Imagine, a foggy night in old London town where Annie Chapman stands on a dimly lit street corner where she is approached by a man in a deerstalker hat and Victorian suit and carrying a black leather case. As the night creeps further in, the streets clear of people and Annie Chapman and the stranger meet, talk and leave through an alleyway to a quiet courtyard beyond. Despite a lack of clear diction, the need to bend his head low to pass through a doorway and the twenty-foot tail that drags behind him, Annie Chapman seems untroubled as she is led to her death.
Oh no, hang on, that was Bullshit Or Not, part of the 1982 film Amazon Women On The Moon, in which Henry Silva uncovered the true identity of Jack The Ripper as the Loch Ness Monster.
Alright, so it's erring on the side of impossible to suggest that Jack The Ripper was the Loch Ness Monster but it does demonstrate a willingness to think through the story of the murders in an inventive manner, something that The Secret Identity Of Jack The Ripper utterly fails to do. The real problem with anything involving Jack The Ripper is that the story has been told, retold, dramatised, reworked, re-imagined and, if you'll pardon the pun, ripped apart so often that without there being a dramatic turn to the story, you really do not need to go beyond the classic versions of the tale, which includes, in this reviewer's opinion, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, 1979's Murder By Decree starring Christopher Plummer and James Mason based on the royal conspiracy theory proposed by Stephen Knight and the ITV miniseries Jack The Ripper with Michael Caine and Lewis Collins.
So, in Harmony Gold's production of The Secret Identity of Jack The Ripper, Peter Ustinov is the host in a investigation originally televised in North America to finally determine the truth behind the five Whitechapel killings between September and November 1888. As with many of these true-crime investigations, Harmony Gold have asked a number of experts to sift through the evidence and in this case, they are:
- FBI Special Agent John Douglas - Psychological Profiler
- Dr William Eckhart - Forensic Pathologist
- Anne Mallalieu - Queen's Counsel from a London law firm
- Roy Hazelwood - FBI Special Agent
- William Waddell - Curator of Scotland Yard's Criminal Museum, also known as the Black Museum
In addition to the above, Ustinov also has Jan Leeming, or Jan Limming as he refers to her, as an 'on the ground' reporter, although given that (a) the show was pre-recorded and that (b) the actual murders occurred 100 years before the programme was shot, you wonder if Leeming is wasting her time somewhat as eye-witnesses are unlikely to still be at the scene of the crime.
Admittedly, one doubts any new evidence has turned recently that required this reconvening of experts but in treating their position with considerably more gravity that it deserves, they sit down to look at the facts...or actually or they don't. Instead they get treated to the same shoddy recreation of life in Whitechapel circa 1888 that we do. These are really the best bits of the show as actors and actresses who must surely only get work as "Blond Gang Member" and "Female Clubber #2" get a chance to take part in a historical dramatisation, however loosely it is modelled on reality, and work on their cockney accent. It's terrible of course bit it is performed with real verve as though your local amateur dramatic society had been accidentally booked for a performance before royalty at the Globe Theatre. This might be these actors only chance at fame or even a speaking part and they're making the most of it. It is, though, entertaining enough and may seem authentic enough for anyone whose nearest brush with London was when their cousin Maybelle brought back a model of a red London bus that dispenses chocolate. The whole thing is narrated by Leeming who, free from the confines of the news desk, brings all the authority of a fanzine to the task in hand.
Recreation over, it's sadly back to the studio where Ustinov leads the experts through the facts, the FBI bods do a bit of psychological profiling and the panel eventually come up with a name who they believe to have been the real ripper although this last bit is of interest as they do manage to come up with a name beyond the suspect who is usually mentioned as having been the ripper (i.e. they don't think it was Sir William Gull). Who they believe it to be will go unnamed here in case any readers have yet to watch this in its entirety, although if you look this up on the IMdB, it does list the supposed killer within the credited cast - how's that for giving away the ending?
Seeing as this is a television production before the widespread availability of widescreen sets, this has been transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and if it looks unimpressive in the scenes set in the studio, the filming of the recreation of the Whitechapel murders is terrible with the camera being held by someone still suffering from the night before but who still managed to apply a thick smear of Vaseline over the lens. As an example, please check out the second screenshot above and if you consider that to be impossibly bad, I assure you that I have not edited that image in the slightest.
The Secret Identity Of Jack The Ripper has been transferred with its original stereo soundtrack intact and is fine but with only a little separation between the left and right speakers and only then in the scenes that recreate the Whitechapel of 1888.
The Secret Identity Of Jack The Ripper has been issued with a fair amount of extras but what it has in quantity, it lacks in quality:
Secret Identity (3m21s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Ignore the misleading title, this is only a trailer for the show that was shown on US television before the original broadcast of the show.
Production Stills: This extra contains eleven screenshots taken from the main feature presented as Polaroids on a still background.
Stalking The Ripper: This bonus feature contains a number of pages of printed text connected to the following:
- FBI Statement (1x Page) - This is a brief statement of intent as regards this show
- Victims (5x Pages) - This contains one page of information on each victim of the Ripper
- Suspects (5x Pages) - Each suspect involved in this investigation into the identity of the Ripper is given a single page
- Letters From Jack (3x Pages) - This contains the text from the letters supposedly written from Jack The Ripper to the authorities during the period of time in which the murders were being committed
Unfortunately, whilst there is a reasonable number of extras, nothing stands out but for the content of the Stalking The Ripper feature although, given the nature of the show, it is unlikely that any more features could have been provided.
Another search for the true identity of Jack The Ripper comes and goes and if you're really interested in everything related to Jack The Ripper - either that it is the most overhyped series of murders since King Herod demanded that every young boy be killed roughly two-thousand years ago or that it is a fascinating example of murder and conspiracy - then this may be of interest. Otherwise it's not particularly worthy of your time and money when you would really be much better off buying Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, a remarkable book that puts the ripper at the heart of the change in moral attitudes that have occurred over the last 100 years and is considerably more affecting than Ustinov's investigation here. Still, for ripperologists, The Secret Identity Of Jack The Ripper is occasionally interesting, contains most of the facts in a manner that is easy to watch and the dramatisation of Whitechapel in 1888 is fun albeit totally ludicrous.