The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)Synopsis: “Peter Cushing is a splendid Holmes” (Daily Mirror) and “Andre Morell is the perfect Dr. Watson” (Daily Herald) in this terror filled mystery classic co-starring horror legend Christopher Lee. With its “compelling acting and spooky cinematography” (Video Movie Guide), this “rattling good movie” (Newsweek) will keep you guessing – and gasping – until the final frame!

A fiendish evil lurks beneath the mist-shrouded cliffs of England’s fabled moors. In the form of a hellish hound, it feeds upon the trembling flesh of the heirs of Baskerville Hall. But before this savage beast can sink its teeth into the newest lord of the manor, it must pit its vicious fangs against the searing intellect of the most powerful foe it has ever encountered – the incomparable Sherlock Holmes.


The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) 7.25

eyelights: Peter Cushing.
eyesores: the static filmmaking.

‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ has been brought to the big and small screen countless times since it was first published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the turn of the 20th century. This 1959 adaptation, featuring none other than Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, is one of the most beloved of the lot.

I already knew the story (who doesn’t, really?), and have recently seen a small screen version also featuring Peter Cushing. So when I watched this, I must admit that there were very few thrills left for me. It’s not that I remember all the details, really, it’s just that its familiarity bred a certain disinterest or ambivalence.

My general feeling was that it was like watching a good stage play: the acting is solid, if slightly theatrical at times, the staging is professional but somewhat static, and there is limited excitement to be seen. In fact, if the film didn’t have a few outdoor sequences, one could easily think that this was an episode of Masterpiece Theatre.

That’s also another likely reason why I wasn’t exactly riveted. A more exciting production would possibly have stirred my interest, but this is a Hammer Films production, which tend to be low-to-medium budget productions. In other words, it is rather workmanlike: efficient, well-crafted, but hardly crafty or especially original.

It doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the most popular films in the whole Hammer output; it’s a constant reference whenever the studio is discussed. It helps that it is bolstered by the commanding presence of Peter Cushing and the ever-enigmatic Christopher Lee, of course; they play off of each other remarkably well.

Peter Cushing, in particular, is something to behold. Although his acting style isn’t particularly naturalistic, he injects an energy in his portrayals that truly make him stand out. I don’t know if he’s given us the best screen rendition Sherlock Holmes, but it is quite memorable – there is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that this man is brilliant and confident.

I was sorely disappointed with Christoper Lee, however, who comes off as unusually bland – far from the charismatic actor we’ve come to know. When I think of him, I immediately imagine the late ’60s-early ’70s Lee, the one who stole the show in many Dracula pictures and in ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’. That man is nowhere to be seen here, replaced by a cardboard cut-out.

This version of ‘Baskervilles’ is notable for bringing about a few changes to the original story. It added a number of twists that were obviously meant to inject suspense in the proceedings, Perhaps the intention was also to give audience a fresh spin, given that they were already familiar with the story. I couldn’t say for sure.

Either way, they were delivered too poorly to actually work, leaving me completely incredulous – thereby completely spoiling the suspense. The spider sequence? Silly! The drowning in the bog? Too abrupt! The masked hound? Too fake-looking! I just couldn’t buy any of those sequences and just sat there wondering how audiences of the day could.

Still, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ delivers a generally proficient murder mystery and I am loathe to dock any points for being less than it could have been. From most perspectives, it’s actually a good film. The fact that I was unimpressed with it doesn’t at all take away from ita quality – superfluous as it was to me, it’s worth seeing for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Date of viewing: April 4+6, 2013

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