ⓘ The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959 film)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1959 British gothic horror mystery film directed by Terence Fisher and produced by Hammer Film Productions. It is based on the novel of the same title by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It stars Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, Sir Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville and Andre Morell as Doctor Watson. It is the first film adaptation of the novel to be filmed in colour.
Dr. Richard Mortimer Francis de Wolff asks Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville, in Dartmoor. The man has been found dead by heart failure, lying in the moor surrounding his estate, Baskerville Hall. Mortimer believes that his good friend has been scared to death by the vision of a ghost hound, the same that centuries before killed his ancestor, the devilish Sir Hugo David Oxley. Mortimer also fears for the life of Sir Henry, whos just come from South Africa to take possession of his inheritance and of Baskerville Hall.
Although sceptical, Holmes and Watson accept to meet Sir Henry, who is apparently young and bold, but in truth suffers from a congenital heart problem. A series of peculiar incidents soon convince Holmes that Sir Henrys life is indeed in danger, and, busy with a prior commitment, he chooses to despatch his trustworthy friend Watson to Dartmoor with Mortimer and Sir Henry. Before parting, Holmes reminds Watson not to let Sir Henry go out onto the nearby moor after dark.
On their way to Baskerville Hall, the trio is warned by the coach driver Perkins Sam Kydd that a convict named Selden Michael Mulcaster has escaped from nearby Dartmoor Prison and is hiding on the moor; Selden was convicted of murdering prostitutes and sentenced to life-imprisonment after being declared insane. Eventually arrived to Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry gets acquainted with his new house, helped by the butler, Mr. Barrymore, John Le Mesurier and his wife Helen Goss. On the walls stand the portraits of the previous masters of the house, including infamous Sir Hugo. However, a second portrait of Sir Hugo is missing, and the Barrymores are unable offer any explanation. Barrymore confirms that he was the first to discover Sir Charles dead.
The next day, Sir Henry and Watson walk around to see the neighborhood. At the nearby village, they meet the friendly local pastor, Bishop Frankland Miles Malleson, who is also a keen entomologist. While crossing the moor, they get lost in a wetland called Grimpen Mire and Watson gets trapped in a patch of quicksand. Two people come to help, a man named Stapleton Ewen Solon and his daughter Cecille Marla Landi, a beautiful and wild girl who immediately bewitches Sir Henry.
One night, Watson sees a light in the moor. He and Sir Henry go out to investigate, but a strange man rushes by in the shadows, then a distant hound howls, upsetting Sir Henry so much that he faints. A figure is silhouetted on a hill in the distance, while Watson helps Sir Henry back to Baskerville Hall. Soon the doctor discovers that the silhouetted figure was Holmes, who has concealed his own arrival to investigate more freely.
Together Holmes and Watson find out the corpse of the convict Selden, slaughtered on the moor by an unknown beast, while wearing clothes belonging to Sir Henry. This clue exposes the Barrymores, who confess to have helped the escapee, who was their relative, by supplying food and other provisions each time he signalled with a light from his hideout. However, Holmes has evidence that neither the Barrymores nor Selden are connected to the death of Sir Charles, so he keeps on searching for clues to confirm the existence of the mysterious hound and the identity of its masters.
Facing personal danger in an abandoned copper mine, and thanks to the stolen portrait of Sir Hugo, Holmes is able to guess who unleashed the hound in pursue of Sir Charles and why they did it. The detective and his assistant decide to set a trap for the murderers in the same place where, according to the legend, the ghost hound had killed Sir Hugo. Unfortunately, to make the trap work they will need to put Sir Henrys life at great risk.
2.1. Production Writing
There are several significant changes in plot details. Among them:
- The painting next to the staircase does not go missing in the novel, as Stapletons webbed hand is a creation of the filmmakers.
- There is no attempt on the life of Sir Henry at the hotel in the novel, as in this film.
- Miss Stapleton survives in the novel, whereas in the film she drowns in the Grimpen Mire.
- In the novel, Frankland is neither a bishop nor an entomologist. It is Stapleton, rather than Frankland, who is an acknowledged expert in entomology in the novel.
- Dr. Mortimer is never put in charge of watching over Sir Henry in the novel; therefore he is not considered negligent by Watson when Sir Henry ventures out onto the moor alone.
- Sir Henry arrives from Toronto in the novel, while he arrives from Johannesburg in the film.
- Stapleton does not get mauled to death after being shot by Watson in the novel; he simply disappears and is presumed to have drowned in the Grimpen Mire.
- In the novel, the hound is made to look "demonic" through the use of phosphorus paint, but in the film the same effect is accomplished with a mask. The hound was played by a brindled Great Dane.
- There is nothing involving a ritual sacrifice, a tarantula or a mine shaft in the novel, nor is Holmes thought to have been accidentally trapped in a cave-in.
- Rather than being Stapletons daughter, Miss Stapleton is Stapletons wife in the novel and is playing the part of his sister. In the novel, Holmes, Watson and Lestrade eventually find her bound, gagged and badly bruised after being mistreated by Stapleton. She does not hate Sir Henry, as she does in the film, and is a far more sympathetic character in both the novel and in nearly all the other film versions of the story. In the 1939 film version she is Stapletons stepsister, but she is completely unaware of his criminal actions until Holmes reveals the truth. Miss Stapleton falls in love with and presumably marries Sir Henry in the 1939 film.
- Sir Henry does not suffer a minor heart condition in the novel, as he does in the film.
2.2. Production Locations
Filming took place on location at Chobham Common and Frensham Ponds, both in Surrey.
3. Critical reception
Peter Cushings Holmes received good reviews at the time, with Films and Filming calling him an "impish, waspish, Wilde-ian Holmes", while the New York Herald Tribune stated "Peter Cushing is a forceful and eager Sherlock Holmes". Andre Morells Watson has been praised for his far more accurate rendition of the character as envisioned by Arthur Conan Doyle, as opposed to the comical buffoon created by Nigel Bruce.
A negative reviews in the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "any freshly entertaining possibilities in this much-filmed story have here been lost in a welter of blood, love interest and mood music". The review also noted unimaginative staging and direction and "dull performances".
Time Out London called it "the best Sherlock Holmes film ever made, and one of Hammers finest movies". The Hound of the Baskervilles currently holds a 94% approval rating on movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on eleven reviews.
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