On the streets of London’s Whitechapel district, women are afraid to walk the streets alone at night and angry mobs have begun to turn their backs on the police’s ineptness on catching a killer. Jack the Ripper is what the people of London label the maniacal murderer who, with surgical precisions, guts his victims and leaves their lifeless bodies on the dark, dank cobblestone streets. Scotland Yard Inspector O’Neill is joined by his friend and American counterpart, a New York police officer named Sam Lowry, to hunt down and stop Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. Deeper into the investigation, the officers are informed that the suspect they track would have medical background with a skilled blade hand, but even with that information, Jack the Ripper alludes authorities. Lowry’s romantic involvement with a young woman named Anne Ford, whose under the ward of the notable Dr. Tranter, might be very connective tissue between the constabularies and the secretive medical society needed to crack the case of the notorious Jack the Ripper before he strikes again!
Jack the Ripper is a real and iconic villain that not only terrorized the streets of London, but had later graced the screen many times over from Bob Clack’s 1979 thriller “Murder by Decree” to the 2001 Allen and Albert Hughes gothic and graphic “From Hell,” starring Johnny Depp. Before the production of those films, before Jack the Ripper really had any kind of footprint in cinema, Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman directed the 1959 mystery-thriller “Jack the Ripper” from a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster and Peter Hammond based off the theory that Jack the Ripper had a medical practice history. Baker and Berman’s film hit the controversial market from right out of the gate with grisly and ghastly murders, for the circa 1950s, and bared topless actress frivolously to insinuate the lady drunkards, the showgirl dancers, and the lone walking women as ladies of the night. Prostitutes would have been burden the selling of an already certifiable X film from the BBFC and the MPAA. However, the filmmakers constructed alternate cuts, shorting the grisliness to just grim and sheathing bare breasts with articles of clothing in shot for shot censorship. Only on the continental, aka French, version does a truly uncut and complete film live to excite, but instead a complete feature, the unmolested scenes are only available on the bonus features of the Severin Films’ release. That’s not to say that the U.S. and British versions are a complete waste of time. The classic time is utterly timeless and gripping that offers up immense amounts of whodunit suspense, implied sensationalisms, and an adequate take on how incompetent law officials can be exhibited when politics and women are afoot. Plus, the U.S. version, bought and presented by legendary producer Joseph E. Levine, comes with a brassy score by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo. The British version, also known as more of the approved director’s cut of the film, is scored by Stanley Black.
Tall, handsome, and walking into another country like he owns the land, detective Sam Lowry is introduced at about 10 minutes in, standing at a bar and reluctant to be rough and tough with a mob ready to lynch him for potentially being the Ripper because of his inquiries. Lowry’s charming persona with the women, like the bar maiden and Anne Ford, are only offset by his complete incompetence to be a police detective. Lowry does absolute zilch investigation and, instead, goes out on a date with Dr. Tranter’s niece and makes snarky comments at a merciless, ready to judge horde of scared Whitechapel residents. American hunk Lee Patterson stands out amongst the gothic rich atmosphere to the point where’s he, like his character, is an outcast and Patterson’s talents could only take him so far into a gloomy, morbid narrative that was unwilling to accept his chiseled chin and starry eyes. Eddie Byrne fit the mold better than Petterson as the Scotland Yard Inspector at rope’s end with not only Scotland Yard, but also the rest of London. As Inspector O’Niell, Byrne, who went on to star in “Island of Terror” and “Devil’s Darkness,” humbly accepts his restraint as the Irish born actor takes a wallop from all sides and still remains calm, collective, and ever present on the task at hand with a character being beat from all ends of the spectrum. Anne Ford opposites Lowry as the potential love interest who has come of age, as she notes a few times, to takeover temporary responsibilities at the hospital where her uncle performs dire surgeries. Being oppressed by her own family and seeing London being ripped a part by its own people, Anne latches onto Lowry, an outsider, to find a connection or a release from sullen cloud that hangs over Whitechapel. Unfortunately, Betty McDowall is sorely overshadowed by many of “Jack the Ripper’s” formidable characters and that Anne is not wholeheartedly written though her character is important to the story. Even the showgirls sizzle in more ways than one than does McDowall whose kept in check by Lowry, doused with someone’s problems, and only given an allusion of her worth in a moment of fright. Ewen Solon (“The Curse of the Werewolf”), John Le Mesurier (“The Jabberwocky”), Barbara Burke (“Blood of the Vampire”), Denis Shaw (“Curse of the Werewolf”), Bill Shine (“Burke & Hare”), and Anne Sharp (“Murder on the Campus”) round out the cast.
“Jack the Ripper” is a classic, literally and physically. The scaled down sets of the Whitechapel area bring to life the tenebrous soil of 19-century London. The elegantly painted backdrops of tall mast ships enshrouded by synthetic fog paint an archaic picture of how movie magic has progressed over the decades. Attention to detail in the set construction and the flavor of time period customers brought a sense of authenticity that nostalgically harps on the once was that now only exists as recorded cinema history. “Jack the Ripper” casts a forgotten beauty in the barbarism. By today’s standards, “Jack the Ripper” would be written off as banal and uninspired by critics and audiences, but if you can imagine yourself in 1959-1960, Robert Baker and Monty Berman just blew your mind with onscreen taboos and in America, Joseph Levine’s technicolor blood scene, with a duration of only a few seconds, would be the viral talk of the town.
Severin Films presents “Jack the Ripper” onto a region free, 1080p Blu-ray for the very first time anywhere! Complete with two cuts of the film, the British and American version, Severin presents both in their released aspect ratios of a lossy standard 1:33:1 in the British version and 1.66:1 in the American version, both in B&W with a pop of technicolor in one scene in the American version. Severin’s transfer is perhaps the best we’ll see from an original print that’s laced with scratches, but a bit more light, or some brighter contrast, sheds some light in the inky corners while managing a rich appearance that’s not monochrome or sepia. The English 2.0 audio track maintains an equal quality with some static in dialogue and ambient tracks. Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo’s brass-heavy score thunderously pack the scene that surely takes the lead amongst the tracks. Bonus features include snippets of the continental versions with the extended violence and nudity and the audio commentary with Robert S. Baker, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, assistant director Peter Manloy is extracting and interesting helmed by horror historian Marcus Hearn. Also included is an interview with the author of “Jack the Ripper” The Murders of the Movies” Denis Meikle, “The Real Jack the Ripper” featurette, theatrical trailer, and poster and stills gallery. Exposed and disclosed, the various faces of Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s “Jack the Ripper” now have a hi-def upgrade and though a full continental version eludes this release, Severin provides the cliff notes in order to not overcook the same story a third time.