The movie opens with a man running thru the moors fleeting from some unseen terror. He collapses and dies, which we know since the next scene is the coroner’s inquest. They determine that it was natural causes, though his friend Dr. Mortimer insists he was murdered. I suppose I should also mention that the man was the current Sir Baskerville. This is important since Henry, the heir, has arrived in England to claim his inheritance. Dr. Mortimer is concerned for his safety and comes to see Holmes about it.
After some shenanigans in London Holmes sends Sir Henry off to his estate with Dr. Watson tagging along to keep an eye on him. He claims he needs to finish another case, but the truth is Sherlock wishes to sneak into the village to investigate without anyone knowing he is there. After we are introduced to some locals aka. suspects the mystery starts to take shape. What appears to be a spectral beast referenced in a family curse turns out to have a much more mundane origin. Someone is after Sir Henry, but it isn’t some spiritual entity or family curse. Nope this is all about good old human greed.
I’ve read this story many times and have seen this as well as all the other adaptations of it so there wasn’t much mystery involved for me. But even if I hadn’t gone into it with that knowledge, I would say that this isn’t your typical Holmes story. There is far less deduction and collection of clues in The Hound of the Baskervilles as it leans more into the action with them running around the moors chasing down the things that go bump or actually howl in the night. Not only do we have the mysterious beast mentioned in the title but there is also an escaped murdered/lunatic. And the latter doesn’t even have anything to do with the main story!
Oh and make sure that you are watching the version that is eighty minutes long. There are other cuts out there that were made for television as well as removing a particularly controversial line. For those not familiar with the classic stories of Conan Doyle he had his detective addicted to cocaine, which was the only way he could relax and allow his mind to go idle. The last line of the uncut movie reflects this. “Oh, Watson… the needle.” It doesn’t add anything to the movie but I always prefer the original vision of the filmmakers.
The cast is solid with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce appearing as Holmes and Watson respectively. They are great in this movie and have immediate chemistry. This is one of the main reasons that we ended up with another thirteen of these movies. That was despite of the mixed quality of the latter entries. There are also fun appearances from Lionel Atwill as Dr. Mortimer and John Carradine as Barryman the butler. Atwill would appear later in the series as Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty.
One more thing before I go. The elaborate sets used for this movie were reused for the Charlie Chan flick Castle in the Desert which I’ve already covered here. It is always fun to find little connections like this while doing research on my reviews.
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