Cinema Sunday: The Hound of The Baskervilles (1959)

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Title: The Hound of The Baskervilles

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (story)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Released: May 4th, 1959

MPAA: NR

In this big screen version of the classic tale from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we see the vile Sir Hugo Baskerville, as he and his drunken cohorts torture a man because he questioned Sir Hugo’s motives with his daughter. After nearly killing him (or maybe killing him), he turns his attention to the daughter upstairs. Unbeknownst to him though, she’s escaped through the window, and is running loose, towards the moors. He lets loose the hunting dogs to chase her down, and cries out…”let the hounds of Hell take me if I can’t hunt her down”! He eventually does hunt her down, and murder her, but as he does, a sinister howl rings,out from the darkness. Sir Hugo is then attacked by some monstrosity, and is killed.

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In the present day, we see that Dr. Mortimer (Francis de Wolff), is telling this tale to Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and his partner, Dr. Watson (André Morell). They seem unimpressed, which ticks off Mortimer. Holmes then uses his keen intellect to ask the right questions about a more recent murder in the Baskerville family, and then we realize that Holmes already knows of his motives for being at his home. Mortimer then explains that the next heir in line, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), is due to arrive today. Holmes tells Mortimer that he’ll meet with Sir Henry, and investigate the matter.

The next day, we see Sir Henry, at a hotel room, as he’s getting ready for the visit. Homes and Watson arrive, and tell him that they’ll take up the case. Before they leave, Sir Henry is the victim of an attack by a tarantula. Holmes has Watson accompany Sir Henry to the home, and he attends to other business. At the ancestral home, Sir Henry and Watson are taken care of by the housekeepers. Sir Henry does a toast but the female housekeeper drops her drink when he mentions the family curse. That night, Watson can hear a howling in the distance. The next morning, Sir Henry meets the local bishop (Miles Malleson), and they discuss the family history. After a short trip to the village, Watson is walking through the moors, when he’s approached by a man, warning him of straying off the trail. Watson continues on his trek, and runs into a beautiful girl. He asks her if he’s still on the right path to Baskerville Hall, and she runs away upon hearing that name. Watson pursues her through the moor, but then falls into quicksand. He’s rescued by the man he met earlier (Stapleton), and his daughter. They return Watson to the castle, and Sir Henry meets the girl (the daughter of Stapleton, who’s a local farmer), and the two get off to a rocky start.

Later that evening, Watson and Sir Henry see a light flashing out on the moors. They investigate, and find a man running loose on the property. As they are in pursuit, they hear a howling noise. Sir Henry appears to have some kind of panic attack. Back at the castle, Dr. Mortimer tells him that he has a heart condition that he’s inherited from the family. Watson goes back out to the moors to look for clues. As Watson sifts through the old ruins, he’s surprised by Holmes. who’s been watching things from a distance for days. As the two are talking, they hear a scream. They find a dead body, and assume it’s Sir Henry. They make their way back to the castle, and discover that it wasn’t Sir Henry, but an escaped convict that was roaming the area.

Another day passes, and they return to the spot where the body was left. It’s now missing, and they find tracks leading to the old ruins. They discover that someone or something not only killed the convict, but also mutilated his body. They find a dagger with the family crest on it, the very one that was used to kill decades earlier by the evil Sir Hugo. Holmes finds out that the housekeeper was related to the convict, and that she’d been taking him food and clothing. He was wearing one of Sir Henry’s suits when he was killed. Holmes visits the bishop, to decide what he knows about the recent disappearance of a tarantula. He tells Holmes that Dr. Mortimer had paid him a visit days before.

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Sir Henry pays a visit to the Stapleton’s house, and puts the moves on the daughter. She has a strange look in her eyes, but then she invites him to dinner for that evening. Watson and Holmes discuss who might be behind these acts, and they are still unclear about who is responsible. Holmes deduces that there is something more to the moors than meets the eye. Dr. Mortimer and Holmes are at odds over Sir Henry. Holmes tells Dr. Mortimer about a local mine that needs investigating, and he agrees to come with him. Holmes then pulls out the dagger he found earlier, but Dr. Mortimer doesn’t seem surprised to see it. Next, Holmes, Stapleton, and Mortimer descend into the mine. After a few moments, Holmes makes a discovery, but then there’s a howl of an animal, and a cave i seals Holmes in, for good apparently. In the next scene, Watson is attempting to dig his way down to Holmes, but Mortimer and Stapleton tell him that there’s no way he survived. As they walk back to the cart, they’re shocked to see Holmes sitting in the cart.

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Back at the castle, Holmes and Watson are putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Holmes had locked the dagger he found in a drawer in his dresser. It was forced open, and the dagger stolen. Sir Henry comes to see how Holmes is doing (he hurt his leg in the mine), and tells them that they’ve been invited to dinner by Stapleton. Holmes then realizes that this is the night Sir Henry is to die, so he intentionally annoys Sir Henry, so that he;ll go to dinner without them. Sir Henry leaves, and the two detectives make their plan! I wont spoil the ending, but rest assured, that Watson and Holmes see the action they’re looking for, and Sir Henry must face the hound from Hell!

OK, my thoughts are as follows:

The picture is without a doubt, one of the best films Hammer Studios has ever made. Cushing is astounding with his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes! He really “gets” the character, and what Doyle was trying to convey in his novel. André Morell has another magnificent performance, and really does his best at giving us a Watson we can believe. The bishop, Miles Malleson, is another Hammer regular, and has a knack with his depiction of the bumbling gentleman.

I definitely need to mention the man who wrote the screenplay, Peter Bryan. This adaptation was quite good compared to others. Not that you need to compare it, because it can stand alone against any other movie. The music score was fantastic too, and nothing less can be expected from James Bernard. It really set a thunderous mood during the high points of the film.

Long story short is that if you haven’t seen this movie, you need to right away. It is the definitive Sherlock Holmes movie! If you love mysteries, thrillers, or any type of classic film, get out and grab this film now!

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