In this early version the classic "Hound of the Baskervilles" mystery is faithfully adapted, although Watson's character is absent. Holmes' foe is called Stapleton and he menaces Holmes' client Lord Henry and his fiancée, Laura Lyons.
When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in his country house, Dr James Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes for help to save Sir Henry Baskerville, the only known heir, from the curse that haunts Baskerville family.
The peculiarly-named Eille Norwood holds the record for playing Sherlock Holmes in more films than any other actor ... but Norwood is an odd choice for the role. He was quite short, and was well past middle age when he starred in a long series of Sherlock short films. Norwood was allegedly skilled at doing many different accents (useless in silent films, of course), and his powers of disguise supposedly rivalled those of Lon Chaney. Based on this film, I have difficulty believing it. Norwood's Holmes sports a widow's peak which is rather obviously built of crepe hair, and looks blatantly phony. He also gives rather too passive a performance for the dynamic Holmes. Reportedly, the casting of Norwood as Sherlock Holmes had the personal approval of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but perhaps Doyle was prejudiced in this actor's favour because Doyle had once written a Sherlock Holmes story titled "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder". In all of his Holmes films (except "The Sign of Four"), Norwood was teamed with Hubert Willis ... who holds the record for playing Dr Watson in more films than any other actor.
Most of the Norwood/Willis series of Sherlock Holmes films were two-reelers (20 minutes long), but "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is feature-length. It follows Doyle's original novel closely, but with much abridgement. The solution to the mystery is the same as in the novel. The best performance in this film is given by Rex McDougall as Sir Henry Baskerville, and the film wisely emphasises him rather than Holmes or Watson. The best scenes in this film depict the spectral black hound, glowing eerily with a weird luminescence as it bounds across Grimpen Mire. Nicely done.
I screened an American print of this film, and I was intrigued that the butler in the Baskerville household (played by Frederick Raynham) was renamed Osborne in the American version's title cards. In the original novel (and in most film versions of this story) the butler's name is Barrymore. I assume that the name was changed so that American movie audiences wouldn't be reminded of John Barrymore, who (coincidentally) starred in a Sherlock Holmes film soon after this one was made.
This version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is vastly inferior to the remake starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I don't recommend this film except to die-hard Sherlockians.
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