Plot: As a killer stalks the shadows of London’s Whitechapel district, the local police are beyond baffled and have few leads, but the sheer precision of the murders does narrow down the potential suspect lists. To carve up the victims like this, the maniac has to have extensive medical knowledge and remarkable skill with a blade, not exactly common traits to possess. Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) is knee deep in the case and doing his best to gather information and rule out suspects, but he could use some help. So when his American friend Detective Lowry (Lee Patterson) arrives in London, he welcomes the fresh perspective and brings him into the case. The two begin to exhaust all possible leads and while they’re hard at work, the killer continues to rack up bodies and the locals want blood. As tensions rise in the district and the pressure on O’Neill mounts, can he solve this horrific series of crimes?
Entertainment Value: This version of Jack the Ripper is a capable, effective thriller with good atmosphere and memorable visuals, while it would also influence numerous other cinematic takes on the Ripper’s exploits. The narrative is one that is likely familiar, especially to anyone with an interest in the real life case, but this interpretation allows for some fresh twists, not to mention the British/American dynamic of our leads that helps as well. The kills are more brutal than you might expect from a 50s movie, but the real draw of Jack the Ripper is the atmosphere, as this is a thriller that knows how to build and maintain tension. The violence might be tame by modern standards, but for the time, the movie had some shock value and of course, that helped the film’s appeal and box office, I’m sure. The kills only add to the desperate mood that permeates the investigation, while tension slowly rises and the murders ratchet up the pace of that rise with each successive incident. The movie also weaves in a decent romance thread and some dark humor at times, with sharp dialogue and exchanges that ensure there is never a dull moment here. I still think the stark visuals and general atmosphere are the main draws, but Jack the Ripper is competent on all fronts and for fans of the real life case or serial killer thrillers, it is one you won’t want to miss.
A Jack the Ripper movie might not seem like the place for great dialogue, but this version does indeed have some terrific writing, thanks to Hammer regular Jimmy Sangster, who penned the script. And of course, if you want that sharp dialogue to shine, you need a cast to bring it to life and again, this movie is able to deliver and this ensemble really gets a lot right. Eddie Byrne and Lee Patterson are the standouts and have the central roles, as the British and American detectives who team up to hunt the Ripper. The two are quite good on their own, but play off each other well and those scenes prove to be some of the best, in terms of showcasing their performances. Betty McDowall is also good as the love interest and while a romance angle in a Jack the Ripper movie sounds wild, it turns out to be a strong element here. The cast also includes John Le Mesurier, Ewen Solon, and Anne Sharp.
The Disc: The movie hits Blu-ray via Severin Films, who have gathered the best available elements to craft a solid treatment. The beautiful black & white visuals look good here and while some inherent issues are present, this is inevitable given the original materials are lost. I think under the circumstances, Severin has delivered the best possible version of the movie, which is all we can ask. You also have the option to watch the original UK cut of the movie or the US release, which is a welcome inclusion. The extras include the racier scenes from the continental version of the movie, a featurette that looks at the real crimes, an interview with author Denis Meikle, some posters & still photos, and the film’s trailer. There is also an audio commentary track with co-director Robert S. Baker, writer Jimmy Sangster, and assistant director Peter Manley, so there is a nice selection of supplements on deck here.
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