Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Peter Bryan
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell, Marla Landi, David Oxley, John Le Mesurier
Running Time: 87 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
For those of you who don’t really know the story of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, it’s basically the one that sees private investigator Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) being asked to go to the aid of young Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) to help protect him from the threat of a violent death by person (or things) unknown following threats that cite a long-standing family curse coming true.
Holmes and his companion, Dr Watson (Andre Morell), are invited down to a fog enshrouded Devon to join Henry at the family estate he’s just moving to from his home in South Africa. Holmes initially refuses (things to do in London), but sends Watson down Devon way to keep an eye on the young buck. Just as well that he does as the two tourists soon encounter various mysterious folk that all seem to have secrets buried deeply, and at least one of them seems to want Henry buried deeply with those secrets too!
This Hammer Films’ version of the oft filmed tale changes the story a little, which I’m sure will annoy purists, but others will welcome the fresh twist at the end. Personally I enjoyed the changes, and, let’s face it, angry viewers can always check out one of the many other, ‘purer’, adaptations out there if they want to redress the balance.
The Hound of the Baskervilles stands as one of Hammer’s best films, filled as it is with top-notch performances, excellent sets, and a great gothic crime story that never really gets old. Fisher’s direction is good, the production values are excellent and Peter Cushing is smashing in the Sherlock Holmes role that he was obviously born to play. Andre Morell does a splendid job of portraying Dr Watson as a humane foil to Holme’s more academic persona, and Lee is very good as the ‘fish out of water’ young aristocrat who is out of his depth in his new environment.
My only really negative comments about the film are mainly centred on the hound itself – it’s just not particularly menacing and is rather laughable next to someone as tall and imposing as Mr Lee. Plus all Holme’s talk of encountering a ‘great evil’ is all a bit too melodramatic for me to take seriously.
The film generally looks good, although there is a bit of grain here and there, and a few artefacts can be seen on the print from time to time. Also the regular flipping between day and day-for-night photography grates after a while.
Plus I have a question, which isn’t really answered in the film – why does the character of Mortimer want Holmes dead? I’m a little confused…
The Hound of the Baskervilles has been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is being distributed by Arrow Films. Extras on the disc are plentiful and include a thirty minute documentary called ‘Release the hound’ that includes lots of talking-heads interviews with the likes of Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman, interspersed with lots of clips from the film itself. There’s lots of interesting facts about the film revealed including the fact that apparently The Hound… is the most successful Sherlock Holmes story and this was the first Sherlock Holmes movie to be filmed in colour. We also find out that legendary dog-trainer Barbara Woodhouse worked on the film and that to make the dog look bigger they had a midget playing the victims in some scenes!
There’s also a documentary on actor Andre Morell (20 mins), which interviews the likes of Denis Meikle and Jonathan Miller and we learn that he went to war with the likes of Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quale when Churchill closed the theatres. This documentary was shot and edited by Denis Meikle’s daughter, Sarah.
Another documentary, called ‘The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes’ from 1985 (46 mins), is presented by Christopher Lee and is a made-for-TV doc about the history of the character, revealing that Holmes is based on one Dr Joseph Bell who Doyle knew personally. The documentary includes some rare footage of Arthur Conan Doyle and lots of clips from various Sherlock Holmes films.
There’s a 13 minute archive interview with Christopher Lee, (Actor’s Notebook), which sees Lee sharing some of his experiences of working on the film, especially his fond memories of working with Peter Cushing, who he obviously admired a lot.
Additionally, we also have Lee reading extracts from the book (15 mins & 6 mins respectively), a B & W trailer, an audio commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, from 2015, and an image gallery featuring 146 publicity stills and posters etc.