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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) review


Peter Cushing (Sherlock Holmes), Andre Morell (Dr. Watson), Christopher Lee (Sir Henry), Marla Landi (Cecile), Francis De Wolff (Dr. Mortimer), David Oxley (Sir Hugo)

Directed by Terence Fisher

The Short Version: Hammer's take on this oft filmed version of the popular tale from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a deliciously colorful adaptation. Grand performances by all involved and Cushing leads the pack as a wittily arrogant, if slightly off-kilter Sherlock Holmes; one of his most famous roles.

A curse is placed on the Baskerville lineage over their heinous past deeds. Years later this brings about inexplicable and disastrous consequences on Sir Henry after inheriting the family estate in Devonshire mere days following the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville.

The lush colors and bountiful sets from Hammer's earlier, and then groundbreaking horror hits returns for this popular mystery thriller taken from the vast collection of stories centered around the brilliant London detective. Having reinvigorated Universal's classic monsters in blood dripping color, the enterprising scriptwriters at the British production company then turned their bloody pens towards the horror enhanced element surrounding this case of the Baker Street investigator.

Peter Cushing commands the movie in every scene he's in and when he's not onscreen, the viewer pines for his return. His delivery is amazingly kinetic spouting off one irreverently humorous and assured line of dialog after another. He comes off as terribly egotistical at times, but this is a ploy to further his 'process of elimination' in solving the case through logic. One of the absolute best dialog exchanges comes towards the end wherein Sir Henry invites Holmes and Watson to the home of his girlfriend for supper. Holmes demeans Henry's company's less than royal societal stature prompting Henry to become infuriated after Holmes coldly proclaims, "You'd better be off. You mustn't be late for your peasant friends", followed by the capper, "Enjoy their rabbit pie."

Holmes doesn't have all the fun, though. Another funny moment has Sir Henry mistaking the esteemed detective and Watson for the help at the hotel he's staying in. This is followed by a tense moment where Henry ends up with a Tarantula crawling up his coat sleeve. In interviews, Lee has stated his very real fear of spiders which aided his acting in this sequence. The scene ends with a bit of slight humor as Holmes, brushing the hairy arachnid away, furiously whacks away at it with his cane as opposed to dirtying his shoes by merely squashing it.

I guess if one were to look for it, you'd find some slight political undercurrent regarding the societal clash of the upper and lower class hidden within the fog enshrouded framework. The rich are often perceived as evil in Hammer's pictures (and in just about any other movie) and this one is no different. It's not pertinent to the storyline, but the imbalance between those of financial comfort and those lacking it is brought to the fore in a dialog exchange during the atmospheric climax and this dichotomy provides the crux for the curse.

Easily one of the best and most fun of "Props Peter's" many memorable roles, the true 'Gentleman of Horror' was a logical choice to play the intellectually dapper and internationally recognized British sleuth.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Probably my favourite version of this often filmed tale. One of the highlights is the prologue which shows the decadence and sadism of Sir Hugo and his loyal band of monstrous aristocrats. A sequence probably only matched by the treatment of the hungry beggar in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. A great little cameo by Miles Malleson as an eccentric Bishop adds some flavour, and the barren moors with the fatal Grimpen Mire at its centre is lucidly realised. I cannot fault your appraisal of the brilliant Peter Cushing - my only criticism is the casting of Christopher Lee as Sir Henry. The frailties and weaknesses of the character are somewhat undermined by his towering physicality.

R.A.M.'67 said...

I'm in the Basil Rathbone camp when it comes to movie portrayals of Holmes, but Peter Cushing is a very strong second!

It's been a while since I've seen this version of THotB; I need to seek this out in the new year! Thanks for the review, venoms5!

Have you seen the BBC Sherlock Holmes series with Cushing? It came out on a 2-DVD set a year ago and features all surviving episodes (what didn't get lost during the notorious BBC vault purge).

Unknown said...

I am fascinated on this after reading your review. Great film!

venoms5 said...

@ Shaun: Top film and one of my fave Hammer's specifically for Cushing's rousing performance. Love it. Agree on all points, although I didn't mind Lee and it was nice to see him play second fiddle to Cushing for a change. I forgot to mention the HORROR OF DRACULA music is recycled here, too.

@ Fang: I'm not really a Holmes fan, but I love this movie. Cushing is my favorite actor of them all and this is one of his best, most liveliest roles. I might have to pick up that set as I don't have it.

Elgart: Yes, this is a great movie, as are many of Hammer's pictures, Elgart!

I Like Horror Movies said...

I havent seen a single version of this Holmes tale if you can believe it, but I am naturally inclined to see this one first since our beloved Peter Cushing is in it. V, do you suggest buying as a one off, or getting it in the Sherlock Holmes set with the other films? Havent seen any of them

R.A.M.'67 said...

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" story is done again in a two-parter of the BBC series; I liked it, though the production isn't on the grand scale of your average Hammer flick! Whenever I buy a copy of the '59 movie, it will be fun to compare the two!

venoms5 said...

The Hammer version from MGM is definitely a worthy purchase, Carl. Fang is more learned than me on Holmes. I don't have the series on DVD, but the movie is fabulous aided immeasurably by a spirited Peter Cushing.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Consider it handled ;)

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