Featured Post

Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

I don’t think that I’ve ever covered a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie ever. Not for this site nor for any other project that I’ve ever worked on. That sort of shocks me as I’ve always been a huge fan of these movies. Since I’m in the midst of my current mystery marathon I figured it was time to finally dive in. Unlike the Chan flicks I figured to do these in order so with that in mind lets look at the first cinematic adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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!

There is a lot going on. Ironically, this is also the story that doesn’t feature Holmes that much. He disappears for a large stretch as the action focuses on Sir Henry and Dr. Watson meeting the locals. There is a killer and their identity is eventually revealed but we don’t get a lot in the way of collecting clues and because of that you don’t get to play along with the characters trying to sort out the puzzle of who done it. The movie does make up for that with some excellent pacing clocking in at a tight eighty minutes there isn’t a wasted scene.

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.

While not my favorite version of the character, that would be Jeremy Brett in the Granada television series, Rathbone was the first to really sink his teeth into the role. If you are new to the character this would be a nice place to start and is available to watch online for free. Of his movies this is probably the best. I highly recommend it.

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.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

No comments:

Post a Comment