Jack the Ripper (1959)

Summary: A vicious killer who preys upon women of ill repute is on the loose in White Chapel, and the police–who are accused by the public and the nobility alike of gross incompetence–have little in the way of leads.  The tide starts to turn when American detective Sam Lowry (Lee Patterson) arrives in London to help his old friend, Scotland Yard Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne), in the investigation, but the clock is ticking as White Chapel’s residents slowly fall to fear, paranoia, and hysteria.  Can the authorities catch Jack the Ripper before the powder keg that is White Chapel explodes in vigilante mob violence?  Hilarity ensues.

Thoughts: Jack the Ripper was co-written by Jimmy Sangster, and it shows.  Like Hammer’s gothic horror masterpieces The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958), Sangster imbues Jack the Ripper (not a Hammer Production, but rather a Mid-Century Film Productions…er, production) with enough witty dialog and Victorian flair to make it feel like a Hammer film in spirit if not in fact.  The acting is as good as is offered in any contemporary Hammer film, and the set pieces and costumes are suitably evocative of the setting’s time period.

This film is somewhat infamous for being considered a bit salacious upon its release.  Featuring stabbings with plenty of Bosco chocolate syrup (or whatever it was that they used for fake blood in this particular outing) and nudity in the European “Continental” version of the film (there were three releases, because of course things can never be straightforward), it’s easy to see why and how the film might have been shocking to a late 1950s, pre-Psycho (1960) audience.

Now, the main question on my mind when ordering this film from distributor Severin Films way back on Black Friday 2017 was, “Is this movie historically accurate to at least some of the facts of the real Ripper murders?”  After watching the UK version, I can say that the answer is a resounding “no.”  No, this movie is not historically accurate.  The victims portrayed in the film aren’t based on the actual victims.  There was no known American actually helping Scotland Yard investigate the murders, because Scotland Yard wasn’t investigating the murders in reality (it was the Metropolitan Police Service).  Most of all, Jack the Ripper’s identity was not known (until recently), and the five canonical Ripper murders remain some of the world’s most famous cold case murders to this very day (though DNA evidence now points in the direction of one particular suspect). One potential explanation for the inaccuracy might be the source material for the film.  Jack the Ripper is loosely based on a 1929 book entitled The Mystery of Jack the Ripper by Leonard Matters, which posits a theory or two concerning the identity of the eponymous serial killer.  But even when taking this into consideration, many of the changes can and should be chalked up to good old artistic license.

All that said: The inaccuracy doesn’t really matter.  This movie, like Hammer’s similarly inaccurate Hands of the Ripper (1971) or 20th Century Fox’s The Lodger (1944), is a fantastic Ripper film in spite of its lack of historical accuracy, and Severin’s release is an excellent way to view the film. The print is clean and pristine, and the audio is clear of pops and static. Superb presentation overall.

Conclusion: Jack the Ripper is not even close to historically accurate, and frankly, it doesn’t have to be.  A shocking film for audiences of the time, it remains a thrilling mystery/crime/horror movie today.  I am very satisfied with the limited edition set that I purchased, and those who like Ripper films, early serial killer films, horror films, and/or period pieces should definitely give this one a view when the chance arises.

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