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It is the sixth film adaptation of the classic novel by Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, this time in the hands of Sidney Lanfield, with the role
of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, actors who played the famous couple
Of all the series they made together, this is probably the best film; this is due to the plot of the novel, a mixture of intrigue and suspense dingy police that adapts very easily to film language, which is not usual with classic detective stories. It's a film that discovers the identity of the murderer well before the denouement, but manages to keep the viewer entertained due to surround the murky atmosphere that transmit marshy landscapes where the plot unfolds In this case we are dealing with a film expressionistic visual style that fits well with the inherent requirements of the story, and follows a fairly reliable the plot of the novel, capturing the atmosphere quite well, with hints suggested and arranged properly ghostly .. The performances are good, although most obscured by the prominence of Rathbone (he is gorgeous transmitting characteristic coolness detective) and Bruce (he composes a Watson too silly, but provides needed dose of humor to the story); mention the hound is well designed, with an infernal aspect.
It's a script with many parts to highlight and good performances, a film for lovers of the wonderful adventures of this pair of detectives.
Arthur Conan Doyle's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (20th Century-Fox,
1939), directed by Sidney Lanfield, is not the first "Sherlock Holmes"
mystery to reach the screen but the one that introduced Basil Rathone
as the popular fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. While there's been
many screen adaptations taken from the Doyle character dating back to
the silent era, ranging from stage actor William Gillette in 1916 to
John Barrymore in 1922, the best known for many being that of Rathbone
himself with Nigel Bruce as his assistant, Doctor John H. Watson. For
his Holmes introduction, Rathbone, in a role he was born to play,
doesn't get feature billing here. Ironically, top-billing goes to the
up-and-coming young Fox contract player by the name of Richard Greene.
Opening title: "1889 - In all England there is no district more dismal than that vast expanse of primitive wasteland, the moors of Dartmoor in Devonshire." As the camera tacks through the moors before stopping on the secluded Baskerville estate, a man, later identified as Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), chased by a vicious hound, collapses. This is witnessed by a mysterious man (Nigel De Brulier) who looks over the fainted man. Seeing that he's dead, the man runs away into the night. Later at the inquest, Baskerville's best friend, Doctor James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), rules his death from a heart attack. Knowing that Baskerville was actually murdered, Mortimer hires pipe smoking, master detective, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) of 221-B Baker Street, for assistance. Before taking the case, Holmes listens as Mortimer reads through a detailed document (told via flashback) about how all male members of the Baskerville family (starting with Sir Hugo Baskerville (Ralph Forbes)) have died violent deaths. After Mortimer finishes his story, he claims that Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene), the latest heir to the family estate, about to arrive from Canada, will become the next victim. Shortly after Sir Henry's arrival, Holmes and his assistant, Doctor Watson (Nigel Bruce), help prevent the first attempt on the young man's life while returning to the Northumberland Hotel. While remaining in London, Holmes enlists Watson to accompany Sir Henry and remain with him at Baskerville Hall and document every detail through daily letters mailed over to him. During Watson's stay, he encounters the mysterious servants, the Barrymans (John Carradine and Eily Malyon), who hold secrets of their own; Jenifer Mortimer (Beryl Mercer), who holds a séance; and the Stapletons, Beryl (Wendy Barrie) and her brother, John (Morton Lowry). Upon Holmes' long-awaited arrival, it is evident that the only way to prevent Sir Henry from facing death is to place his life in jeopardy.
With a fine assortment of British-type performers, many of whom being associated with Universal Pictures, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, with all its dark, atmospheric scenery with howling dog sounds echoing at the distance, the film leaves the impression of a Universal horror film. There's even some moments where an avid viewer would be expecting the sudden growling appearance of the Wolf Man at any moment. Instead, there's a mysterious bearded man roaming around the foggy moors where Bela Lugosi's Ygor portrayal from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) immediately comes to mind. While there's some underscoring, the lack of it during the creepy moor sequences adds to the suspense. Considering the concept of the story, having Rathbone's name placed second under Richard Greene is understandable considering Greene being the central titled character and Holmes absent for close to a half hour. During Holmes's long absence (reason later explained), Watson fills in the void, taking enough control to have this become more of a Doctor Watson story than Sherlock Holmes. While portions of the plot are relatively slow, the film as a whole is never dull. Though reportedly faithful to the novel, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES benefits greatly by its casting of Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson and fine character types as E.E. Clive (Cabbie No. 2704); Barlowe Borland (Frankland), and the ever reliable Mary Gordon appearing briefly as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' landlady, a role she would enact in future film installments throughout the forties.
Due to the 1959 color remake starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the Rathbone version to THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES was taken out of the television markets, making this the least known and forgotten of the Rathbone-Bruce "Sherlock Holmes" collaborations. This and its immediate 20th-Fox sequel, THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939), though never became part the "Sherlock Holmes Theater" package on broadcast TV during the sixties and seventies, it did continue to circulate but on other channel networks. Over the years it's been only the up-to-date twelve entries produced by Universal (1942-46) that the public got to know so well. Finally, in December of 1976, New York City television's own WCBS, Channel 2, brought back the Rathbone-Bruce edition of HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES for the first time since 1959, but regrettably, on the late show rather than prime time weekend. Within a few short years, however, it not only became part of the "Sherlock Holmes" TV package, but available home video, DVD, and broadcast occasionally on some cable TV networks, notably Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 25, 2009).
As much as THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES itself was theatrically made and remade numerous times, with several made-for-television editions included, this 1939 edition is by no means a disappointment and highly recommended viewing. "Watson, the needle!" (***1/2)
This is the best version that still can be called a classic filmed in
1939 by Sidney Landfield with all-star-cast such as Basil Rathbone ,
Nigel Bruce , John Carradine and Richard Greene ; in which Holmes and
Watson are called to save Sir Baskerville from a curse that has plagued
his family for centuries . The first of fourteen films based on Arthur
Conan Doyle's fictional consulting detective Sherlock Holmes starring
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson
.Correct rendition of the most famous mystery novel written by Arthur
Conan Doyle with an awesome Basil Rathbone as Sherlock and fairly
faithful to the source material . Basil Rathbone as Holmes plays in a
clever , broody and impetuous manner .Nigel Bruce plays as Watson with
humor, goofy and joy , he's the perfect counterpoint to Holmes. 1889 ,
in all England there is no district more dismal than that vast expense
of primitive wasteland , the moor of Dartmoor in Devonshire . Holmes
(Basil Rathbone)and Watson(Nigel Bruce) are contracted by Doctor
Mortimer (Lionel Atwill , later played Professor Moriarty) for the
investigation of killing Sr. Baskerville who is now inherited by his
niece Sir Henry . Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes to help protect Sir
Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene), who has returned to England to take
his place at the family seat following the death of his uncle, Sir
Charles Baskerville. As Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigate the
legend of a supernatural , devilish hound, a beast that may be stalking
a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate .
Sir Charles died of cardiac exhaustion and Dr. Mortimer believes he was
frightened to death . There appears to be a curse on the family dating
back nearly 200 years to when Sir Hugo Baskerville was supposedly
killed on the moor by a huge hound. Holmes dismisses the supernatural
elements of the case but there are a sufficient number of odd events to
pique his interest. As Holmes investigates the mystery of a
supernatural hound threatening the life of a Dartmoor baronet. Holmes
soon realizes that someone is making sure the legend becomes real .
Watson goes to the mansion ,there are the servants(John Carradine) and
he meets Stapleton and his sister (Wendy Barrie). Meanwhile an inmate
has escaped and on the haunted moor sound the barking of a savage ,
This is an excellent and thrilling film with dark elements in classic style based on the splendid novel by Arthur Conan Doyle . It's a genuine ripping yarn with much suspense and moody intrigue . It's distinguished by its cast with Basil's Sherlock and Nigel's Watson ably playing off each other . The film gets mystery , tension , thrills , detective action and packs an exciting deal of outstanding surprises with great lots of fun despite to be a known story . Basil Rathbone's magnificent interpretation , he plays as Holmes as an intelligent, obstinate , broody, pipesmoking sleuth . Basil takes on the character emphasizing the role's cynical humor as well as his sometimes insufferable intelligence . His acting is the best and similarly to Jeremy Brett for TV or Nicol Williamson (Seven-per-cent-solution) or Christopher Plummer (Murder by decree) . Rathbone ably backs him up as Sherlock in this version closely follows the Conan Doyle story . While not entirely passive, Watson's original role was mostly as an observer of Holmes and the chronicler of his cases. With this film a new tradition began where Watson enjoyed equal billing with Holmes , in Nigel Bruce's hands the character became a comedic foil and a bit of a bumbler . After being out of circulation for many years, partly because of the 1959 Hammer remake in Technicolor starring Peter Cushing, this film was restored and re-released to theaters in 1975 with great fanfare, to the point of having the national evening news do a story on it. The movie has a creepy atmosphere specially when is developed on the moors where lives the fearful giant beast ; besides the 221 Baker Street's house is well designed . Dark and murky cinematography full of shades and lights by Peverel Marley . Thrilling and intriguing musical score by Mockridge and David Buttolph . This atmospheric motion picture was well directed by Sidney Landfield .
Other versions about this story are the following : ¨Hammer House of Horror¨ rendition (1959) by the great Terence Fisher with Peter Cushing , Andre Morell and Christopher Lee ; 1977 spoof adaptation by Paul Morrissey with Dudley Moore , Peter Cooke and Denholm Elliott ; 1983 recounting by Douglas Hickox with Ian Richardson , Donald Churchill and Martin Shaw ; 2000 unpteeth rendition by Rodney Gibbons with Matt Frewer , Kenneth Welsh and Jason London , English adaptation (1983) by Douglas Hickox with Ian Richardson as Holmes and Donald Churchill as Watson and TV rendition with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke directed by Peter Hammond and BBC take on with Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those were the days. When a film franchise could churn out 14 movies in just 7 years. I'm not one for quality over quantity, but with the talent on show here you can easily appreciate the fine workmanship. Hound of the Baskervilles sees Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson. What I really like about this movie, is that it doesn't bog us down with origins. It assumes we know these characters, which of course, we all do. This allows for a well paced 80 minutes, and a story that kicks off straight away. Holmes is asked to help protect a young man who is coming to inherit Baskerville manor. It's situated on the moors, which are beautifully recreated here. Each rock seems to tell its own horror story. The fog that continuously sweeps over the moors is dark and ominous. Lanfield allows visuals to create the suspense instead of intrusive musical cues. Two scenes stood out for me, when a gun is pointed from a carriage, and as Watson watched his door slowly open. These days, each of these would be laced with faster cuts and loud screeching violins. No such misfortune here. The performances are also strong. Rathbone is more of a supporting character here, which actually works. It emphasises Holmes attempts at being overlooked. He is more of a background detective that still pulls the strings. When he is on screen Rathbone plays him without pretension, obnoxiousness, or arrogance. He is a very smart man, but not super-human. Bruce is a wonderful Watson, that comes off as Holmes' equal, even if he doesn't have quite the logistical thinking of Holmes. They are supported why a wonderful cast, that do their best to make themselves both suspicious and innocent. Each one seems to have a specific secret, but until the last moments we are unaware of any real motive. The final moments are most exciting, with some exceptional dog training making for a really tense fight. When such an old film even has great make-up, it's clear that we have a real gem on our hands. A classic story told with restraint and style.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce became
rather predictable and clichéd over time (though, as far as I'm
concerned, so much better than the recent iteration starring Robert
Downey, Jr.). But this first Holmes film with Rathbone and Bruce was
What's rich about this film is its cast.
Rathbone, in most films second-banana and bad guy, is for once the ultimate clever good guy, and he plays the role well. For many, he will always be the quintessential Sherlock Holmes.
Nigel Bruce is delightful here, and because Holmes seems to remain in London for so long, you might say that Bruce has the lead here for quite a while, though he is relegated to second place whenever Holmes is present. I've always felt rather sorry for Bruce...often typecast as a bit of a dolt, but here he seems more robust.
Richard Greene is a fine co-star playing the son of the original victim of the plot. I've rather enjoyed him in various films, though he never quite broke through...and I'm not sure why.
Of course, the one question I have is why all these people are always wandering all over the foggy and spooky moors? Out for a good hike -- usually in the dark -- amongst the quicksand quagmires? Particularly when the climax approaches and Richard Greene's character decides to walk home from a dinner party -- across the moors -- because it's such a delightful night...in the dense fog! When he is attacked by the hound, even though you know Holmes will save him, it's quite intense. This film is handled well, a good plot, great atmospherics,and enough clues that are cleverly brought up later by Holmes (and sometimes accidentally by Watson). It's all good fun and rather enjoyable.
In this adaptation of Conan Doyle's most famous novel, Holmes and Watson investigate the death at an estate on the moors, where legend has it that a deadly creature is on the loose. This is the first, and perhaps the best, in the series of films featuring Rathbone as Holmes and Bruce as Watson. Strangely, Greene, an actor who had made his first film the previous year, gets top billing and much of the screen time here, perhaps an indication that the studio did not envision this as a series. The cinematography is excellent, with the foggy moors perfectly evoking an eerie atmosphere that enhances the sense of foreboding. It's efficiently directed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead, apparently of fright, and
his nephew is sent for to take charge of Baskerville Hall in Dartmoor,
Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate the circumstances of the death
and the Baskerville curse of a hideous hound said to have stalked the
family for centuries.
This was the first of the fourteen classic Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, and for my money is the definitive version of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle story. Rathbone is simply commanding in this part; his classic angular features, his fierce wit and dynamic screen presence make the role his own with invisible ease. The rest of the cast are great, particularly Carradine as the gaunt mysterious butler. The spooky, isolated ambiance of Baskerville Hall and the gloomy fog-shrouded moors give the movie an eerie, suspenseful atmosphere and the classic scenes - the purloined boot, the light upon the moor, the old friends reunited in the cave and the nail-biting finale are handled with terrific aplomb. As with almost all the adaptations there is some re-writing; the whole Laura Lyons subplot is cut and Beryl Stapleton is a much simplified romantic interest, but these don't detract from what is a brilliant detective movie, and the beautiful black-and-white images are a treat to savour. This ripping tale has been filmed umpteen times (and this wasn't the first version by quite some way) but I think this is the best, the closest contender being the subsequent 1959 Hammer version with Peter Cushing. If at all possible, try to see the Optimum Releasing DVD prints of this and the rest of the Rathbone movies, beautifully preserved by the UCLA Film Archive. Classic Gothic cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Hound of the Baskervilles' supposedly has no less than 24 film versions. I think I've seen three of them. The 1959 Hammer edition with Peter Cushing as Holmes was as I recall quite good. But I always come back to the most popular one, the first teaming of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I was reading excerpts from Bruce's diary a while back and it was quite refreshing to learn, after hearing about so many co-stars who constantly fought or were jealous of each other, that he and Rathbone were very close, dear friends. Basil Rathbone insisted that Nigel Bruce play the role of Dr. Watson, both in the film series and also on radio broadcasts they did later. Even though the Watson character is quite different in the movies than in the original stories, nearly everyone agrees that both Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone were born to play their respective roles, and public demand was such that they would continue as Watson and Holmes for a total of fourteen films over seven years. The first two, produced by 20th-Century Fox, were fairly prestigious 'A' pictures, while the dozen done for Universal were more modestly budgeted, a continuing series of 'B' films. But the Holmes stories didn't seem to require a big production, as long as they had the Rathbone/Bruce chemistry. 'Hound of the Baskervilles' takes a few liberties with Arthur Conan Doyle's novel; I doubt most people will notice unless they have the book committed to memory. Even though Dr. Watson is, shall we say, 'dumbed down,' he is as portrayed by Bruce such an enjoyable foil for Rathbone's Holmes that it merely seems like a slightly different interpretation of Doyle's work. The story of the demonic hound who haunts generation after generation of Baskervilles at their estate near the foreboding Grimpin Mire remains intact. In best old Hollywood tradition, the film is rich in atmosphere and often suggests something of the supernatural, though in reality everything can be explained in strictly rational terms, which of course Sherlock Holmes does, in due course. Dr. Watson figures into the proceedings more prominently here as Holmes himself is absent during much of the film's mid-section. The scenes at the estate and out on the moor are appropriately gloomy and dark, even during the day, as the region seems shrouded in a perpetual fog. The assorted other characters range from amusing (old Mr. Frankland, constantly threatening the others with lawsuits) to eerie (the butler Barryman, played by John Carradine) to predictable (Sir Henry Baskerville, a wooden performance by Richard Greene, who got top billing!). One of the best scenes between Rathbone and Bruce is the first one, where an unknown visitor to Holmes' Baker Street residence leaves behind his walking stick and Holmes prods Watson to utilize 'elementary observation' to describe the person. This Watson does to Holmes' amusement, as everything he guesses turns out to be wrong, while of course Holmes' assessment is proved unerringly accurate. In the end, Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery of the hound and the murders (we would expect no less) and his final words are, "Oh Watson, the needle!" I wonder what film audiences back in 1939 made of that!
Probably the best known of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan
Doyle, The Hound Of The Baskervilles gets the A treatment from 20th
Century Fox and introduces the team of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
as Holmes and Watson. They would only go on to make one other Holmes
feature for Fox before the series shifted to Universal and a
considerable downgrading in production values.
The film is also a chance for Darryl F. Zanuck to exhibit Richard Greene who was being groomed at that time as a possible successor to Tyrone Power as the number one heartthrob on the lot. Power was Zanuck's personal favorite among the stars, but even with favorites you have to have someone to keep them in line. And Greene's British background was more in keeping with the locale of the story. Though I certainly could have seen Tyrone Power playing the young Baskerville heir.
It's not the Baskerville heir, but a doctor played by Lionel Atwill at the Baskerville estate who suspects foul play of sorts in the death of the elder Baskerville who was his patient. Though the man died of a heart attack, Atwill tells Rathbone that near the body were "the footprints of a gigantic hound" corresponding to a legendary killer dog that has stalked the Baskerville family for generations. Atwill hires Holmes to protect Greene who is coming over from Canada to claim the estate.
There is a curse of sorts on the Baskervilles, brought on by the rakish behavior of an ancestor played in flashback by Ralph Forbes. He is the first to meet his end in an unnatural manner on that family tree.
A fine cast supports Greene, Rathbone, and Bruce who in fact are billed in that order which leads me to suspect Tyrone Power might have been originally intended for the role. Besides Atwill we also have John Carradine as the Baskerville butler, Wendy Barrie as Greene's intended, Morton Lowry as a neighboring landowner, and Beryl Mercer who is Atwill's wife with a gift for clairvoyance.
There are never any supernatural solutions in a Sherlock Holmes mystery and when the culprit is revealed the motives are more involved with the present though they are grounded in how the legend came about.
This is the first and best of the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. Would all of them had maintained this level of quality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Made way back in 1939, since then many incarnations of the great
detective have taken on the famous hound and won. I can't say I find
this the quintessential version, but it does have many favourable
qualities, the actual hound itself brings true fear, the scenes
involving it with Sir Henry are incredibly realistic, and even now look
very effective. There is a great sense of atmosphere, the moors look
decidedly spooky. The performances all round are very good from the
supporting cast, Lionel Atwill and Richard Greene I thought were
particularly good in their respective roles. Rathbone's 'goods pedlar'
is a treat to behold, the master of disguise at work! The fashions look
great too, they managed to capture the Victorian era beautifully.
I understand that for a few plot changes are unforgivable, but I can understand why, and on occasion changes can help, for pacing, timescale etc.
Rathbone and Bruce combined wonderfully well in this earlier outing, they seemingly had an easy working relationship, it all looks so easy. The Universal movies would became bolder and more dramatic, with greater fiddling to the plot lines.
A quality suspense mystery 8/10
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