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The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous detective in the English-speaking world, if not further afield - certainly in China if you say you're English, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most common replies (after Beckham and Owen!). Not much pressure then for a film-maker or the actors that star in it. I've seen at least three 'Hound' films, this 1939 one starring Basil Rathbone, one starring Peter Cushing and a more recent version starring Jeremy Brett. The Peter Cushing version didn't particularly stick in my mind, but the other two are both classics, perhaps with the Jeremy Brett version slightly edging ahead.
The director, Sidney Lanfield, was born in 1898, dying in 1972 in California. The other film for which he is most famous is My Favourite Blonde, starring Bob Hope.
Basil Rathbone plays this portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, which is the first Holmes film he starred in, although he went on to star in many more. He did an exceptionally good job in this particular film, although I am quite critical of his portrayal in future films, such as Dressed to Kill, where he seems to take Holmes to a more comic level (possibly because the director is different).
Nigel Bruce plays Doctor Watson, Holmes' sidekick. I really enjoyed him in the role, although he is far more bumbling and stupid than he is supposed to be and has been much criticised for this. However, again, in this film, he is not as much of a caricature as he is in future films, where the stories are turned into little more than spoofs.
Richard Greene, who plays the young Sir Henry Baskerville, is also worth a brief mention. Although much over-shadowed by Holmes and Watson, he does bring a certain amount of class to the film and acted very convincingly.
For those of you that don't know the story, Sir Hugo Baskerville, some hundred years before the story begins, made use of the local peasants for his own purposes, including the death of a young girl, and eventually was attacked and killed by a giant dog. Fast-forward a hundred years, and the latest head of the Baskervilles is found dead in suspicious circumstances, seemingly killed by a giant dog. This brings Sir Henry Baskerville back from overseas to claim his title.
A local doctor, a friend of the Baskervilles, contacts Sherlock Holmes, claiming to be afraid that the curse of the Baskervilles will hit again. Holmes stays behind in London, but sends his friend, Dr Watson, to the Baskerville home to keep an eye on the young Sir Henry. All seems to be going well, and Sir Henry meets and falls in love with the sister of a neighbour then another death occurs. The dead man is an escaped criminal, hiding out on the moors near his sister and her husband; more importantly, he was wearing an overcoat of Sir Henry's at the time and it seems that the dog had been trained to kill whoever smelt of Sir Henry. Sherlock Holmes is called upon to solve the mystery before Sir Henry really is killed.
Despite knowing the story inside out, I was hooked from beginning to end. The fact that the film is in black and white only adds to the spooky atmosphere as the characters roam across the moor at all hours of the night, hearing the distant howl of a dog. There is a constant feeling of suspense, knowing that the dog could appear at any time and claim its next death. And the ending, although I knew exactly what was going to happen, made my heart pound. The sign of a good film, I think.
My only real criticism is that the dog was not particularly large or scary. However, I can imagine that out of the ordinary enormous dogs are difficult to find, and at the time, special effects were probably out of the question.
In general, though, the director and the actors made an exceptionally good job of portraying this well-known story. Basil Rathbone is in his element in the role of Sherlock - it's just a shame it couldn't have stayed that way. However, without a doubt, despite the many actors who have portrayed Holmes, such as Tom Baker, Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine and the aforementioned Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing, my top two actors have to be Brett and Rathbone. The others pale into insignificance. Highly recommended.
I watched the film version only and so cannot comment on any extras. In any case, I've only been able to find a video version of this film on Amazon and Ebay for about £11.99 - if there is a DVD version, I haven't been able to find it.
The first of 14 films pairing Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the definitive Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, this version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES remains the most celebrated adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mystery. When his uncle is found murdered on the grounds of the family estate, Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) arrives from abroad to claim his ancestral home on the fog-shrouded Devonshire moors. But family friend Dr. Mortimer (Lionel Atwill) brings Sir Henry to master sleuth Sherlock Holmes with fears for the young heir's life and tales of a family curse placed upon the Baskerville clan. Together they travel to the desolate Baskerville Hall and encounter a slew of mysterious goings-on, including a suspicious butler (John Carradine) and the ghost of a hound haunting the moors. Dripping with atmosphere, this suspenseful and absorbing film is one of the true gems of the Holmes adaptations.