The 1880s London is Marie Belloc Lowndes', gaslight and cobblestones once shot by Hitchcock in 1927, though Jack the Ripper is not finished -- the Victorian visualization is a studio evocation, the Fox backlot circa WWII, with high-angle camera aimed diagonally to trace the path of a doomed pub dweller. The rowdy victim vanishes to meet the back-alley surgeon, but any mystery dissipates as soon as Laird Cregar plods out of the pea-soup fog, black bowler hat and gray mustache, to take room in a boarding house run by Sara Algood and Cedric Hardwicke. To the attic as a "medical scientist," a cover for all the slashing paraphernalia in his leather bag, and also his tendency to glower while intoning, "Deep water is dark... and restful... and full of peace." John Brahm, director and Germanic émigré, has his own stylistic valise, namely the boom shot and Lucien Ballard, whose lighting illustrates Cregar's maxim of "evil in beauty." The line is offered to Merle Oberon, Algood's niece about to make her stage debut, thus one of Cregar's to-do items; his late brother's portrait provides revenge baggage, and a reason for the hulking killer's hatred of women, but there's still plenty of repressed sexual anxiety to be decoded. Oberon bursts in on Cregar's late-night disposal of evidence, and a fire poke is lifted ominously, or maybe arousedly -- Oberon plays coquette to Scotland Yard inspector George Sanders amid the death masks, nooses, and hatchets of a "black museum," yet the Eros-Thanatos blur occurs more spectacularly around the Ripper, Bible quoted to classify stage creatures as Jezebels. The censored shift from whores to actresses as the preferred victims accentuates the performativity of both roles, sexual expression linked to distorted philosophy as spectacle to voyeur across the aisles. Brahm's trump card emerges in the final switch, an earlier point-of-view shot facing a horrified Doris Lloyd then melded into Cregar's back-to-the-wall close-up, capped by a track-in to the actor's trembling face as tribute. With Aubrey Mather, Queenie Leonard, and Helena Pickard. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce