Genre: Horror and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.
Release Date: July 3rd, 1959 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Terence Fisher Actors: Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee, Marla Landi, David Oxley, Francis De Wolff, Miles Malleson, Ewen Solon, John Le Mesurier, Judi Moyens
he legend of the hound originated in the Hall of Baskervilles, owned by the evil Sir Hugo (David Oxley), who locked away a young farm girl at the top of the estate. When she flees one night, as guests engage in some boisterous drinking, Hugo lets loose the dogs to hunt her down, but they’re scared off by a more menacing creature – a monstrosity that makes a meal of the unsuspecting Hugo, starting by tearing out his throat. From then on, the moors are rumored to be cursed, guarded over by a hound from hell.
When Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) from Devonshire journeys to Baker Street to relate the folk tale of the hound to famed detective Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and his companion Doctor Watson (Andre Morell), he’s perturbed by the general air of disinterest. Nevertheless, Holmes digests the news of a recent death – Sir Charles Baskerville – who died with such a fright etched onto his face that surely he must have been running from the hell-hound. The official inquest found no foul play, but Mortimer is certain that the inheritor of the million-pound Hall, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), is in grave danger. “This, I think, is a two pipe problem.”
A departure from the usual horror pictures of Hammer Film Productions, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is still very much a recognizable Hammer property. Atmospheric, with darkened sets enshrouded by fog and mist and cigarette smoke (and sharp lighting contrasts), the look is entirely familiar, as are the players and the director (Terence Fisher). And though this is based on one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most popular stories about his unequaled sleuth, the details fit perfectly within the standard worlds and scenarios explored in the studio’s history. Murder, mutilation, mysteries, the occult, an escaped psychopath, a haunted mansion, and a bloodlusting monster are just a few of the trusty staples that crop up.
The heaving bosom of Cecile Stapleton (Marla Landi) is yet another signature inclusion, along with all sorts of gothic environments, suspicious activities, and leery people. Cushing is more than capable in the role of Holmes, staying a few steps ahead of the other characters as well as the audience (Watson tends to serve as an equivalent to the viewer, remaining in the dark until the master deducer explains the elements that are far too complex for a normal mind to foresee). He’s austere, calculating, and perfectly confident (and brandishes a magnifying glass with a certain effortlessness). No case is too abstruse for this gumshoe. “That is precisely what I intend to find out.”
Everyone is a suspect, and none of them attempt to behave as if completely innocent. In a strange twist, it’s as if all the supporting players are purposely dishonest, just so that they remain plausible culprits. And the conclusion is appropriately morbid and riddled with casualties. While this isn’t a drastically different interpretation of the classic story (despite a number of changes to the premise), it’s nicely handled, possessing a seriousness and an updated amount of blood that are entirely fitting for a Hammer endeavor. It’s a shame that no further Holmes adaptations followed, as audiences of the time weren’t accepting of a deviation from the studio’s traditional episodes involving werewolves and vampires and witches.
– Mike Massie