DATELINE: Fake Controversies
Well, prepare yourself for undercooked conspiracy theories and the usual suspects. It’s called without much originality, Mystery Files.
Amazon Prime gives us a British series from 2010 with thirteen traditional topics and claims they will solve the mystery behind the story.
We are inclined to give 30 minutes to a documentary series about the usual suspects. We also decided to sample the half-dozen topics for which we have an interest and have done some study. A few of them are actually people on whom we have written a book or two.
Mystery Files looks at Jack the Ripper, Leonardo da Vinci, Billy the Kid, Rasputin, Abe Lincoln, and the Romanovs, and the Man in the iron mask not necessarily in that order. We picked the names randomly to see what problem they intended to solve. We suspected that we would have the pedestrian, traditional mystery, but the series went out of its way to try to debunk something not often considered. The others we did not sample included Cleopatra, King Arthur, Nostradamus, and Joan of Arc.
Though the Leonardo show claimed it would look at his works like Mona Lisa, it actually tried to illustrate that Leonardo’s scientific reputation is largely based on plagiarized ideas from other seers of future technology.
They were going to identify the real Jack the Ripper, hinting that it was not one of the usual candidates, and they wanted to point out that Billy the Kid was not the violent serial killer dime novels claimed. (Yeah, he murdered only 4 people.) And, Rasputin may have been murdered, not by Russian nobles worried about the Czar, but by British secret service agents.
A double episode also looked at what happened to Anastasia and her sisters.
The findings all had a distinct British connection: even the Billy the Kid episode focused on his English friend John Tunstall and that the Kid was hell-bent on vindicating his murdered benefactor (avoiding the sticky issue of their consenting adulthood).
Prince Yousoupoof had an Oxford friend who worked for British intelligence and used the Czar’s relation as an excuse to stop Rasputin from convincing the Czar from brokering peace with Germany (to the detriment of England).
And, they wanted to prove that Abe Lincoln used mercury-laced pills to control his chronic depression and was poisoning himself. As for the Voltaire story, there seemed to be a prisoner in a velvet mask, not an iron one, in their assessment.
For the most part, their plans are grandiose, and not fully proven in half-an-hour, or worse they back down from the outrageous claims in nearly every case.
Yet, we give them credit for cram packing the episodes and trying to give us a different perspective.
DATELINE: Solid Sherlock Entry!
Back in 1979, another tandem of Sherlock and Dr. Watson came in the form of Christopher Plummer and James Mason. You certainly could not find a better pedigree. The film is Murder by Decree, one of the lesser entries in the Holmes movies.
The film deserves a better fate than to be forgotten.
Director Bob Clark (of Porky’s and Christmas Story) surrounded them with a stellar cast of actors (Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Susan Clark, David Hemmings) and some bad set-up minatures of London.
You can expect superior performances—and the Holmes/Watson team is highly watchable, though we took umbrage with Holmes wearing his deerstalker hat in London and showing tears after interviewing a woman in a mad house.
The idea of Holmes chasing after Jack the Ripper is always a staple notion of Victorian crime, though it is not part of the original Conan Doyle canon. Indeed, it seems as if someone decided to plunk down Holmes in the middle of a serious murder conspiracy theory of 1979.
The idea that the Ripper was a member of the royal family has been floated in various situations, but never played for a fictional interpretation with these results.
Blame seems aimed at the usual suspects of conspiracy theory. The culprits here are, once again, freemasons of the 33rd degree who now seem to be covering up the Ripper (other tales make them complicit in UFOs and the Kennedy assassination). With all the top government officials involved, we wondered where Mycroft might be.
In this incarnation, the Ripper plot goes right to Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister. This story seems to support the notion that the monarchy of England deserves to be dismissed. Of course, it is too radical even for Americans.
The politics of religion dominates the story as Catholics and Jews are also made part of the investigation, albeit as victims of prejudice and hate.
DATELINE: Alternative History
Everyone has a theory on the Ripper–and a new book seems to play on one angle heavily.
A few diehards believe that Jack was actually an American doctor, one of those whose treatment of patients tended toward herbal remedies. Dr. Francis Tumblety made a fortune selling his formula to clear up pimples. Indeed, his Pimple Banisher became as much an international sensation as did he.
The little-known theory is that the Ripper actually new John Wilkes Booth. This neatly ties together several of the most notorious 19th century figures into one tale.
The common link between them was a judge at the military trial of Booth’s co-conspirators. There, at Old Capitol Prison, Gen. Lew Wallace encountered Dr. Tumblety who was arrested as a suspicious associate of the plot and its members.
Years later, in 1889, having fled the East End of London and returned the United States, there seems to be an occasional for Dr. Tumblety to confront Lew Wallace who had become rich and famous for writing BEN HUR: A Tale of the Christ.
Therein lies the tale of WHEN JACK THE RIPPER MET BEN HUR, now available as an ebook and softcover on Amazon for armchair detectives who may find the clues thrown together as rather shocking. Wallace seemed to make a habit of knowing the worst of society. Among his pen-pals was Billy the Kid, whom he knew from his term as Governor of New Mexico.
It’s hard to separate the reality from the theories of what Tumblety had to say to Wallace. But this new book tells the story in a style of grand entertainment. Their conversation might be likened to a game of chess–or ping pong.
This novella now joins WHEN BILLY THE KID MET BEN HUR and WHEN J. WILKES BOOTH MET BEN HUR to round out an unknown life of a famous writer. We wait for the movie version, likely to come eventually with two roles as juicy as this twosome.
DATELINE: No Rippers
Alfred Hitchcock’s last silent movie may leave a 21st century audience howling for relief.
Based on Hall Caine’s hoary moral tale about two close friends and the woman they both love will leave you wondering when the requisite murder might occur. However, this movie isn’t The Lodger.
The Manxman is a callow fisherman on the Isle of Man. Hence, he is a manx. The girl is the minx.
We can’t possibly spoil the film by telling you that there is no murder when the script keeps telling you it’s coming.
Instead the viewer is subjected to deceit in marriage, duplicity and hypocrisy between friends, suicidal impulses, and a baby too.
Hall Caine was gay, but wrote like Somerset Maugham about straight men that seem like they love each other more than the woman between them, in this case a cool blonde who drives them both to the brink.
Hitchcock had issues with author Caine, and the movie version never satisfied the novelist.
If anything came out of this movie, it was likely that Hall Caine told Hitch that he had a gay affair with a purported Jack the Ripper suspect. It was a theme that seemed to crop up in Hitchcock years later in movies like Strangers on a Train and Rope. His earlier film was about the Ripper. We don’t know if Caine revealed this secret to Hitch, but he may have.
That may be the most noteworthy trivia about The Manxman. Hitch does throw in some brilliant moments, but his signature cameo is not among them. He knew when to stay out of the frame.
The black and white print is gloriously textured, and the acting is gloriously outdated. The actors had faces back then—and they used them to great effect.
Carl Brisson’s naïve and cuckolded sailor has eyes seemingly like limpid pools. We would swear he made more tempestuous glances at his best pal (Matthew Keen) instead of Kate (Anny Ondra).
If a director’s development is more important to you than disappointment in his movie, you have permission to view this motion picture. Otherwise, you should stick with The Birds.
Fans of Hitchcock may want to read ALFRED HITCHCOCK FRESHLY SHOWERED for more insights into his films. Available at Amazon.com in both softcover and e-book formats.