Before Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was made immortal by the success of Psycho, he was best-known for Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, the classic 1943 short story that first appeared in Weird Tales. It was the first of many of Bloch’s efforts featuring the Whitechapel killer and has also been adapted a great many times for TV and radio over the decades. It stands as a fascinating transitional work, where Bloch was moving from Lovecraftian horror to psychological suspense with a thrilling sting in the tail.
I submit this cluster review for Bev’s 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked TV & Movie meme over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.
“Jack the Ripper is alive, in Chicago, and I’m out to find him.”
The narrator is Chicago psychiatrist John Carmody, the time is the then present of 1943. Carmody is approached by Sir Guy Hollis and told a very tall tale: Jack the Ripper wasn’t just a psychopath, but killed his victims as part of a ritual sacrifice to attain eternal life. Jack, it turns out, is still alive and regularly slaughtering women to keep himself going – and Sir Guy thinks he (or she) is now apparently in Chicago. Sir Guy thinks the ripper may be mingling among the city’s Bohemian art set, which is why he has approached Carmody, who is known to the crowd. The two attend a party where Sir Guy attempts to lay a trap for the killer, leading to a fog-shrouded climax and a celebrated twist encapsulated in its well-known last line.
It is quite a brief story, spread only across three scenes, and its shock and surprise value has certainly been diluted over the decades. But it is still highly memorable, not least for its imaginative central conceit. Appropriately enough, Bloch returned to the ‘Ripper as eternal being’ mythos he created in a variety of forms. Over a span of 40 years there would be two further short stories, a script for the original Star Trek series and finally a full-blown novel, Night of the Ripper (1984). All of these were collected in 2011 by Subterranean Press.
- Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (short story, 1943)
- A Toy for Juliette (short story, Dangerous Visions, 1967)
- Wolf in the Fold (script, Star Trek, 1967)
- A Most Unusual Murder (short story, 1976)
- Night of the Ripper (novel, 1984)
The original story was adapted for radio for the first time almost as soon as it was published (it was also adapted as a comic by Marvel). Here is a quick rundown of these:
TV and radio adaptations
- The Kate Smith Hour (CBS radio, 7 June 1944) starring Laird Cregar
- Mollo Mystery Theatre (NBC radio, 6 March 1945; 1 February 1948
- Stay Tuned for Terror (WMAQ radio, 1945)
- Murder By Experts (MBS radio, 13 February 1959)
- Thriller (NBC TV, 11 April 1961)
The most readily available is the 1961 TV version starring Donald Woods as Carmody, with John Williams as Sir Guy and directed by his old friend Ray Milland (they had co-starred in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder). The adaptation was by Barré Lyndon, who had previously written the screenplay for The Lodger (1944), in which Laird Cregar played the Ripper (Cregar incidentally also read the story on The Kate Smith Hour, the first adaptations of the story).
This version begins in Victorian England and then shift to the modern day (which is now the early 1960s), where the local police is soon convinced that a killer is again at loose at dead women start to pile up. While there is a fair bit of material added to fill out the hour-long slot, the story is followed fairly closely though the finale, albeit very atmospherically shot in a foggy back alley, for some reason slightly alters the famous last line, which is a bit of a shame. Milland direct very efficiently, there is a strong score by Jerry Goldsmith and Williams and Woods prove to be a pretty good double act, though the ‘cooky’ Bohemians are pretty risible and a sequence at a strip club (featuring real-life dancer ‘Miss Beverly Hills’) is maybe a bit too long.
A Toy for Juliette, Wolf in the Fold and A Most Unusual Murder are all entertaining SF variants of the Ripper story but Bloch finally took a traditional mystery approach with Night of the Ripper (1984), which similarly to the original short story pits a young doctor and a Scotland Yard policeman (albeit not a Knight of the realm) in a search for the the slasher. The book eschews all fantasy elements and actually comes up with an ingenious solution I really liked. Having said that, the book is occasionally a bit padded and Bloch adds a number of unnecessary cameos from real-life London denizens of the day (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Merrick, aka ‘The Elephant Man’) that really add very little other than length. None the less, the novel is well worth getting in my view, not least for providing Bloch’s last word on the subject.
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper / Thriller (1961)
Director: Ray Milland
Producer: William Frye
Screenplay: Barré Lyndon
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Art Direction: Loyd S. Papez
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: John Williams, Donald Woods, Ottola Nesmith, Edmon Ryan, Adam Williams, Nancy Valentine, Miss Beverly Hills, Pamela Curran
I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘historical’ category: