The Hound of the Baskervilles
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTerence Fisher
Screenplay byPeter Bryan
Based onThe Hound of the Baskervilles
1902 novel
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Produced byAnthony Hinds
StarringPeter Cushing
André Morell
Christopher Lee
Marla Landi
David Oxley
CinematographyJack Asher
Edited byAlfred Cox
Music byJames Bernard
Production
company
Distributed byUnited Artists[1]
Release date
  • 27 March 1959 (1959-03-27) (London)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Box office1,257,132 admissions (France)[2]

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1959 British gothic mystery film directed by Terence Fisher and produced by Hammer Film Productions. It is based on the 1902 novel of the same title by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It stars Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, Sir Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville and André Morell as Doctor Watson. It is the first film adaptation of the novel to be filmed in colour.

Plot

Dr. Richard Mortimer recounts to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in Baker Street the legend of the Hell hound that killed the devilish Sir Hugo Baskerville for his murder of the daughter of a servant. He asks Holmes to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville, in Dartmoor, from heart failure, in the moor surrounding his estate, Baskerville Hall, with a look of horror on his face. Mortimer fears for the life of Sir Henry, Sir Charles' nephew and heir, who's just come from South Africa to take possession of his inheritance and of Baskerville Hall.

Although sceptical, Holmes and Watson agree to meet Sir Henry who complains that one of his boots is missing. Mortimer tells them that the Baskerville estate is worth about £1,000,000. A peculiar threat from a dangerous tarantula convinces Holmes that Sir Henry's life is in danger. Claiming that he cannot come to Baskerville Hall himself, Holmes dispatches Watson to Dartmoor with Mortimer and Sir Henry. Holmes tells Sir Henry not to go out onto the moor after dark.

On their way to Baskerville Hall, the trio learns that Selden, a convicted murderer, has escaped Dartmoor Prison and is hiding on the moor. At Baskerville Hall, Mr. Barrymore, the butler, and Mrs. Barrymore, the housekeeper show them around the mansion. One of two portraits of Sir Hugo is missing, and the Barrymores say it was mysteriously stolen months before. The next day, Sir Henry and Watson meet Bishop Frankland, a pastor and keen entomologist. Watson gets trapped in a patch of mire in the Grimpen Mire and is saved by a farmer named Stapleton and his daughter Cecile, a girl who bewitches Sir Henry.

That night, Watson and Sir Henry investigate a light on the moor. They briefly encounter a strange man who flees in the shadows, and a distant hound howls, provoking in Sir Henry a mild heart attack. Watson spots a man on a hill in the distance while helping Sir Henry back to Baskerville Hall. Watson discovers it to be Holmes, who has concealed his own arrival to investigate more freely.

Selden, wearing Sir Henry's clothes, is slaughtered by the unseen hound. Holmes and Watson find his body mutilated in a ritual, and the legendary curved dagger of Sir Hugo. The Barrymores confess to have helped Selden, who was their relative, by supplying food and clothes each time he signaled with a light from his hideout. Holmes is convinced that neither the Barrymores nor Selden are connected to the death of Sir Charles. He also figures that the tarantula found in London was stolen from Bishop Frankland.

After surviving personal danger in an abandoned tin mine while looking for evidence of a hound, Holmes is able to dedeuce who unleashed the hound in pursuit of Sir Charles. Holmes explains about questioning Barrymore about the missing portrait; it was stolen because it revealed the fingers on Sir Hugo's right hand were webbed just like Stapleton's. Finding the dagger stolen, Holmes and Watson follow Sir Henry and Cecile to the moor. Cecile takes Sir Henry to the ruins where Holmes and Watson hear Cecile reveal her intentions to a horrified Sir Henry, revealing that she and her father are also descendants of Sir Hugo, planning to claim the inheritance as their own once Sir Henry is dead. The hound appears and attacks Sir Henry, until Holmes shoots it, causing it to back off. With Sir Hugo's curved dagger, Stapleton attempts to attack Watson, who shoots and wounds him. The wounded hound attacks Stapleton and fatally mauls him. Holmes shoots and kills the hound. Sir Henry is unscathed from the mauling as Holmes reveals the hound to be an ordinary dog wearing a mask to make it look more terrifying. Cecile tries to flee across the moor, only to fall into the Grimpen Mire and sink to her death as Holmes and Watson take a shocked Sir Henry back to Baskerville Hall. Back in Baker Street, Holmes and Watson are given by Sir Henry the stolen portrait of Sir Hugo that was found on the Stapleton farm.

Cast

Production

Differences from the novel

There are notable significant changes from the novel. Among them:

The Conan Doyle Estate did not approve of the changes made to suit Hammer's more horror-centric success. Cushing, however, took no objection to the changes as he felt the character of Holmes remained intact.[4]

Casting

Cushing was an aficionado of Sherlock Holmes and brought his knowledge to the project.[5] He re-read the stories, made detailed notes in his script and sought to portray Holmes closer to his literary counterpart. It was Cushing's suggestion that the mantelpiece feature Holmes's correspondence transfixed to it with a jackknife as per the original stories.[5] However, when producer Anthony Hinds suggested excluding the famous deerstalker Cushing objected, saying Holmes' headgear and pipes would be expected by the audience.[6] Cushing scrutinised the costumes and screenwriter Peter Bryan's script, often altering words or phrases.[7] Lee later said he was awestruck by Cushing's ability to incorporate many different props and actions into his performance simultaneously, whether reading, smoking a pipe, drinking whiskey, filing through papers or other things while portraying Holmes.[8] Morell was particularly keen that his portrayal of Watson should be closer to that originally depicted in Conan Doyle's stories, and away from the bumbling stereotype established by Nigel Bruce's interpretation of the role.[9]

Oxley had an extraordinarily powerful voice that he used to great effect, being able to fill an auditorium without the aid of microphones, and seen to best effect as Hugo Baskerville.[10]

Locations

Filming took place on location at Chobham Common and Frensham Ponds,[5] both in Surrey.

Release

Drive-in advertisement from 1959 for The Hound of the Baskervilles and co-feature, The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.

The film opened at the London Pavilion on 27 March 1959.[11]

Critical reception

Peter Cushing's Holmes received good reviews at the time, with Films and Filming calling him an "impish, waspish, Wilde-ian Holmes",[5] while the New York Herald Tribune stated "Peter Cushing is a forceful and eager Sherlock Holmes".[12] André Morell's Watson has been praised for his far more accurate rendition of the character as envisioned by Arthur Conan Doyle, as opposed to the comical buffoon created by Nigel Bruce.[5][12]

A negative review in the Monthly Film Bulletin stated that "any freshly entertaining possibilities in this much-filmed story have here been lost in a welter of blood, love interest and mood music".[1] The review also noted unimaginative staging and direction and "dull performances".[1]

Time Out (London) called it "the best Sherlock Holmes film ever made, and one of Hammer's finest movies".[13] On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 94% approval rating based on reviews from 18 critics.[14]

Box office

According to Kinematograph Weekly the film performed "better than average" at the British box office in 1959.[15]

References

  1. ^ a b c d "Hound of the Baskervilles, The, Great Britain, 1959". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 26, no. 300. British Film Institute. 1939. p. 94.
  2. ^ Box office information for Terence Fisher films in France at Box office Story
  3. ^ Eyles 1986, p. 104.
  4. ^ Earnshaw, Tony (2001). An Actor, and a Rare One. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 10. ISBN 0810838745.
  5. ^ a b c d e Barnes 2002, pp. 63–65.
  6. ^ Earnshaw, p. 10
  7. ^ Earnshaw, p. 11—12
  8. ^ Lee, Christopher (actor). (2002). Actor's Notebook: Christopher Lee. [Documentary, from The Hound of the Baskervilles DVD]. Greg Carson: MGM Home Entertainment. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  9. ^ Kinsey, Wayne (2002). Hammer Films – The Bray Studios Years. Richmond: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. p. 133. ISBN 1-903111-11-0.
  10. ^ McFarlane, Brian; Slide, Anthony (20 July 2013). "The Encyclopedia of British Film: Fourth Edition". Oxford University Press – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "Amusements Guide". Evening Standard. London. 26 March 1959. p. 26.
  12. ^ a b "Peter Cushing and Sherlock Holmes – An Overview". bakerstreetdozen.com. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  13. ^ "The Hound of the Baskervilles Review. Movie Reviews – Film – Time Out London". Time Out. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013.
  14. ^ "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 April 2022.
  15. ^ Billings, Josh (17 December 1959). "Other better-than-average offerings". Kinematograph Weekly. p. 7.

Sources