James Mason has always been one of my favorite actors and as Watson in “Murder by Decree” he does not disappoint. The movie is another matching of the great detective vs Jack the Ripper. It is the dramatization of the Stephen Knight book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution and uses one of the long postulated theories about the Royal involvement in the case and the Masonic connection. The cast is sterling with Christopher Plummer as Holmes, Mason as Watson, Donald Southerland as the psychic, Sir john Gielgud as the government nemesis and Frank Finley reappears as Inspector Lestrade in his second fight with Jack.
Mason is able to portray Watson as an actual partner to Holmes who is willing to take chances and prod Holmes into action. There are even moments when he can bring out the humanity in Holmes. Watson provides actual assistance to Holmes with his medical and scientific training and his better connection to general humanity. In case you haven’t guessed, I really like this Watson.
There are some anomalies that most Americans will never notice since we see them all the time in other Holmes Movies. Holmes comes up on Westminster from the wrong side based on his route of travel in the cab, He calls a Growler a Hansom, Tower Bridge is shown but didn’t exist and so forth. These are all minor nit-noids but I’ve heard them mentioned as distractors Okay, if you say so Dave. Overall this is an excellent film with a wonderfully human and believable Watson. The movie was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best picture and won Five Genie Awards including Best Actor for Christopher Plummer.
James Mason is an interesting character in his own right. Born 15 May 1909 he attended Cambridge to study architecture and almost by accident found his way into acting. In fact, at one time Alistair Cooke recommended he return to architectural studies. Instead he continued his work in the theater and became a well known and respected stage actor. By the early ‘30s he was performing in many English made movies and in the ‘40s came to the US. He could play the heavy as well as the sympathetic character. In fact he considered himself a character actor and spoke of himself that way. His credits are very extensive and run beyond his passing in 1984 with the release of two films and a mini series released after his fatal heart attack.