‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1939) (Film)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

The Hound with Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock and Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson

The Basil Rathbone films must be better than the ‘Sherlock’ TV series with Benedict Cumberbatch! 😀

Over the years, we’ve had many film, TV, audio and theatre adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, the detective character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. The film, TV, audio and theatre adaptations tend to vary in terms of preference by audiences as well as the quality put into them. 😐

Nowadays when people think about Sherlock Holmes, they would probably think of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films starring Robert Downey Jr. and the modern-day styled BBC TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. There are also Big Finish audios of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, featuring Nicholas Briggs as him.

It’s easy to forget the Sherlock Holmes film/TV adaptations made years ago before many of us were born. That includes the film interpretation of Sherlock Holmes as played by Basil Rathbone. He starred in fourteen films playing Sherlock Holmes with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson from 1939 to 1946.

I’ve seen Basil Rathbone in a film with Bing Crosby called ‘Rhythm on the River’. I knew he did the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films, but I never watched the films until now. I’m going to share what I make of the fourteen ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films with Basil Rathbone each in turn and whether they do hold up.

‘The definitive collection’ of Basil Rathbone’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movies is a 7 disc DVD set. The films include ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror’, ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon’, ‘Sherlock Holmes in Washington’, ‘Sherlock Holmes Faces Death’, ‘The Spider Woman’, ‘The Scarlet Claw’, ‘The Pearl of Death’, ‘The House of Fear’, ‘The Woman in Green’, ‘Pursuit to Algiers’, ‘Terror by Night’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’. There are special features to accompany the films as you watch them in the definitive DVD box set. 🙂

The first film of the Basil Rathbone ‘Sherlock Holmes’ collection is of course ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’! This is probably the most well-known ‘Sherlock Holmes’ murder mystery ever made. 🙂

I did see a stage production of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ many years ago and I have seen the BBC ‘Sherlock’ version with Benedict Cumberbatch. The 1939 film was far more enjoyable than that.

The original ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was published in 1902. It’s also intriguing to point out that ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is not the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ tale.

The first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ story was ‘A Study in Scarlet’ where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson first meet. It’s pretty intriguing that the Basil Rathbone film series didn’t start off with ‘A Study in Scarlet’.

In the 1939 ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ film, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson already know each other. There isn’t a story before that to establish how Holmes and Dr. Watson first met each other.

This isn’t a big issue as Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are easily identifiable as Holmes and Watson in the scenes they share together. It’s just fascinating how there isn’t a story where they first meet.

Even though I have reservations about the ‘Sherlock’ series with Benedict Cumberbatch, they had a introductory story ‘A Study in Pink’, based on ‘A Study in Scarlet’, where Holmes and Watson meet. 🙂

Anyway, the 1939 film has Holmes and Watson being called upon to investigate a century-old curse on the Baskerville family at an ancestral manor. This involves a legendary demonic dog in the region.

This happens when Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville comes to inherit the Baskerville manor. Holmes and Watson do all they can solving the mystery once the ferocious dog comes out at night. 🙂

It’s interesting that Basil Rathbone didn’t have a top billing in the film as that went to Richard Greene instead. The studio 20th Century Fox weren’t sure about a potential ‘Sherlock Holmes’ film.

Despite that, Basil Rathbone is very good playing Sherlock in the film. I like how he captures his mannerisms when investigating a crime case and he wears the Sherlock Holmes outfit superbly here.

Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes comes across as manipulative, especially when playing in the background and disguising himself as an old man at one point. It was a really unexpected moment. 🙂

Nigel Bruce is equally good as Dr. Watson in the film. He does come across as bumbling and often not as bright as Sherlock is, but he carries off the charm of the character so well when watching him.

It’s nice Watson gets more involved in the film, especially when he’s at the Baskerville manor and is writing letter reports to Sherlock. He gets a surprise when he sees Sherlock disguised as an old man.

Richard Greene stars as Sir Henry Baskerville, the young aspiring heir to the Baskerville estate in Devonshire and the last of the Baskervilles. He’s at first disbelieving of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

But as the film progresses, Henry is soon pursued by a demonic-like dog chasing him through the fog at night when walking home on the moors. Thankfully he’s saved by Sherlock Holmes and Watson. 🙂

Wendy Barrie stars as Beryl Stapleton, who becomes Sir Henry Baskerville’s love interest in the film. I did think it was rather fast for Sir Henry and Beryl to fall in love when they barely knew each other. 🙂

Even Beryl makes the point in the film. Yet somehow the two are ideal for each other, especially when the film reaches its conclusion. I can only hope that Henry and Beryl lived happily ever after. 😀

The film also features Lionel Atwill as Dr. James Mortimer and Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Jennifer Mortimer. There’s John Carradine (who was in ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’) as the butler, Barryman.

There’s Eily Malyon as Mrs. Barryman and Barlowe Borland as Frankland. There’s also Morton Lowry as John (or Jack) Stapleton, Beryl’s brother and Ralph Forbes as Sir Hugo Baskerville in a flashback. 🙂

‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is a very entertaining film and a good start to the Basil Rathbone ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie series. I’m currently looking forward to watching the rest of these films. 😀

The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a DVD audio commentary by ‘Sherlock Holmes’ expert David Stuart Davies. There’s the ‘Restoring Sherlock Holmes’ featurette, production notes by Richard Valley and a photo gallery.

‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (1939) rating – 8/10

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