The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
What’s not to love when Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes gets the full color treatment mixed with a dash of Hammer Horror featuring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee?
As is my custom, I don’t generally mix novels and their subsequent big screen adaptations. Too often it results in disappointment for the viewers who love the original source stories in print. Holmes is a great example, having been portrayed by so many actors that each generation and individual viewer may have their ideal film star when they think of the on screen exploits of the man who quite often sits back to solve a two pipe problem.
In fine Hammer fashion, the tale of the Hound is told in a vivid colorful flashback sequence by Francis de Wolfe featuring Sir Hugo Baskerville committing murder out on the moors. Before he can retrace his steps to Baskerville Hall, he meets the Hound and a justifiable death. This brings us and Peter Cushing up to date with the legend of the Hound. Joining Peter as Holmes is another solid character player as Dr. Watson, Andre Morell.
The recent death of the Lord of Baskerville Hall has left Christopher Lee as the sole heir to the estate. De Wolfe hopes to hire Cushing as a bodyguard of sorts as he finds the recent death of the Lord rather suspicious. Cushing plays the scene with the customary arrogance associated with the screen interpretation of the character though we’ll soon see it’s all an act as he believes “the game is afoot.”
Lee arrives and the pair of horror legends find themselves on the same side of good over evil this time out though that isn’t the usual circumstances during their numerous films together. Lee and Morell are off to Baskerville hall while Cushing will remain off screen for a period of time though the reasons will come forth in due process. Meanwhile, Lee and Morell will meet the hired help as well as the Stapletons who own the land next to Lee’s estate.
For a bit of comedy relief, Hammer cast Miles Malleson as the local Vicar. Not unexpected, he’s as absent minded as ever and loves to lay an oh so obvious hint to Lee that he’d love a glass of sherry. Perhaps even two. I mainly know Miles because of this role and anytime I see him elsewhere, I think of this memorable appearance as my introduction to the bumbling characters he specialized in.
Is it safe to say everyone knows the outcome or should I say solution to The Hound of the Baskervilles? Probably not so I’ll not spoil any of the details here as Holmes deduces the reasons and the killer of the piece. I will say it’s an exciting finale from the studio that dripped blood.
This proved to be the only Holmes tale produced by Hammer and I’ve always been disappointed in that fact. Cushing and Morell do right by the characters and with the flavorful style of Hammer delivered by director Terence Fisher and James Bernard composing, I think the studio could have turned this into one of their long running series to match Dracula and Frankenstein. Cushing did return to the character in a series of BBC productions and later in life in a tele feature titled The Masks of Death.
The Hound has been filmed many times and I’ve seen most of the variations from Rathbone’s to the Canadian production featuring Matt Frewer. Do I have a favorite? Hate to narrow it down but of the ones I’ve seen, Rathbone and Cushing stand tall.
Lee would play Holmes in the Euro flick, Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace and join Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as brother Mycroft Holmes. Too bad Lee couldn’t have given us a Professor Moriarty along the way. He would return to the Holmes character in a pair of telefilms from the early 90’s with Patrick Macnee alongside as his Watson.
For Hammer aficionados, it’s always fun to spot the redecorated sets. I do believe Baskerville Hall is a redo of Dracula’s Castle as an example. All that’s missing is the gigantic globe that stands prevalent in the Dracula film. Even snippets of the score from Bernard are being reused but who cares. If you love the glory years of Hammer, it’s all good.
I recently acquired the new blu ray release of this, the first film to feature Holmes in color released by Twilight Time. The film looks great with the red robes and blood stained knives looking vibrant in that opening flashback. Included on the disc is a great interview with Lee recalling the film and some memorable laughs on set with Peter. “The finger.”
I haven’t played the film with David Del Valle’s commentary yet but fully intend to. He can be an engaging story teller of a movie’s history and facts. I’ve seen him talk film history a few times at a classic horror film festival just outside of Pittsburgh called Monsterbash. Also included is the trailer, Lee reading excerpts of the original novel as well as a second commentary and featurette on the mask of the hound.