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Peter Cushing's second stab at The Hound of the Baskervilles (directed by Graham Evans) is less fun and colourful than the 1959 Hammer version but it is more faithful and consequently a lot more talky. This 1968 BBC television adaptation (split into two parts and so therefore feature length) is actually the only screen version of the story that uses the real Dartmoor as a shooting location and so is novel for this reason alone. There is quite a nice symmetry too in that this was the first colour version of the story on television and Cushing had already starred in the first colour film version. Anyway, what is the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles for the six people left in the world who don't know? In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the story begins with Dr Mortimer (David Leland) visiting Baker Street to seek the help of Sherlock Holmes (Cushing) in a most curious mystery. Mortimer fears that the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ballard Berkeley) is related to a family curse passed down from sadistic ancestor Sir Hugo Baskerville (Gerald Flood). Legend has it that a ghostly demon hound lurks in the wilds of Dartmoor to reap a terrible revenge on generations of Baskervilles. Holmes agrees to investigate and meet young Sir Henry Baskerville (Gary Raymond) - the latest heir to Baskerville Hall and therefore presumably the next person due for a visit from this spectral phantom pooch.
Sir Henry shows Holmes a letter he was sent warning him to stay away from Baskerville Hall and Holmes soon works out that the note was made up of letters cut out of The Times newspaper. More intrigue abounds when one of Sir Henry's boots is stolen. Holmes says he has urgent matters to attend to in London but will send Dr Watson (Nigel Stock) to Baskerville Hall to watch over Sir Henry and begin an investigation. The wind blustered loneliness of Dartmoor awaits. This was a continuation of a Holmes series that had started earlier in the sixties with Douglas Wilmer in the lead role. Wilmer's interpretation remains highly regarded and he had an uncanny physical resemblance to the literary character but he declined to return for the new series when he learned that the rehearsal time would be scaled back and the shooting schedule would most likely be brutal. The BBC then offered the role to John Neville (who had played Holmes in the 1965 film A Study in Terror) but when he was unavailable due to existing theatrical commitments they turned to Cushing - who had of course already played Holmes before too in the wonderfully melodramatic and atmospheric 1959 Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The really sad thing about this series is that Peter Cushing shot sixteen 50 minute Holmes adventures but only six remain for us to enjoy today.
It sounds completely insane now and artistic vandalism but this was the era when the BBC would often tape over their own shows to save money and much was lost forever. Cushing was rather old to be playing Holmes in the late sixties but he's still spry and (with sometimes darkened hair) his gaunt features are very Strand illustration and Holmesian. He's more avuncular here than he was as Holmes in the Hammer film but still laces the character with the appropriate arrogance and some semblance of depth. He's just a joy to watch at times dashing around looking for clues and juggling with props and I would certainly place him at the top table with Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Robert Stephens. This series is a slightly curious one to watch now and not exactly consistent. The exterior locations are shot on film and the interior scenes on tape. There's no getting away with the fact that it looks cheap and constrictive at times and suffers in comparison now with the handsome and meticulous 1980s Granada series featuring the excellent Jeremy Brett. There are weird moments when actors seem to fluff their lines but just carry on regardless (they obviously had no time for reshoots) and sometimes it feels like watching a stage play or live performance.
The acting from the supporting players around Cushing and Nigel Stock's solid Dr Watson is rather hit or miss too on occasion. However, this series certainly has its moments and flourishes and once I had adjusted to the somewhat dated nature of the production at times I settled in and found it all rather cosy and enjoyable. This is a solid treatment of the famous story that I enjoyed on the whole with one or two reservations. Unavoidably, given that Holmes is offscreen for the middle part of the story, you miss Cushing and his delightfully urbane voice when he's absent but Nigel Stock as Watson is dependable enough as he ruffles a few feathers meeting some of the locals and asking a few questions. Even without Holmes for while, the plot unravels with plenty of strange goings on, mysterious local characters, and lights on the moor in the dead of night. This section develops the plot and puzzle that we just know Holmes is going to apply his formidable brain to sooner or later and tell us exactly what is going on. You only really get a glimpse of the hound here at the start and it's quite atmospheric - although unintentionally amusing today too because Sir Charles Baskerville is played by Ballard Berkeley, who was forever immortalised of course by going on to play the Major in Fawlty Towers ("Papers in yet Fawlty?" etc).
This version of the endlessly filmed story is pleasantly traditional and warm, with a cosy glow at the heart of all the spookiness. The location work is nicely done (one misses the more cinematic look though when the action ventures indoors) and although no one in the supporting cast really stands out they all do a decent enough job. One quibble with this version though is the rather sudden ending. It feels oddly truncated for some reason and I've no idea if this was deliberate or not. Maybe they really did run out of money and time. I still prefer the Hammer film for its more lavish fog shrouded technicolour atmosphere but this is certainly highly watchable and enjoyable and even stacks up relatively well against the Jeremy Brett version (Baskervilles really wasn't one of the best adaptations in the Granada series). At the time of writing you can buy the BBC's 1968 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles for about 70p. Look out for either the BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection or the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes Collection as they'll give you this and more and are usually very reasonably priced.