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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 is my favourite of all the Sherlock Holmes tales and this is an
excellent film version of it.
It pairs the superb partnership of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, surely the best ever Holmes and Dr Watson. Here they investigate reports of a beast roaming the estate of a rich heir.
The setting is suitably atmospheric with the fog shrouded set of the moors evoking a real sense of menace. The tale twists and turns with various suspects thrown into the mix. It's a relatively fast paced film and always entertaining with a number of expertly filmed scenes especially the one with the hound.
If you only ever watch one Sherlock Holmes film then this is the one to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When the picture opened with that great, spooky, fog enshrouded scene,
it immediately brought to mind the 1941 film "The Wolf Man". As I was
thinking about that, who should appear out of the darkness but a man
who rather resembled a wolf man who we later find out is an escapee
from Nottingham Prison. I had a pretty good chuckle over that one.
Watching these old Rathbone/Bruce team-ups well out of chronological order, I never gave a thought to the idea that the Dr. Watson character was anything more than a somewhat bumbling sidekick. In this first film of the franchise however, still at Fox studios, Nigel Bruce's Watson is considerably more reserved and professional in his manner with the legendary detective. It was an interesting take on the character, though the comedic approach seemed to work as well in the later stories to relieve some of the tension of Holmes' cases.
With a minimal number of characters, the mystery behind the murder on the moor, (say, that would have been a cool title, too) is given away a bit too handily and the viewer winds up knowing who it is even before Holmes, though it will take his logical explanation in the final scene to explain Stapleton's (Morton Lowry) motive. The build up to the finale is made more intriguing with the presence of Lionel Atwill's Dr. Mortimer, a dabbler in the occult, and his wife (Beryl Mercer) who has the psychic abilities of a medium and actually conducts a séance in the story.
Without ever mentioning it, the strange rock formations on the moor where some of the action takes place have a strong resemblance to Stonehenge, and just the name 'Great Grimpen Mire' heralds a formidably dangerous mystery about to unfold. Indeed, the picture treads ominously close to a horror story whenever Dr. Frankland (Barlowe Borland) expounds on his theories about John Stapleton, who has no reservation about claiming the man is a body snatcher.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Hound of Baskerville s (1939): Dir: Sidney Lanfield / Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Lionel Atwill: Haunting detective story about ancestry. Holmes is called to investigate attacks by apparent hounds on an estate. To protect the estate's last heir he goes undercover while partner Watson acts as an overseer. Directed by Sidney Lanfield with lighting that captures the eerie tone as ominous shadows creep about the moors. Basil Rathbone plays off the humorous intellect of Holmes who at first laughs off the report as folklore but he secretly oversees the situation from afar while donning disguises to get in closer. He proves to be an inspector of great intellect when the mystery pieces together. Nigel Bruce plays the loyal and dedicated Watson who is sent on ahead as protection while periodically reporting to Holmes. Richard Greene plays Sir Henry heir of the estate whom is the target for protection. As the film opens he tells of the curse and the hound that targets his namesake. Wendy Barrie is fun as Henry's fiancée but the relationship is too fast and corny. This relationship is predictable and without challenge while the plot is entertaining thanks to Rathbone's confidence and insight. Lionel Atwill plays the consultant who first approaches Holmes and Watson with regards to the case. The result is an entertaining suspense caper. Score: 8 / 10
This is a very dark, mysterious version of the story - almost a horror
film but not quite. Very eerie sets - especially in the Moors. The
story is quite captivating and Ernest Pascal's screenplay for this film
is quite good.
Basil Rathbone is perfect for the role of Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce is outstanding as Dr. Watson. Both play their roles believably well.
This is the type of film I enjoy watching on a dark night with the lights off - it creates a "creepy" atmosphere just like in the film.
Basil Rathbone portrayal of the great detective Sherlock Holmes is one
of the most popular and this adaptation of the popular The Hound of the
Baskervilles is the nearest in accuracy that I have seen of the book,
recurring that I have seen the modern British Sherlock series do a
version of the Hound of Baskerville, which digressed a lot to the use
of drugs to portray the intensity of the hound's presence.
Many differences can be seen when watching this movie adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's, Sherlock Holmes's The Hound of the Baskervilles, from the role of Beryl Stapleton (she is portrayed here by Wendy Barrie), to some other screenplay differences. That being said, this 1939 movie is one that is straight to the heart captivating, it starts with a high note, introducing us to the characters and the case at hand, it then goes smoothly down to the case and how Holmes was intending to solve it, adding the suspense that the book had, as we the viewers as well as Dr Watson (Nigel Bruce) has to wait till Holmes tells us what he has been able to deduce.
Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. John Watson (Nigel Bruce) receive a visit from Dr. Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who wishes to consult them before the arrival of Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene). Sir Henry is the last of the Baskervilles and heir to the Baskerville estate in Devonshire.
But Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes of a legend, the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that first killed Sir Hugo Baskerville hundreds of years ago and the same dog is believed to kill all Baskervilles that stay in the Devonshire, in which Sir Henry will lodge.
The screenplay of any book adaptation is one that needs to be judged carefully, even after reading such a book, you still have to have it in the back of your mind that not all that is written can or should be adapted on screen, in such a case the screenplay has to be well glued together not making you feel like something is off. The 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles has such a screenplay that makes you not feel lost, they did their best to tie up loose ends and make you the view feel a sense of closing as the movie itself ends.
Not many of the Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes portrayal can be found in the market, but if you do search the online market hard you should be able to come across some at a good price although some are said to be on the public domain; as I to will continue the search to see if I can see all fourteen of the duo of Basil Rathbone and Niguel Bruce.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm a huge Holmes fan, having read all the stories decades ago, seen
this movie, watched the Jeremey Brett series multiple times and
listened to every radio episode available, whether part of the canon or
pastiche. It's been years since i watched this version, and i looked
forward to it when I saw it available on youtube. Unfotunately, I was
I'm actually in favor of dramatizations being changed somewhat from their literary sources, but in this case I can't think of a single change that was neutral, much less an improvement. The change of the Barrymores to Barryman was silly - the most famous story from probably the English speaking world's most famous character is already locked in our minds. To change a character's name - for any reason - just serves to take us out of the suspension of disbelief. The role of the Barrymores to Selden is a fundamental part of the story - minimizing it took away from the drama.
Apparently, Hollywood didn't think audiences could deal with Beryl Stapleton having any part whatsoever in the plot, so she's no longer the wife. And Sir Henry asking her to marry him after we've seen them meet just once again follows an unfortunate Hollywood convention and destroys the suspension of disbelief.
And of course how it was that Stapleton lived in the district all his life and no one knew he was related to the Baskervilles is one of those jarring puzzles that Hollywood would typically drop on people just before the film ended and the lights went on. It works until they get outside and start thinking about it.
Nigel Bruce certainly wasn't the bumbling clown he later played in this series, but he's no Watson if you've read the stories. As likable as he was in this role, he was never asked to play Watson and he never did. Bruce was more Jimmie Chan than Dr Watson.
At least this was better than the later Hammer version, which went even further re-writing the story. It was a failure at the box office, with good reason.
If ever an actor was born to play a role, surely it was Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. His physical appearance was spot on, he had a phenomenal speaking voice, and if the producers had ever gone there, an exploration of Holmes' skills as a swordsman would certainly have been safe in his hands. The problem with most of this series is that the support isn't there for him. Nigel Bruce plays Watson as less of a dolt here than he did in subsequent installments, but still plays him as a dolt. Sidney Lanfield's direction moves the story along briskly, the B&W cinematography is gorgeous, and Chief does an excellent job in the title role. The plot of the novel is followed fairly closely, and on the whole, this is a winner, though not definitive by any means.
"In all (of 1899) England there is no district more dismal than the
vast expanse of primitive wasteland, the moors of Dartmoor in
Devonshire." Initiating their successful run of films based on Arthur
Conan Doyle's imagination, famed detective Basil Rathbone (as Sherlock
Holmes) and loyal companion Nigel Bruce (as Dr. Watson) are called upon
to protect handsome Richard Greene (as Henry Baskerville) from the
cursed "Hound of the Baskervilles". Mr. Greene arrives at the moors to
take over the moody Baskerville mansion, after his uncle dies
mysteriously. The death wasn't ruled as such, but Mr. Rathbone believes
it was "Murder, my dear Watson," and nephew Greene is up next
If you're not paying attention, you're liable to think Rathbone isn't the star of this fine first film in his Holmes series; but, his impression is strong throughout. The Gothic look given by director Sidney Lanfield and especially photographer Peverell Marley is outstanding. The servant class is well represented by creepy John Carradine and eerie Eily Malyon (as the Barrymans). Lionel Atwill and Beryl Mercer (as the Mortimers) dabble in the occult. Love interest Wendy Barrie (as Beryl) is pretty, but husband (in the book) turned step-brother Morton Lowry (as John Stapleton) sneaks away with best supporting actor honors. A famous last line reveals Holmes' habit...
******** The Hound of the Baskervilles (3/24/39) Sidney Lanfield ~ Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Morton Lowry
The first of Basil Rathbone's many appearances as Sherlock Holmes.
For purists, it is also a faithful adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle novel.
Rathbone gets to play a "good guy" for a change. He is partnered with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.
Richard Greene ("The Adventures of Robin Hood"), Lionel Atwill, and Wendy Barrie provided great support.
Sir Henry (Greene) wasn't in the best shape for a wedding after that hound got to him, but he survived.
This was the start of a beautiful relationship.
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