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June 06, 2017

The Hound of the Baskervilles


Terence Fisher - 1959
KL Studio Classics Region 1 DVD

This is what a Sherlock Holmes movie is suppose to look like. I could never embrace the Basil Rathbone series because it was updated to the then contemporary England. The Guy Ritchie version, with Robert Downer, Jr. too cool to wear a deerstalker hat, tried a bit too hard to make Sherlock Holmes a character a century ahead of his time. The Hammer production respects the original novel, keeping Holmes as he has classically been portrayed, with the pipe and deerstalker hat, in an England of the early 1900s.

With three Hammer stars, Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee, and a behind the camera team of Hammer regulars, it should be a surprise to no one that The Hound of the Baskervilles looks like a Hammer horror film. The scenes of horror are more suggested than seen, but what we have the visual look of shadows, fog, and unexplained sounds. The use of color is not flamboyant as something like Brides of Dracula, but red appears quite often, in the costumes, furniture, as well as several very bright drops of blood. The story, about a family curse, originated from Arthur Conan Doyle, but it would seem that it's also a theme that would appear in most Hammer films, with their narratives of family secrets, insane relatives and uncanny events.


In the supplement to the DVD, Christopher Lee discusses Peter Cushing's precise diction and physical dexterity while playing Holmes. And while Cushing is the top billed star, and looks has the right look to play Sherlock Holmes, he's almost a guest star in his own story, missing for almost half of a film thats less than ninety minutes long. Andre Morell, as Watson, does much of the detective work here, keeping an eye out for Christopher Lee's Sir Henry Baskerville. Watson, here, is closer to the novel, not a detective by vocation, but still smart and observant. As Sir Henry, Christopher Lee has one of his only roles where he is able to kiss the woman who enchants him on her lips, not on her throat.

The mystery is almost besides the point. I think the reason why Hammer films remain beloved in general is because of their familiarity, the above mentioned stories, the actors that appear from film to film, and often consistent pool of directors, writers, and technical support. Would it seem inappropriate to call this "cinematic comfort food"? The Hound of the Baskervilles was reportedly not enough of box office success for Hammer to continue with Cushing as Holmes, perhaps because the horror elements were played down. Another one-off film, with Sherlock Holmes in search of Jack the Ripper, A Study in Terror from 1965, would appear to pick up where Hammer left off. The Hound of the Baskervilles remains as the one film to choose as the best version of Sherlock Holmes on film.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 6, 2017 09:13 AM