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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Of the half dozen or so different takes on The Hound of the
Baskervilles that I've seen, this one is my favorite - just barely
edging out the Hammer film from 1959. Why? There are a number of
reasons I could cite.
1. Acting The 1939 version of the Hound of the Baskervilles has to have one of the strongest casts ever assembled for a Sherlock Holmes film. It's a veritable Who's Who of 1930s/40s horror/thriller stars. Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Wendy Barrie, and Eily Malyon all give outstanding performances. Even E.E. Clive appears in a small but enjoyable role. And Nigel Bruce, whose bumbling Watson could really get on my nerves, gives one of his best performances as Holmes' sidekick.
2. Atmosphere If there's something that filmmakers from the 1930s knew how to do and were especially adept at, its creating atmosphere. From the fog shrouded moors to the dangerous London streets, there's enough atmosphere in The Hound of the Baskervilles for two or three movies. The cinematography and lighting go along way to helping create this feeling. It's something that seems lost on many of today's filmmakers.
3. Direction While nothing outstanding, Sidney Lanfield is nonetheless solid in the director's chair. One key is the pacing he gives to the film. The movie moves along quite nicely with very few moments that slow things down. Sure, this version of The Hound of the Baskervilles may veer away from the original source material, but it's for good reason. The film would have been too slow and, ultimately, quite dull had it stuck too closely to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work. I've read the book, but as much as I enjoy it, I realize changes have to be made for the screen.
While there are a number of other things I could mention in The Hound of the Baskervilles that appeal to me, I'll stop here before this thing gets out of hand. In the end, I've always found this a solid production and a very enjoyable film. I've got no problems rating it a 9/10.
Finally, one thing that has always seemed odd to me is the appeal of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Don't misunderstand, it's a good story. But I'm not sure I understand why it has been filmed more often than any other Sherlock Holmes story. Why would a plot that has its main character (Holmes in this case) disappear for about half the movie be the most famous and most often filmed story from the character's casebook? Like I said, it's just always seemed a bit odd to me.
There are many renditions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective in films. I suspect Peter Cushing's version is extremely good and very convincing. But for me the very best version is the original and for that you must see the 1939 offering. The movie has the same title as the book and called " The Hound of The Baskervilles. " In the legendary story, we have our hero Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) being requested by Dr. Mortimer, a friend of Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) if he would investigate the strange death of Sir Charles, who was viciously mutilated by an enormous killer hound. With his trusted friend Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) the great detective sets out to learn if the hound from hell really exists and why Sir Henry is in danger. With John Carradine, Wendy Barrie and Lionel Atwill in the cast, this superb original is the very first of many sequels. Each has the foggy, mysterious atmosphere which made the address on Baker Street synonymous with the world's greatest detective. This is an striking example, when asked about Basil Rathbone's superior legacy who is better remembered for villains than good guys. Excellent Classic film ! ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When his uncle dies, Sir Henry Baskerville returns to England from
Canada to take up his title and estates. The only problem is that there
is a curse on the family dating back hundreds of years in the form of a
giant hound that will kill the current head of the family. When others
around him are killed on the moors and attempts are made on his life,
Sir Henry turns to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to solve the mystery.
Basil Rathbone is the perfect Sherlock Holmes. Physically and in temperament, I cannot imagine any other actor doing as good a job in this role as he does. This may not be news to many, but as this is the first of his films that I have seen, I was pleasantly surprised. And I was almost as pleased with the performance of Nigel Bruce as Watson. The rest of the supporting cast also performed admirably in their roles.
The story moved along at a fast pace, and managed to maintain a decent atmosphere of suspense despite the identity of the murderer being given away early kn the film (if the viewer is paying attention). The settings on the moors are wonderfully bleak and dreary and certainly helped contribute to the effectiveness of the film.
Overall, I enjoyed this one a lot and highly recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For Holmesians, I've given this an eight. For everyone else it's a
seven. It's the best known of Conan-Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, or
at least it's the one that's shown up most often on the screen. It's
reasonably faithful to the novella; it has good production values; and
it represents the first appearance of Basil Rathbone as Holmes and
Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson.
Ernest Pascal adapted the story to the screen and did a reasonably good job. He swept a couple of incidents and characters under the rug, true, and he turned some obviously harmless people of the story, such as Dr. Mortimer, into sometimes sinister characters to act as red herrings. Presumably the rearrangement was done to get rid of secondary characters such as Miss Linney or whatever her name was in order to save time. (At 80 minutes, it's a rather short main feature.) But then why stick in a scene with a séance that goes nowhere and adds nothing? The writer must have hoped it would quicken the tempo of the film. That was Pascal's wager, but I'm not sure it was a such a brilliant move. Changed, too, is the relationship between Stapleton (Morton Lowery) and Beryl (Wendy Barrie). In the film, she's Stapleton's unwitting step-sister. In the novel she's Stapelton's reluctant but knowing accomplice. She's the one who writes Sir Henry a warning note when he arrives in London to claim his estate. Making her an innocent leaves unanswered the question of who, then, wrote the warning note. Not that this would make any viewer wince. The pacing is sufficiently hurried that by the climax, the warning note has been long forgotten. And Pascal has included a final exit line that is the only reference to cocaine that I can remember in a Sherlock Holmes movie. "Watson -- the needle!" I wonder how it got past the board of review. Maybe the censors hadn't read the stories. Maybe the producers passed the line off as an allusion to Holmes' being a diabetic or being secretly into knitting.
Nothing was shot on location. It's all studio back lot and sound stage. This was standard practice at the time. The Magnificently Collosally Stupendiferous "Gone With the Wind", released the same year, was also studio bound. (I'm glad they discovered location shooting in time for "Lawrence of Arabia.") But in this case the moors of Devonshire, great Gothic swamps punctuated by skeletal black trees and lumpy papier-maché rocks, all shrouded in studio smoke, suggest almost a stylized reality rather than a cheap set. They're quite well done. The only distracting feature is that the outdoor scenes SOUND as if they were shot indoors because of the acoustic liveliness of the sets. You hear an echo on a desolate plain. There actually is a moor near Dartmoor, with clumsily arranged piles of rocks surrounded by a mire. There still are moor ponies, rehistoric remains, and abandoned tin mines. The set decorators did a good job.
Basil Rathbone injects some animation into the character of Holmes, his being new to the role and all that. In a few years the franchise would be moved to Universal Studios, updated, mixed up, and Holmes would turn almost wooden, while Nigel Bruce would sometimes become a buffoon, which he is not here. There's no denying that Rathbone was a very good Sherlock Holmes, probably the best. Jeremy Brett in the TV series was more nuanced but not as masterful, nor as tall, and he didn't LOOK like the Sidney Paget illustrations that went with the original stories in Strand Magazine. On the other hand, Arthur Wontner may have LOOKED more like Paget's drawings but he couldn't act.
This is likely to be as good a Sherlock Holmes story as we're liable to get. It's a little clumsy but it's exciting, suspenseful, and well acted. Besides all that, how can you not see it? Holmes is an icon of vernacular culture and this shows him at his best. Oh -- the puckish title for this comment, "Heir of the Dog"? I stole it from the episode list on the DVD. (One less item for the confessional.)
I recently re-watched this and am still amazed at how exciting,
entertaining and fast-paced this movie is. Leonard Maltin's guide
prefers the follow Adventures of Sherlock Holmes because of Rathbone's
absence for much of the Hound's middle section. I, however, find that
it only adds to the overall suspense of the picture.
Many people have downplayed the Rathbone/Bruce pairing primarily because of Bruce's bumbling and mumbling. In this first outing that is down to a minimum. His Watson, while maybe not the ladies man in Doyle's stories, is still a competent medical man, athletic if stocky and the perfect counterpoint to Rathbone's Holmes.
I did enjoy the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episodes, but still prefer Rathbone and Bruce because of the remarkable chemistry between the two. I can see these people and believe they actually shared rooms together and liked each other enough to keep that arrangement for many years.
Supporting characters in Hound are noteworthy as well. Lionel Atwill is awesome as the mysterious Dr. Mortimer, and John Carradine is perfection as always.
Highly recommend watching this on a rainy evening. Make it a double feature with Son of Frankenstein for a Rathbone festival.
Well, like the man says, it don't get much better than this. Nearly
true to Doyle's story, giving way to good rip-roaring cinematic
excitement, it is just great to be swept in to the thrill of the chase
here. This film was banned for many years after its first release
because of that dumb last line, and I was there in the '70's when it
was seen again. Now, on the great DVD from MPI, it's ours any time we
What classic acting! What a fantastic story! This film began a great series in the cinematic Holmes canon. It is paced well, and has great atmosphere.
And, yes, it really does "sound like the cry of a gigantic hound!"
The first Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
is one of the most impressive things ever put on screen. It turns out
that this was also the first Sherlock Holmes movie set in the Victorian
era, as previous cinematic adaptations - even a series starring Arthur
Wontner made a few years before this one - had updated the setting to
The moors are as much of a character as any of the people (or the hound). The eerie, foggy environs are the perfect place for a mystery. I understand that the Sherlock Holmes books helped revolutionize criminology, due to Holmes's methods of solving the cases. I haven't read any of the books, although I've seen "Young Sherlock Holmes" and the recent movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. There's no doubt that "The Hound of the Baskervilles" has held up very well over the years. I hope to see the rest of the Rathbone-Bruce series.
So how about regaling us with the violin?
"The Hound of the Baskervilles", arguably the most famous of all of
Sherlock Holmes' cases, was filmed in 1939 - not for the first time, of
course (there had already been at least five tries, most notably in
1932 with Robert Rendel), but probably in the most impressive way
possible. And it was the first time that Basil Rathbone portrayed the
world-famous sleuth from Baker Street - the beginning of a very
successful, and very high-class film serial produced by 20th
Century-Fox that would comprise all in all 15 movies over the next
And Rathbone certainly was an ideal choice for the role, both physically and regarding his (on-screen) image: very British, and slightly haughty, but still with a sense of humor - only most of the time at the expense of his friend and assistant, amiable Dr. Watson, who was wonderfully played by Nigel Bruce. In fact, many Sherlock Holmes fans regard Rathbone as THE personification of Holmes (only we mustn't forget Arthur Wontner, who had also played Holmes in five movies, and was at LEAST as close to Conan Doyle's original character, if not even a little bit more...).
Actually, the whole cast is superb: idyllically handsome young Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir of the huge estate of the Baskervilles, whose father has died under mysterious circumstances in the moor recently, Lionel Atwill as the strange Dr. Mortimer, Wendy Barrie as beautiful Beryl, Morton Lowry as her young step-brother... And no less superb is the direction: foggy Dartmoor probably had never been photographed in such a uniquely creepy way before, providing a perfect background for the murderous ongoings that revolve around the old legend of a horrible hound that scares or bites people to death... But Sherlock Holmes, of course, has got another, much more reasonable theory!
The whole film is immensely suspenseful (with England around 1900 being marvelously recreated in every detail), but especially the dramatic climax in the end is REALLY made for strong nerves - a real, thrilling, classic MUST for every fan of the crime genre!
Remember watching this at grandmother's house, along with other
mysteries. This film is often shown during the holidays on TCM and last
Christmas (along with the new Sherlock Holmes release with Robert
Downey, Jr.) was a festival on TCM classics. Introduced by Ben
Excellent film complete with dark foggy moors, moor ponies getting trapped on the heath, a savage beast-dog and John Carradine as a very sinister houseman.
Holmes shows up at the Devonshire estate after Watson has already been received as a guest. There is a wonderful scene where he pretends to be a denizen of the moor, and an old, odd transient man, wandering the heath. Trying to peddle his zither and fuss-el(dog whistle) Basil Rathbone was such a talented character actor. It is a shame we don't really have anyone of his caliber, perhaps in theater , yes, but not film. Films like this are a gem and worth buying the collection for a cold winter's night. Highly recommended and good suspense for children. 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie & the next (Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) were made by 20th
Century Fox, in 1939 & were better than the ones made by Universal in
the 1940's. Let us also remember that Universal was not the big studio
it is now.
In 1939 one of the studios up & coming stars was Richard Greene. (he later became Robin Hood). He is the top billed actor & actually the major role. He always was a good hero,but not that good an actor. The one & only Basil Rathbone is Sherlock Holmes & Rathbone does what he always did, creating a memorable character. Mr. Rathbone had the fantastic talent to play any sort of role, villain or hero.
A few years prior he created the most memorable Pontius Pilate in a Cecil B. DeMille almost forgettable epic, I may have forgot the title BUT not his Pontius Pilate.(this was before supporting actors got Oscars-) over the years he made many unforgettable characters.
This was his first time as Sherlock. Nigel Bruce was a good Dr. Watson, I never could figure why they made Watson a comic character.
Wendy Barrie is the love interest.(this was then & still is a staple character). I do not think she figures into the original Conan Doyle story. The made a few changes to the original.
Sydney Lanfield (a studio director) did his usual good work. The screenplay was written by Ernest Pascal. Look for Lionel Atwill & John Carradine in supporting roles. They both always gave fine performances.
This is no where a great film, BUT is an enjoyable time spent. It is only 80 minutes long..
One more point of information. They made films fast back them. It too less than 90 days from first day of shooting to actual release date.
Ratings: **1/2 (out of 4) 78 points (out of 100) IMDb 7 (out of 10)
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