It’s almost impossible to count the number of times that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted for either the big or the small screen. The 1959 version from Hammer Films is one of the more interesting attempts.
The plot of course concerns the curse on the Baskerville family. In the mid-18th century the notoriously debauched Sir Hugo Baskerville brutally killed a young woman. Since that time his successors to the title have come to untimely ends, apparently terrified to death by a monstrous hound from Hell. Well that’s the story that is told to Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) when he succeeds to the title and inherits the vast Baskerville estates following the death of his uncle Sir Charles Baskerville.
Dr Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) had been a close friend of Sir Charles and is so concerned about Sir Henry’s safety that he has taken it upon himself to call in the famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing).
Holmes and Watson (André Morell) accompany Sir Henry to his estate in Devon but keeping Sir Henry alive while trying to unravel the mystery proves to be something of a challenge.
Peter Cushing is a splendid Holmes, not quite as good as Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett but still very very good. André Morell is also excellent - his Dr Watson is a far cry from the bumbling Watson of Nigel Bruce. Christopher Lee is a surprisingly sympathetic Sir Henry Baskerville. One might have expected him to make the character stiff-necked and arrogant but he resists that temptation. His Sir Henry is clearly a man desperately trying to convince himself that he isn’t afraid but not really succeeding.
As usual in a Hammer production there are some fine character actors in the supporting cast, with Miles Malleson as the scatter-brained bishop and amateur naturalist being particularly entertaining.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the quintessential gothic detective tale and was therefore an ideal choice for Hammer. With Terence Fisher directing, production design by Bernard Robinson and cinematography by Jack Asher you’d expect this film to be dripping with gothic atmosphere, and it does not disappoint. In fact the gothic elements are laid on very thickly indeed, an approach which works extremely well. Hammer not surprisingly emphasised the horror overtones in promoting this movie.
Fisher had proved himself equally adept in directing both film noir and gothic horror films and he’s clearly right at home with this material.
This was I believe the first Sherlock Holmes movie made in colour. The rich Technicolor palette and widescreen format makes it much more cinematic than earlier film versions. The outdoor scenes have a very artificial filmed-on-a-sound-stage look which perfectly captures the brooding and hostile feel of the desolate moors around the Baskerville estate. The outdoor scenes are actually more claustrophobic than the interior scenes, quite appropriate given that that’s where the danger lies.
A thoroughly enjoyable offering that combines the worlds of Hammer gothic and Sherlock Holmes very effectively.