The Hound of the Baskervilles
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySidney Lanfield
Screenplay byErnest Pascal
Based onThe Hound of the Baskervilles
1902 novel
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Produced byGene Markey
Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring
CinematographyPeverell Marley
Edited byRobert Simpson
Music byDavid Buttolph
Charles Maxwell
Cyril J. Mockridge
David Raksin
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 31, 1939 (1939-03-31)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1939 American gothic mystery film[1] based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Sidney Lanfield, the film stars Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John Watson. Released by 20th Century Fox,[2] it is the first of fourteen Sherlock Holmes films produced between 1939 and 1946 starring Rathbone and Bruce.

It is among the most well-known cinematic adaptations of the novel, and is often regarded as one of the best.[3] It co-stars Richard Greene as Henry Baskerville (who received top billing, as the studio was unsure of the potential of a film about Sherlock Holmes[3]) and Wendy Barrie as Beryl Stapleton.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is notable as the earliest known Sherlock Holmes film to be set in the Victorian period of the original stories. All known previous Holmes films, up to and including the 1930s British film series starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes, had been updated to a setting contemporaneous with the films' release.[4]

Plot

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson receive a visit from Dr. James Mortimer, who wishes to consult them before the arrival of Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the Baskervilles, heir to the Baskerville estate in Devonshire.

Dr Mortimer is anxious about letting Sir Henry go to Baskerville Hall, owing to a supposed family curse. He tells Holmes and Watson the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that first killed Sir Hugo Baskerville several hundred years ago (seen in flashback) and is believed to kill all Baskervilles in the region of Devonshire.

Holmes dismisses it as a fairy tale, but Mortimer narrates the events of the recent death of his best friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, Sir Henry's uncle. Although he was found dead in his garden without any trace of physical damage, Sir Charles's face was distorted as if he died in utter terror, from heart failure. He alone had noticed footprints at some distance from the body when it was found; they were the paw marks of a gigantic hound.

Holmes decides to send Watson to Baskerville Hall along with Sir Henry, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton, the step-sister of his neighbour Jack Stapleton, a local naturalist. Meanwhile, a homicidal maniac named Selden, escaped from Dartmoor Prison, lurks on the moor.

Holmes eventually makes an appearance, having been hiding in the vicinity for some time making his own investigation. Watson and Sir Henry attend a seance held by Mrs. Mortimer. In a trance, she asks, "What happened that night on the moor, Sir Charles?" The only reply is a lone howl, possibly from a hound. After some clever deception by Holmes, he surmises that the true criminal is Stapleton, a long-lost cousin of the Baskervilles, who hopes to claim their vast fortune himself after removing all other members of the bloodline.

Stapleton kept a huge, half-starved, vicious dog trained to attack individual members of the Baskervilles after prolonged exposure to their scent. However, when the hound is finally sent to kill Sir Henry Baskerville, Holmes and Watson arrive to save him just in time. They kill the hound. Stapleton then traps Holmes down in the hound's underground kennel, and sends Watson into the moor to meet Holmes. Holmes cuts his way out of the kennel and returns to the house and destroys the poison that Stapleton had just given to the wounded Baskerville. Stapleton pulls a gun and flees. Holmes says ominously, "He won't get very far. I've posted constables along the roads and the only other way is across the Grimpen Mire." Holmes is praised for his work on the case, and he turns in.

Cast

Reception

In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as an "excellent film version" of the novel." noting that the film's elements "sustain the suspense until the exciting climax," and that "the atmosphere is extremely well contrived". Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were praised for their roles, while "only Wendy Barrie seems lifeless as Beryl in a cast which is uniformly good."[5]

Awards and honors

American Film Institute recognition

References

  1. ^ "The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)". AllMovie. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  2. ^ Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. pp. 186–188. ISBN 1-903111-04-8.
  3. ^ a b The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) at Turner Classic Movies
  4. ^ Boström, Mattias (2018). From Holmes to Sherlock. Mysterious Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-8021-2789-1.
  5. ^ "Hound of the Baskervilles, The". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 6, no. 61. British Film Institute. 1939. p. 94.