History Makes Movies Better

There are 365 days in a normal non-freaky-leap year. Each of those days marks the anniversary of all sorts of crazy shit. Some of that crazy shit has been made into movies.

August 31

It was 207 years ago today that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on their historic search for an uninterrupted water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way they “discovered” the prairie dog, shot tons of buffalo, and needed to get directions from a pregnant teenager who we’d put on a $1 coin one day.  

But they failed to find that water route, leaving it up to Teddy Roosevelt to literally dig a waterway connecting the two oceans a century later. So fuck them. Let’s reward a guy who actually succeeded in his goal.

It was in the wee hours of the morning on this day in 1888 that Jack the Ripper killed the first of his canonical five victims, Mary Ann Nichols, in the Whitechapel district of London. Nichols’ throat was slashed and her abdomen was ripped open by a deep, jagged wound… where her uterus had been removed. Four more murders, some creepy letters, and a global media storm followed. As we all know, Jack the Ripper was neither caught nor identified, though theories and rumors have fueled popular fiction in every medium since. Let’s take a look at some highlights from Mr. Ripper’s filmography.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic, based on Marie Belloc Lowndes book (which was adapted into a film five times; most recently, and forgettabley, in 2009 starring Simon Baker), made waves at the time when Hitchcock cast popular romantic actor Ivor Novello as the lead. It was a choice Hitchock would regret, as the studio demanded Hitch alter the script to make Novello more sympathetic, so as not to upset the audience. This also necessitated a change to the film’s ending, which had originally left things ambiguous as to whether Novello was or wasn’t a vicious murderer of ladies. As Hitch later told Donald Spotto, who related it in his book, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, “They wouldn’t let Novello even be considered as a villain. The publicity angle carried the day, and we had to change the script to show that without a doubt he was innocent.” Nice to know studios have always been pussies. Novello actually remade the film in 1932, with a new, even more Hollywood ending, where he now fought and defeated the real killer.

The Hammer Films
Hammer studios was responsible for several Ripper related films, starting with Room To Let (1949), which told a very Lodger-like tale, and was one of Hammer’s very first productions. Decades later, during their kickass stride as a genre super-machine, they churned out Hands of the Ripper (1971), about Jack’s murderous daughter, Terror in the Wax Museum (1973), where a murderer disguises himself as Jack the Ripper in the titular wax museum, and of course we cannot forget, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), where the good Dr. Jekyll transforms into a sexy evil lady who ends up being responsible for all the Ripper killings.

Murder by Decree (1979)
Here the late-great Bob Clark pitted the late 19th Century’s most famous murderer against the late 19th Century’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Christopher Plummer and James Mason make a dandy pair as Holmes and Watson, respectively. The film was based on the then hot-new theories presented in the non-fiction book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, by Stephen Knight, which put forward the argument that the Ripper murders were all an elaborate conspiracy constructed by the Royal Family to cover up a secret marriage between the heir to the throne, Prince Albert Victor, and Annie Elizabeth Crook, a working class girl. This was not the first film to pit the Ripper against Holmes. A Study in Terror (1965), starring John Neville, beat them to the punch. Oddly enough, Frank Finlay plays Inspector Lestrade in both films.

Time After Time (1979)
Apparently ’79 was the year for high-concept Ripper pairings. This Nicholas Meyer early work upgrades Jack’s foe from a literary character to a literary author. Now Jack (character actor demigod, David Warner) finds himself being hunted through time by the godfather of science fiction, H. G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), using his own time machine, of course. They arrive in modern day San Francisco, some Mary Steenburgen happens, David Warner is awesome, and Meyer later wins the Saturn Award for Best Writing.   

Jack’s Back (1989)
This 80’s non-classic comes from the incomparable Rowdy “Road Rouse” Herrington. The story takes place in Los Angeles, in 1988, one hundred years after the original Ripper murders. Some hookers mysteriously find themselves getting murdered, copycat style. Police suspect a young doctor, played by none other than James Spader. Then midway into the film the doctor dies. Aww. No more Spader? Wrong. Spader’s identical twin brother shows up on the scene. He sees a shrink and has strange dreams revealing things only the killer could know. Is he the killer or isn’t he? And is the film Spaderlicious or Spadertastic?

From Hell (2001)
The nice-to-look-at film that killed the Hughes Bros career for almost a decade, it is based on Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel, which dug further into the theories presented in Stephen Knight’s book – a conspiracy running through the Royal Family, the Freemasons, and the painter Walter Sickert. Taking leave of Moore’s graphic novel, the film smooshes together two interesting historical figures to make a single less interesting movie character for Johnny Depp to play, pitting him against a certain Hobbit as Jack the Ripper. Heather Graham’s huge eyes and breasts co-star. This was to be the first of several films that Alan Moore disavowed. Fun fact, the Hughes Bros originally approached Daniel Day-Lewis to play Depp’s part.  

Well, that’s it folks. See you next time. Still plenty of history and plenty of films left.

I left off countless movies here, so please chime in with your Ripper films and Ripper thoughts below or on our message boards.

Apologies for getting this out at the 11th hour, especially to our readers living where it’s already September. What’s the future like?
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