Jack the Ripper (1959)

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In cinema there’s no shortage of Jack the Ripper movies, They all feature the same foggy evenings and dark alleyways where women fear to tread, but this picture by producer-directors Robert Baker and Monty Berman, is a very original and suspenseful version that solves the mystery and identifies the killer. The film focuses on the police, frustrated by the lack of concrete clues, useful witnesses, and pressure from the media and government officials. They’re “inept and incompetent” according to the locals and the higher ups, so Scotland Yard inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) asks for help from an old American friend, police detective Sam Lowry (Lee Patterson). A possible break comes when they learn the Ripper asks his victims if they are Mary Clark or know where Mary might be.

Sam gets quite a nasty welcome from the Whitechapel lynch mob because he looks more like an American cowboy (even though Patterson was Canadian) and asks way too many questions about the Ripper. Nearby is a hospital for poor women, where of course all the doctors carry leather surgical bags full of sharp instruments just like the killer, where any of the patients could be Mary, and where one of the surgeon’s assistants is a sweet hunchbacked, deformed mute (Endre Muller) who becomes the lynch mob’s prime suspect.

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One woman at the hospital is the almoner, sheltered but spunky Anne (Betty McDowall). Her surgeon uncle Tranter (John Le Mesurier) is stressed out, goes on mysterious calls, makes dangerous mistakes in the O.R and is obsessed with his niece’s safety, making him one of several fine suspects or a big red herring. Anne’s safety also becomes Sam’s concern; their courtship adds a nice little romantic subplot and gives Sam the chance to save her when a discharged patient becomes the Ripper’s next target. The couple’s secret date to a dancehall is cute in itself, but also sets up one of the murders, of a rookie dancer who had no clue the dancehall doesn’t make enough off beer sales and is actually a front for a VIP escort service (giving us more potential suspects). As you see, the story nicely presents a large number of threads, players and suspects, all diverse and well-developed. Their connections and the suspense build slowly and surely, clicking into place in a way that’s unpredictable and inevitable, which is a nice touch in a story that’s been told so many times.

Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster works on the theory forwarded in Leonard Matters’ 1929 book that theorized the Ripper was a surgeon searching for the woman who infected his late son with syphilis. The satisfying thing here is that the Ripper’s identity is revealed to the inspectors and others at the hospital, but since the Ripper dies in a most poetically just way nothing can be proven and the case remains “unsolved.” When he’s crushed by an elevator, there’s a single shot in colour, showing a small pool of blood squirting up through the floor, a fun shocker in a great, atmospheric, noirish black and white horror mystery.

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12 thoughts on “Jack the Ripper (1959)”

    1. You do! It’s cool to see a story so well-known, done from this angle and I’m going to sound like a broken record but it reminded me of the Penny Dreadful approach, with the American character helping out, and this era done so well. Really fun discovery.

    1. It’s very good, and the colour shot was a surprise, I imagine it must have impressed audiences. I said “horror” but truly this is more creepy and mysterious than graphic or scary. Good suspenseful take on the killings. Thanks!

  1. How does this compare to FROM HELL? The movie, not the book. (Nothing can compare to the book.)

    1. Oh gosh, my memory on that one is foggy as the Whitechapel streets. I haven’t seen From Hell since it came out. This is less blood and hardly any gore to be sure, even though the colour blood pool stands out. The police are much more straight arrows and the girls a lot more innocent. I forgot to mention in the post that they use pretty strong language for 1959 so it is edgy. Neat take on the story. Thanks!

  2. I didn’t realize how many Jack the Ripper films there are. I once toyed with the idea of trying to write one myself, and I actually had an interesting concept for it. The story would have been centred around a young married woman who finds herself sexually attracted to a local prostitute. While her husband was away, this would lead to a situation where she ends up confronting the prostitute, and it results in what would essentially amount to rape as well as the protagonist killing the prostitute in a fit of rage. The rest of the story would then centre around her wanderings at night, where she begins murdering young women as a way of venting her rage over Victorian society’s refusal to accept her as a homosexual. I never quite figured out how it would end, but my concept involved there being a twist eventually happening where the audience realizes that they have been sympathizing with Jack the Ripper the whole time. The only thing that’s stopped me is the massive and overwhelming amount of research I would have to do in order to accurately reproduce Victorian England.

    Anyway, I can’t say I’ve seen this particular interpretation of Jack The Ripper, but it does sound like an interesting one. From what you’ve described, it sounds like they go with a fairly realistic idea of who Jack the Ripper was, using the theory you mentioned (not to suggest that my above-mentioned idea of Jack the Ripper being a sexually repressed woman is impossible).

    1. Now that is interesting and you’re right, certainly not impossible. You should pursue that, not only would your research be fascinating but there’s a juicy woman’s role. At the very least it can be an alternate history, those are always good and give you more room for deviating from the reality of the period.

  3. Another one I haven’t seen and I want to now. I’ve seen quite a few Ripper movies and stories – the character pops up in TV shows a fair bit as well – but this one has eluded me.

    1. This story allows for so many different kinds of treatments too, all the theories and focus characters plus can be placed anywhere on the spectrum from mild mystery to gory horror. Neat approach here and worth seeing.

  4. I’ve always been fascinated by the Jack The Ripper story and I love seeing classic films about him. I never heard of this one, so this is a treat. The assumption behind who Jack the Ripper really was hypothesized in 1929 is an interesting one I’ve never heard of.

    Tam

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