Groovy & Wild Films from Around the World

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The 2009 Jess Franco Marathon, Part 4 of 8:

“Jack the Ripper” ***

Jack the Ripper is the fourth DVD in this Edwin C. Dietrich-produced Jess Franco Collection, and the fourth – and last one – that Franco's both written and directed.

In the documentary on the “Blue Rita” DVD, Dietrich surmised that Jack the Ripper was one of Franco's lengthier cinematic obsessions, he believed that Franco had wanted to bring this story to the screen for some time before he'd approached Dietrich with the concept. This would make this something of a more personal obsession for the Spanish filmmaker. Dietrich also mentioned that most of Franco's fans find Jack the Ripper atypical of his body of work, but I'd counter that these fans might not have had the chance to appreciate the likes of Ilsa, Blue Rita, Venus in Furs, or The Blood of Fu Manchu.

But on the atypical point of view, Jack the Ripper opens with a very Argento-esque murder scene. A prostitute leaving a popular pub exchanges a few words with a blind street person before winding through the labyrinth of foggy back-alley streets (it's actually Zurich dubbing for London, but it looks quite good), and ultimately falling victim to the Ripper, and witnesses by the blind man who was hiding back in the shadows. Surprisingly, the following scene has Jack bringing his kill to Frieda, the female janitor of the botanical gardens, who asks Jack, “Is this my doll?”. Without a doubt, this is going to be Franco's own twisted vision of the ripper legend.

And in that vain, a lot of this film was populated with female characters to be seen as symbols of the ripper's mindset. In this, Franco's Freudian character study of the famous serial killer, we have Frieda, playing the ignored companion, The Lovely Whore, The Overbearing and Degrading Mother, and even Lina Romay's cliché Female Victim, which may provide more emotional subtext that one might see at first glance. (At the very least her death is the most spectacular).

While the whole of Jack the Ripper is competently shot and directed, there's a lot that was presented without much flare, and the film ultimately is not what it could have been. But there were still more than just a few impressive moments, and those at least appeared consistently throughout half the film. As examples, there's a memorably humorous scene where a fisherman visits the leading Inspector of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad with his catch of the day – and earlier in the film, we have an inspired kaleidoscopic dream sequence featuring the image of Jack's prostitute mother, taunting him in his dreams and memories. This nightmare actually prompts Jack to go out into the night for a little more stalking and slashing, when he's suddenly caught and subverted by his chatty (female) medical assistant who also happens to have a crush on him – and so here's another example of the pivotal roles the female characters are plying in this film, underlying the mind of the killer/leading man. When Jack finally manages to get away from his assistant and her unappreciated advances, his next victim is the aforementioned Lovely Whore.

The film really does pick up its rhythm after the first half hour, and by the time we get into the third act, the style of Franco's film is heading back into Hitchcockian/Argento territory again, with another Aregento-esque plot turn that has the Scotland Yard Inspector's dancer-girlfriend taking it upon herself to go undercover as a prostitute in London's underbelly in order to help the Inspector catch his killer, especially as the Inspector has been receiving public criticism for not having been able to snare the ripper yet.

As he did with “Ilsa the Wicked Warded”, Jess Franco has provided another solid script with which to base his direction from, and Jack the Ripper is indeed revered by a lot of his fans as some of his best work. But as solid as this film, Ilsa, and Blue Rita all were, I find myself yearning, just a little bit, for the wild imperfections of “Barbed Wire Dolls”; it was films like that that really exuded a cinematic charm that only Jess Franco had, but only in the midst of the competent filmmaking can we see the joy and entertainment in those (so many) imperfect films of Jess Franco.

I'm very curious to see what the next four films in the collection have to offer, “Love Camp” will be the first one Franco collaborates his directorial efforts with another script writer, Manfred Gregor (who is credited with writing the last four films in the set).

Like the earlier DVDs, Jack the Ripper's boasted documentaries are actually repeats of the ones displayed on Barbed Wire Dolls and Blue Rita. A shame, but I have hopes for the next couple of films, regardless. I'm such an optimist.

Till next time...


1 comment:

cinemarchaeologist said...

I really dislike Franco's JACK THE RIPPER. It's one of his sometime-stabs at mainstream respectability, and it ends up so watered down as to be unrecognizable as a Franco film. I think that's the reason it and FACELESS (another soulless effort to go mainstream) are so popular with some--they're the least representative of Franco's work, and the most mainstream. This isn't a movie loved by his fans--it's mostly loved by those who don't really like most of his other movies.

It is VERY useful for cinephiles in one respect. The film is a virtual scene-for-scene remake of Franco's initial horror excursion, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, but it is, as I said, stripped of any soul for mass consumption. The earlier film is a blast, filled with experimental camera work, unusual uses of music, a nasty, nihilistic point of view, and astonishingly bold content for its time. It was a groundbreaking film that still packs quite a punch. The JACK THE RIPPER version was so watered down, so stripped of the directors' identity, I didn't see anything special about it at all, not even Klaus Kinski.

This was the first Franco disc Erwin Dietrich released, and it was fully loaded, insofar as extras go. As you're discovering, subsequent releases mostly just repeated the same extras. JTR does, however, sport a commentary track by Dietrich, and it makes for an interesting listen, even if the translation of it is pretty poor.