable to relax my expectations enough to really enjoy it. Christopher Plummer, although generally magnificent, was entirely too warm, and between his own warmth and the way the character was written, it generated the same dissatisfaction as watching a caramelized George Hamilton play a vampire… not bad on its own merits, but thoroughly wrong in the context.


5 thoughts on ““Murder by Decree” – A Review

  1. To me the essential Sherlock was Basil Rathbone and of course Watson, Nigel Bruce. I liked them in the movies and on the television. Some people become typecast but to me that is okay. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood and John Wayne is John Wayne usually the same person in every western. Bela Legosi is Dracula, Boris is Frankenstein. For Charlie Chan it was Sydney Toler or Roland Winters or Warner Oland which is strange as none of them were Chinese.


    1. I’ve seen a few of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock films, and I think he’s lovely. I struggle with Nigel Bruce as Watson, but my feelings might change by the time I’ve seen them all.

      Some actors just simply do some things better than others, and that’s perfectly fine… I don’t think they all have to conquer every genre. Errol Flynn was a great swashbuckler, but he was rather a terrible comedian.


      1. In real life Basil and Nigel were good friends. I feel it shows in their performances but again this is my opinion. You are right on Flynn, I saw him in one comedy and it just was not him.


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