Jack the Ripper [1959]

In the 1890s in London, several prostitutes were murdered in ways so grisly and brutal that it terrorized the city's entire populace. Though the latest investigative techniques of the time were used, the murderer was never caught or even positively identified. The killer sent taunting letters to the police and newspapers, identifying himself as "Jack the Ripper," and the name has stuck for the past 100-plus years, even as Jack's true identity has been left to conjecture and speculation. In 1991, the murderer's purported diaries were uncovered, pointing toward middle-class Londoner James Maybrick as the man behind the killings. The Diary of Jack the Ripper retraces the killer's steps through dramatizations, while various experts assess and discuss the veracity of the diaries through handwriting examination, paper and ink analysis, and such. Though the evidence falls just short of nailing down Maybrick as the murderer, all the information does point in the direction of the drug-addicted man as the culprit. The diary contains information that could only be known to those on the inside of the cases. Where The Diary of Jack the Ripper falls short, though, is in its execution. The cheap-looking videotape dramatizations do little to capture the squalor of the Victorian London slums or the character of Maybrick himself. On the other hand, the film relies far too much on the rather gaseous commentary of various English talking-head historians and criminologists, who take an interesting topic and making it more like a classroom lecture. Still, true-crime enthusiasts should find plenty to like in this reexamination of one of the most notorious serial killers in history. --Jerry Renshaw

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