DirectorMonty Berman/Robert S. Baker
Release Date(s)1959 (January 15, 2019)
Studio(s)Mid-Century Film Productions/Embassy Pictures/Paramount Pictures (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: C
- Extras Grade: B
Since the silent era, films inspired by or directly about Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders that took place in London in the late 1800s are numerous and across the board when it comes to their quality and accuracy. No film has ever nailed it, and indeed, many have taken their own creative license to do their own version of it. In 1959, Hammer Horror scribe Jimmy Sangster adapted a screenplay for Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman who shot, produced, and directed one of the more interesting versions of the tale, simply titled Jack the Ripper.
In this version, we’re given a number of suspects, all of whom are doctors or their assistants. The film also emphasizes the poverty taking place at the time, its impact on the area’s citizens, and how it conversely affected their reaction to the murders as they were taking place. Many of the details about the victims and their subsequent demises are taken straight from real life, but are obviously altered in various ways for dramatic or narrative purposes. An unusual addition is a policeman from the U.S., who is visiting due to an interest from police officials outside of the U.K.
The content of the film, although severely tame by today’s standards, certainly gave the British Board of Film Censors plenty to object to. Among them, actual stabbings and a shot of blood shown in full color (neither of which made the final cut). Sensing that there was money to be made from it, U.S. producer Joseph E. Levine, who had successfully re-released other foreign films to the stateside market, brought Jack the Ripper to the U.S. with a few tweaks, including a new score, but also with some of the cuts made by the British censors reinstated.
As a film, Jack the Ripper is fairly dry and straightforward, but it actually has some genuine moments of suspense, and the reveal as to who the killer is actually has a memorable payoff. The film employs a dark atmosphere over the events as they transpire, including plenty of smoke and tilted angles whenever the killer as afoot, which were purportedly inspired by Carol Reed’s The Third Man. The performances are also solid from everybody involved, and the overall film has a bit of a looming Hammer Horror feel, most likely due to Jimmy Sangster’s involvement.
Severin Films brings Jack the Ripper to Blu-ray for a second time, having previously released a Limited Edition Blu-ray as part of a Black Friday sale exclusive, with the remaining copies later put on sale until they ran out. Outside of the bonus DVD and a slipcover, it’s ostensibly the same release, which contains both the British and U.S. versions of the film. Since all of the original elements are lost, lesser quality sources had to be used. The British version is sourced from a matted 1.33:1 HD telecine master made in 2005, and is the closest to being the original director’s cut of the film, despite the moments of censorship. The U.S. version is sourced from a 2K scan of an archival print held at the Library of Congress, which was originally released through Paramount Pictures. It also utilizes certain sections of the telecine master to complete it.
The U.K. version is soft and weak in appearance, but is actually a clearer and more discernable telecine-sourced transfer than most. Screen directionality is never a problem, nor is there any instances of instability. The frame does feature scratches and staining, but everything comes through without any real issues. The U.S. version is the more natural-looking transfer of the two, but it too has its fair share of problems, mainly due to leftover damage, such as scratches, lines, speckling, and instability. Grain is uneven but detail is much stronger, particularly in the shadows. Neither version is perfect, but outside of finding the original elements to do a proper restoration, it’s certainly worth the effort.
The soundtrack for both films is included in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH for the U.K. version only. Again, there isn’t much worth complaining about due to a lack of salvageable film elements, but what’s presented here works well. Dialogue is always discernable, but there are instances of hiss, dropouts, crackle, and distortion leftover. The score on both tracks is represented well, but sound effects have very little impact.
This release also features a number of extras, including an audio commentary with co-director/co-producer/co-cinematographer Robert S. Baker, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, and assistant director Peter Manley, moderated by British horror historian Marcus Hearn, which was recorded in 2005 and shelved temporarily. Although it’s fairly dry, it features plenty of great information from all involved. There’s also 11 minutes of Alternate Continental Takes, showcasing some of the more violent and titillating moments not used in the final film; an 11-minute interview with Denis Meikle, author of Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies, who discusses the film, as well as other films that have used the Jack the Ripper story; Gentleman Jack: The Whitechapel Murders Revisited, a 14-minute interview with historian and author Richard Jones by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that explores the myth of Jack the Ripper, but also highlights a guided tour of the London streets where the murders took place; the original U.S. theatrical trailer in HD (although it’s in pretty rough shape); and a still gallery containing 54 images of posters, lobby cards, promotional materials, the soundtrack, and a tour guide booklet.
The aforementioned Limited Edition Blu-ray release also included a bonus DVD, which contained the French version of the film (incorporating some of those Alternate Continental Takes) with English subtitles. As a supplement, it featured Choice Cuts – Two Faces of Jack the Ripper: An Interview with Alain Petit – Ripperologist Extraordinaire, a 14-minute interview with the film’s French reissue distributor. It’s worth noting that there’s also an Italian DVD version of the film which features an introduction to by filmmaker Luigi Cozzi.
Jack the Ripper definitely made an impact on audiences when it was initially released, but outside of deep-diving genre fans, it seems to have been somewhat forgotten over the years. It’s certainly a film for genre fanatics, and with a nice selection of extras to back two different versions of the film up, it’s definitely worth their time.
– Tim Salmons