This week's movie is the 1959 Sherlock Holmes thriller The Hound of the Baskervilles!
Tucked away in a quiet corner of the history of Hammer Films is this one-off adaptation of Sherlock Holmes and his most famous case, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Let's see how their version stacks up:
After a suitably dramatic, very Hammer-esque credit sequence, the film opens even further in the past than we expect, with Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley) hosting a wicked party at Baskerville Hall. Sir Hugo is a cruel, little man, demanding to be the romantic suitor of the daughter of one of the servants. When the servant tries to protect his daughter, he flies into a rage:
When the servant is killed, the daughter escapes the castle, with Sir Hugo in pursuit. Out in the woods, he catches up and stabs her to death. He is then attacked by some sort of vicious dog, which kills Sir Hugo. This begins the Baskerville Curse, which stipulates that any time a Baskerville is alone on the moor, he will be killed by the Baskerville hound.
A few centuries later, after the death of another Baskerville, the case is introduced to the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing):
Holmes agrees to take the case, and he and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) head to Baskerville Hall to meet its new owner, Sir Henry (Christopher Lee):
Within moments, Sir Henry finds himself about to be bitten by a tarantula, which has somehow made its way into Baskerville Hall. Sir Henry, paralyzed with fear, has to follow Sherlock Holmes' instructions to make sure he's not bitten:
At this point, we are introduced to a number of characters, all of whom seem to be suspicious in their own way: a coach driver, an escaped convict, plus a father and daughter who help save Watson from falling in the quicksand-like Grippen Mire.
For a Hammer production, there's very little horror in this film, which is kind of surprising, considering how successful the studio was with their (for the time) gory Dracula and Frankenstein films. Maybe they felt they had to honor the original Doyle work by not making it too lurid.
There's a lot of talky scenes, but there are also a couple of nice, atmospheric moments, including one in an old mine, where Holmes and Watson hear the blood-curdling howl of the Hound of the Baskervilles:
Eventually, of course, Holmes figures out the truth about the curse of the Baskervilles, and heads out with Watson into the moors to save Sir Henry, who doesn't realize that he is in more danger than he can imagine:
I won't reveal the ending, or what happens. All in all, I found it pretty satisfying (despite one small goofy detail), and the film ends with Holmes and Watson back at 221B Baker Street, drinking tea, presumably ready for their next case.
Sadly, The Hound of the Baskervilles was Hammer's only Sherlock Holmes film, even though they expected to make it a series (Cushing in particular was a huge Holmes fan). Sadly, the film was a relative financial disappointment, and the whole plan was dropped.
Which is a damn shame--The Hound of the Baskervilles is, while a little dry, still a lot of fun and I can only imagine the series would have gotten better over time. Cushing in particular looks like an ideal Holmes, and gives a great performance--as does Christopher Lee, Cushing's partner-in-crime in so many of these Hammer films. In a switch from the 1940s series, Andre Morell's Dr. Watson is much less a comic figure, more of an equal partner to Holmes. Another plus is the running time--the film is less than 90 minutes, so it never gets a chance to wear out its welcome.
You can purchase Hound of the Baskervilles on DVD via this handy Amazon link. It's...elementary!: