The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

hound1I watched Arrow’s excellent new blu-ray release of The Hound of the Baskervilles a few days prior to the sad passing of Christopher Lee. I make a point of stating this because, well, it won’t ever be quite the same in future watching a film featuring him. The knowledge that there will be no more films made with Lee is a sad one, and it can’t help but colour your thinking whilst watching him now in any of his great films like The Wicker Man or Dracula or The Devil Rides Out. Some of these great old films are passing out of living memory and into history, an inevitable fact of life as the years pass but nonetheless a sobering one. Part of the power and magic of movies- performances captured onto film forever, the work of actors waiting to be discovered and appreciated by viewers yet unborn. Sadly the audiences for some of these older films may wane as time goes on -later versions of Sherlock Holmes may make later generations think that a 1959 Holmes film is pretty much redundant. That’s their loss. This is a great little movie.

Discovering something ‘new’, like an unwatched Kubrick or Hitchcock film, is something rather special, which is how I approached Baskervilles as I had never seen it before and it starred the great Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes. Regular readers of this blog will know of my appreciation of Cushing, and seeing him in something new (to me anyway) is always something to treasure. His Holmes here is a vivid, almost mercurial one, quite a surprise when compared to his dour Van Helsing or obsessed Victor Frankenstein. He clearly relishes the part of Holmes and makes it a rather physical role rather than a still, intellectual one- there’s a jolly, almost youthful exuberance here. Its fun. Reminds me of his Captain Clegg.

Its a Hammer film so its obvious why the Baskerville story was chosen, as it leans towards the horror of the story in a similar way to how Hammer’s first Dracula pared Stoker’s tale to the bone but it’s a very good version of the tale, and Cushing’s evident fun in the role makes me sad Hammer didn’t continue the series with another Holmes film. Would have certainly been a welcome diversion from Cushing’s usual Hammer roles. The film’s prologue is pure Gothic Hammer, as we see the dastardly Sir Hugo Baskerville launch the legend of the Baskerville curse with some gusto. Hammer was great at this stuff and it’s a startling way to start a Holmes movie.

Christopher Lee’s role, as Sir Henry Baskerville, is most atypical. There’s nothing threatening about him here and he even gets something of a romance. Clearly this is before he became typecast (he was just too good as a villain, with so much presence on-screen) and its a pleasure to see him in something so unusual. Hammer’s Baskervilles is clearly one of those ‘what-if’ movies- what if they made more Holmes movies, and Cushing starred in them, what if Lee had gotten the opportunity of more of these kind of roles. Well. Its fun to wonder.

7 thoughts on “The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

  1. Good review. I don’t think this one was a success at the time, which did for Hammer’s Holmes – a shame as Cushing is brilliant in a role he clearly adored playing (he was a big Holmes fan) and Morrell’s Watson was a great departure from the bumbler played to excellent effect by Nigel Bruce. Time has been kinder to the film and it’s universally regarded as amongst the better Hammers. As it should be; it’s a great picture and the “horror” elements work really well.

    1. Thanks Mike- its funny how some films get treated better over time. I really enjoyed it and am surprised it didn’t have more success on its initial release- it’s a very good Hammer. Thank goodness for home video and access to all these great older films, it gives them a new lease of life they really deserve and hopefully this film is a case in point and it will gain more fans.

      1. Very true, I’ve got to see a lot of brilliant films that might otherwise have been lost to time, thinking especially of the slew of Psycho inspired, black and white thrillers they made. I think these actually represent the best they had to offer, though I appreciate the excitement their horror releases would have inspired at the time.

  2. I picked up Arrow’s BD too, but haven’t made the time for it yet. Looking forward to it.

    I believe I read somewhere (possibly it caught my eye flicking through Arrow’s booklet, even) that Hammer never even considered making more Holmes films — they picked Baskervilles because of its Gothic, Hammer-esque qualities, something Doyle’s other adventures have in short supply.

    re: Cushing playing Holmes again, you may well already know, but he later did so in a BBC TV series. Most of it is sadly missing, but the surviving episodes include another adaptation of Hound. I feel a comparison may be on the cards…

    1. You know, I’d simply assumed that Cushing’s tv Holmes was lost, so I’m very surprised to find that some of it is available on DVD. More ‘new’ Cushing for me to look forward to! Look forward to your comparison piece.

  3. Pingback: Quatermass and the Pit (1958-59) – the ghost of 82

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