There has never been a Carry On film featuring Jack the Ripper. There’s been the odd Hammer film like the gloriously deranged Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde but never a Carry On film. The closest to a Carry On Ripping we’ll get is the 1988 Euston Films television miniseries Jack the Ripper, starring Michael Caine in full “I’m doing this to buy a spare yacht’ mode.
Made for the centenary of the killings in 1988, Jack the Ripper was made for the ITV network with an eye on overseas networks. It was developed by Euston Films, best known for making gritty dramas like The Sweeney and Minder for ITV during the 1970’s to the early 1990’s. There’s a lot of really very good stuff in their history; their 1979 Quatermass serial remains one of my all-time favourite bits of television science fiction, but Jack the Ripper is a melodrama that spills into high comedy at times as a leaden script is overacted to an inch of its life by Caine and the rest of the cast.
Ostensibly based round Steven Knight’s book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (which also formed the basis of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell), Jack the Ripper stars Caine as Detective Abberline who is called into investigate what becomes the Ripper murders in the East End of Victorian London. Aided by sergeant George Godley (Lewis Collins displaying true oak-like acting abilities) Abberline struggles to find the identity of the Ripper before he kills another woman in horrific ways. The entire thing starts at a level of high melodrama before going up from there to an ending which apart from making not much sense as the series ditches the Freemason conspiracy of Knight’s book for some utter gubbins, which is masked by actors SHOUTING REALLY LOUDLY at each other in an ending which is hysterical in every sense of the word.
Yet for as bad as it is, there’s an odd wee charm about Jack the Ripper. It isn’t without its enjoyable factor by any means, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. Caine does go through the motions, and even Collins – doing his best impression of an Ikea chest of drawers – seems to get the somewhat camp nature of the production which as said, is as much aimed at the overseas market as the UK one, hence the glossy nature of the thing. As a piece of Ripper lore it’s nonsense, but it is an worth it just to see a Euston Films production that’s as glossy and hammy, as this. Every Ripper/Victorian cliché is marched out one by one (street urchins, bad moustaches, impossibly glamorous Victorian prostitutes walking down dark streets, etc) to give what is now a curious, but weirdly watchable, oddity. The series is readily available on DVD so go judge for yourselves.
But if I could go back in time I’d give my left kidney for a film starring Sid James as Jack the Ripper…