Tuesday, April 10, 2007
How Bob Clark Made Me A Mason
Director Bob Clark and his son Ariel were killed this past week in a tragic head-on collision with an illegal Mexican immigrant. Clark was an uneven director, who unleashed howlers like Rhinestone, Karate Dog and Porky's. But he also gave us the greatest Christmas present any of us would ever receive, 1983's A Christmas Story. (Look for him in the movie - he's Swede, the guy who walks up to the Old Man while admiring the Nehi leg lamp from across the street: "Brain power, Swede.")
But I really owe becoming a Mason to Bob Clark. In 1979, he directed one of the best Sherlock Holmes films ever made, Murder By Decree. Alice and I saw it at the UA theater in Van Nuys, California in my second year of film school, and I was impressed off the charts. I was a big fan of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes movies, but Christopher Plummer and James Mason in this film remain my favorites after almost 30 years.
The film tells the Jack the Ripper story as a Holmes mystery, but it is based on Stephen Knight's Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution, a story that was quickly exposed as being based on fabricated evidence. In it, the Ripper is associated with the Freemasons, and Holmes follows the trail into the halls of government. If this story sounds similar to the Johnny Depp film From Hell, it is indeed based on the same faulty source material. But the older film is the better telling of the tale. Sure, today it grates on me that it's largely an anti-Masonic story, but the characters, the script and the direction all make it a great thriller.
Still, I thought in my ignorance that it was a terrific tale in my youth, and promptly trotted out to the bookstore to find all I could about the Freemasons. In those days, apart from one lonely copy of Duncan's Ritual, there was nothing. Over the years, I thumbed through my increasingly tattered copy of Duncan, never knowing how to go about becoming a Mason, or even whom to ask. It would take 20 years and the death of my father-in-law before I took the step of finding a lodge. But Bob Clark, Sherlock Holmes and Murder By Decree first put the spark in my head, and I never forgot it.