In this 1976 German film, Klaus Kinski plays Dr. Dennis Orlof.
He’s a doctor in what is supposed to be Victorian-era London. (Some of the characters where Victorian-style clothes. Some of them definitely do not.) Dr. Orlof is known for being a kind and compassionate man. He has dedicated his life to taking care of the poor and the sick. He is one of the few doctors willing to take care of the men who fish on the Thames and the women who walk the foggy streets of Whitechapel. Because his patients are not rich, Dr. Orlof makes very little money. He is usually behind on paying the rent for his office but his lady doesn’t care. Dr. Orlof is such a kind man. Who could possibly even think of evicting a living saint?
Of course, what only he and his wife know is that Dr. Orlof is also a deviant who is haunted by hallucinations of a nearly naked woman taunting him and daring him to “come and get me.” Dr. Orlof haunts the sleazy dance halls of London and he often offers to give the dancers a ride in his carriage. Dr. Orlof is also the murderer who the press refers to as being Jack the Ripper.
Klaus Kinski as Jack the Ripper? That sounds like perfect casting, right? Actually, it’s too perfect. Klaus Kinski is so obviously unhinged from the first minute that he appears onscreen that it’s impossible to believe that he wouldn’t automatically be everyone’s number one suspect. Kinski plays Orlof as being someone who is in a permanently bad mood. Even when Orlof is doing his “good deeds,” he comes across as being so annoyed with the world that the viewer is left to wonder how anyone could have fallen for his act. Kinski himself seems a bit bored with the role. When Kinski was invested in a character (as he often was when he appeared in the films of Werner Herzog), he was a dangerously charismatic force of nature. When he was bored, though, Kinski made little effort to keep anyone else from noticing. Kinski moves lethargically through Jack the Ripper.
Trying to solve the Ripper case is Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopf). The film spends a lot of time on Selby’s investigation but it’s never as interesting as one might hope. Selby spends a lot of time in his office, looking concerned. When he actually talks to the witnesses to the Ripper’s murders, the scene seem to drag out forever. In one unfortunate scene, he gathers all the witnesses in one room and asks each one to describe what the Ripper looked like so a sketch can be made of him. Again, what should have been a minute or two-minute scene is dragged out to an unbearable seven minutes. Seven minutes is a lot of time when you’re bored.
Jack the Ripper was directed by Jess Franco. On this site, I’ve defended some of Franco’s other films. Franco was an idiosyncratic filmmaker whose films often felt rushed but who was also capable of creating a dream-like atmosphere and occasionally coming up with an insanely bizarre plot twist. Jack the Ripper, with its tormented title character and its dance hall scenes, in unmistakably a Jess Franco film. Unfortunately, it’s also often excruciatingly dull. Kinski was obviously a big name in Europe in the 70s but I kind of wish that Franco had cast his frequent star, Howard Vernon, as Jack the Ripper. Not only was Vernon the start of the original Awful Dr. Orlof but Vernon also specialized in playing self-loathing aristocrats. If nothing else, Vernon would have been a bit less oblivious in his madness than Kinski.
Jack the Ripper is definitely a lesser Franco film. It’s also a lesser Kinski film and a lesser Jack the Ripper film. There is one good sequence in which Orlof and a victim ride through the London fog in a carriage. Otherwise, this is a Franco film that you can get away with skipping.