Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1939)

“Mr. Holmes, you’re the one man in all England who can help me.”

Synopsis:
Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his companion, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce), investigate the suspected presence of a supernatural hound on the mist-shrouded property of a newly orphaned young heir (Richard Greene).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this is the “first and best of the Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant, eccentric self-impressed English detective and Nigel Bruce as his bumbling companion, Dr. Watson” — reason enough to consider it a “must see” title, given that Rathbone is the performer most closely associated with this iconic literary legend. Peary argues that “Rathbone’s Holmes has the proper amounts of conceit in his skill and enjoyment in his profession — he really believes that solving murders is a game”, and notes that the “film has flavor, atmosphere, some suspense, [and] a good mystery”. Peary’s review just about sums up the strengths of this modest yet enjoyable whodunit, one which remains consistently compelling despite the unfortunate inclusion of an insipid romance between Greene and Wendy Barrie (which deviates from the original story). Rathbone and Bruce teamed up the same year to make another Holmes film (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), also taking place in Victorian London; the remaining 12 entries in the enormously popular series were updated to contemporary times. Listen for the infamously audacious final line by Holmes, originally cut by censors.

Note: I was inspired to revisit some of Peary’s recommended Holmes titles after watching the excellent new BBC series “Sherlock”, which updates the characters to contemporary London. Each episode is nearly 1.5 hours, making the series more like a set of films than a T.V. show. They’re enormously clever, and definitely worth a look. Sherlock Holmes, by the way, is the “most portrayed literary character in film”, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography

Must See?
Yes, to see the “definitive Holmes” on-screen.

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2 Responses to “Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1939)”

  1. A must, for its place in cinema history.

    A more-or-less solid piece of classic filmmaking. It has some imperfection: it’s slightly transparent, at least a bit silly (“It’s just the wind.” Really? You mean that sound that was clearly an animal of some sort?), and the love angle is tepid. But it’s wonderfully atmospheric (great b&w photography, production design is impressive & there’s all that lovely fog), and there are a few clever tricks up its sleeve. A rather good, extended finish!

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Very good adaptation but it’s not up to the classic 1958 Hammer version.

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