YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER by Robert Bloch

Bloch_Yours-Truly-Jack-the-Ripper_belmontBefore 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.

Bloch_Weird-Tales-Ripper

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.

  1. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (short story, 1943)
  2. A Toy for Juliette (short story, Dangerous Visions, 1967)
  3. Wolf in the Fold (script, Star Trek, 1967)
  4. A Most Unusual Murder (short story, 1976)
  5. 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).

Thriller-Yours-Jack-the-Ripper

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.

See the detailed essay on the story by Eduardo Zinna; Rajan Khanna profiled the collection here.

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:

025-Vintage-Silver-Ripper

***** (5 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Chicago, England, Five Star review, Friday's Forgotten Book, Robert Bloch. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER by Robert Bloch

  1. Robert Garni says:

    Thank you for such an illuminating review of a story that holds a special place in my heart.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    Diluted, it’s fair to say, in part by “Yours Truly” being one of the most plagiarized stories of the 20th Century, with “The Most Dangerous Game” being the only one I’m aware of more widely ripped off (not quite pun intentional). Sadly, STAY TUNED FOR TERROR is one of the great lost series of radio, syndicated around the US after recording on large transcription discs, apparently none of which survive at this point (Bloch wasn’t that impressed with the final product, fwiw, I gather). And, aside from radio dramatization, Bloch himself read the story on the Alternate Worlds record album BLOOD!, along with “A Toy for Juliette” and Harlan Ellison reading his sequel to “Toy,” “A Prowler in the City on the Edge of Forever”…which takes its title in part from a STAR TREK script Ellison wrote. For the small world dept.

    Later Bloch could get discursive! A nice touch on his work with the first great actual psychopath of his career…before his handling of the crimes of Ed Gein tended to overshadow too much of the rest of his work…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38HhoLxLn4k MOLLE MYSTERY THEATER

  3. kinneret says:

    I liked the book Psycho and watched some of the Lodger. I wasn’t aware of Yours Truly. Thank you for sharing this. I like Time After Time. I wish that had been a bit scarier, though.

  4. Oh, I think Yours Truly… is a classic, Sergio. And it is interesting that he returned to that theme as he did. But the fact is, the Ripper story really does have an enduring hold on the imagination, Not surprising it did on Bloch’s. Thanks, as ever, for a terrific write-up.

  5. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have read the short story. It is the first story in the collection The Best Of Robert Bloch.
    It is a brilliant story and I agree with your rating of 5 out of 5.
    I have also seen the 1961 TV episode. Though the plot is the same, it is enlarged with additional material. As you mention, the last line is slightly altered.

    POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT

    Also, in the short story, the last line is said before the actual killing takes place, whereas in the TV episode, the last line is said after the killing.

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    I haven’t read Night Of The Ripper, but after reading your review I have borrowed the ebook from the Open Library and will soon be reading it.

  7. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Gosh, five stars! I confess I’ve never heard of it, but as it comes so highly recommended I shall look out for it!

    • Ah, well Karen, I do love Bloch – it is a bit of a catchall rating for the various stories, scripts and the novel – the 1943 story is the best though the ‘collaboration’ with Ellison for DANGEROUS VISION is pretty stunnign too and everybody should have that book on their shelves.

  8. Colin says:

    I still haven’t read the story – have read next to nothing by Bloch actually – but I thought the TV episode was quite entertaining even though, as you say, some of the characterizations are on the poor side.

    • Well, I owe you for the lend of the TV version (many thanks chum, a rela treat). I’m a bif fan of Bloch – I would certainly recommend his novel Night World as a great place to start – and his short stories, which thankfully are very easy to find

      • Colin says:

        Thanks for the recommendations. I’m not sure why I haven’t dipped into Bloch’s work, I’ve generally enjoyed the screen work with his credits.

        • Just watched the new Blu 0f THE SKULL, the Amicus film adapted from his short story and it holds up really well – I’d forgotten how good how good freddie Francis’ films from the 60s looked!

          • Colin says:

            Yes, I’ve read good things about that new release of The Skull.

          • Also just watched Francis’ previous Amicus excursion, DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORROS – not a great movie but several good mates of mine provide talking heads for the ‘making of’ so I had to get it really! And they are really great! The movie is so so but Francis handles it all with great command and visual invention.

          • Colin says:

            I find a lot of Francis’ films fit into that so-so category, enjoyable enough in places but a bit uneven too. I quite agree his work generally looks splendid though.

          • Fair enough – but I think his crime films for Hammer and his early Amicus work especially is really strong visually.

  9. Well this wasn’t part of my younger days, unlike your early entries, but you do make it sound unmissable. I must see if I have it or can find it easily….

  10. Richard says:

    It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S., Sergio, so Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  11. tracybham says:

    For some reason, I have never had an interest in Ripper stories, unlike my husband. If I did not already have too much to read, I would give this one a try though.

  12. Santosh Iyer says:

    You have mentioned the Marvel comic adaptation. For anyone interested, I give the details.
    The comic adaptation is of 10 pages and appeared twice in horror comics published by Marvel during the 1970’s.
    It first appeared in Journey Into Mystery (1972-75 series), issue no. 2 published in December 1972. http://www.comics.org/issue/25734/
    It was reprinted in Masters of Terror (1975 series), issue no. 1 published in July !975.
    http://www.comics.org/issue/28795/

  13. Didn’t know about this, Sergio. The Marvel comic would be my first choice followed by Bloch’s story and then this and other adaptations. Back in the 70s and 80s, we thought there was more than one Jack the Ripper, albeit at different times. It was told that the original Ripper had inspired clones. I don’t know how far this is true. Thanks for the review, Sergio.

  14. Santosh Iyer says:

    Weird Tales (July 1943 issue) is available here. Click on any story to read and download it.
    http://www.unz.org/Pub/WeirdTales-1943jul

  15. Bev Hankins says:

    I read this ages ago–back in the dark ages of junior high school. I loved it. It took me forever to make the connection between this and “The Wolf in the Fold” though. Glad to see you highlight that.

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