Legend has it that Jack the Ripper was a bloodthirsty killer who terrorized the entire city of London during Victorian times. But what if he were a bogyman created by some devious people in high places in an attempt to cover up secrets, which could do both them and England harm? So goes the intriguing premise of this Sherlock Holmes saga.

Murder by Decree with its lavish sets and period detail puts before us a society at odds with itself — warfare between the classes, clashing political programs, and widespread confusion abut sex and insanity. John Hopkins's screenplay touches upon these matters and others (parapsychology, freemasonry) with just enough lightness to bring them into vivid focus.

Christopher Plummer is excellent as the famous sleuth known for his eye for details and his laser-sharp concentration. James Mason steals the picture with a wonderfully modulated performance as Watson — a persnickety, slow-moving, Socratic dandy. Also featured in this excellent cast are David Hemmings as an inspector with a hidden agenda. Donald Sutherland as a creepy clairvoyant, Anthony Quayle as a disputatious head of Scotland yard, and Susan Clark and Genevieve Bujold as two woefully wronged ladies. Murder by Decree is spiffy entertainment for Sherlock Holmes devotees and all those who love a good story.