Movie Review: Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles

@HellingsOnFilm checks out the 1959 classic on Blu Ray…

Synopsis via Arrow Video

Sherlock Holmes is the most filmed character of all time – but it is arguably this 1959 re-telling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles, from legendary horror studio Hammer and starring genre stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, which stands as the super sleuth’s finest cinematic hour.
Rising up out of the swirling mists of Dartmoor, Baskerville Hall stands tall and gloomy. Its occupant, Charles Baskerville, has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Could Sir Charles have been the victim of the so-called “Baskerville Curse”, which tells of a deadly beast that stalks the surrounding countryside? Unperturbed by the legend, next-in-line Sir Henry Baskerville (a rare leading man performance from Lee) sets out to Dartmoor to assume inheritance of the family estate, under the auspices of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and right-hand man Dr. Watson (Andre Morell).

Imbued with an atmosphere as thick as fog, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a superlative gothic yarn which benefits from game performances from Cushing, Lee and Morell, as well as the expert direction of Terence Fisher, known for helming many of Hammer’s most celebrated efforts including The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Devil Rides Out.


the hound of the baskervilles poster
Hammer Films and Sherlock Holmes may seem a curious combination these days, but in 1958 when The Hound of the Baskervilles went into production, the legendary British studio had yet to fully embrace the world of horror. The unexpected commercial success of their 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein, then The Revenge of Frankenstein and Dracula in 1958, gave Hammer the financial clout to make whatever they wanted via Universal. But it was American producer Kenneth Hyman that had acquired the rights to ‘Hound’ from the Conan Doyle Estate and approached United Artists with the idea of working with Hammer to make the film. The US studio agreed, but mindful of how shocking the colour horror of the Hammer world had been for the general public, demanded that the Conan Doyle source material be treated respectfully. Thus was born the first colour film version of Sherlock Holmes, production beginning on 8th September 1958.
Hammer certainly took artistic license, changing elements of the original story to create a more gothic film that they hoped would appeal to the growing audience for horror, but still managed to maintain the very essence of the Sherlock Holmes character and world, showing yet again why Hound of the Baskervilles continues to remain one of the most popular stories.

Horror fans will surely always delight at the pairing of close friends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee either as on opposing sides in Dracula or fighting alongside each other in Horror Express; and Hound of the Baskervilles is no different, with Cushing excellent as Holmes, and Lee given one of his rare leading man roles as the haunted Sir Henry Baskerville. Also well worth watching is the always quality Andre Morrell, who wisely decided that he didn’t want to play Dr. Watson as some bumbling sidekick, but as an intelligent man that rightly deserves his place working alongside Britain’s greatest detective.

Hound of the baskervilles image

The Blu ray uses the same MGM print that was previously released in Australia, and as has been noted there are some occasional occurrences of faint white specs throughout, but nothing major that spoils the viewing pleasure. The colours are lush and the print genuinely excellent and well worth the time for fans of the film. It’s highly unlikely that either MGM or Hammer will provide a restoration in the foreseeable future, so this release will be the definitive version for some time to come.

The Special Features are far more extensive than the Australian release, still including the fascinating documentary on the career of Andre Morrell, but also with a new documentary on the making of film, including interviews with Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman, as well as surviving members of the crew. The archive interview with Christopher Lee is also both informative as he looks back on his involvement in the film, and highly touching as he remembers his dear friend Cushing.

Highly recommended.

Special Features
· High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) feature presentation
· Original uncompressed Mono 1.0 Audio
· Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
· Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
· New audio commentary with Hammer experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
· Release the Hound! – a brand new documentary looking at the genesis and making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman, actor/documentarian and co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss, and others
· André Morell: Best of British – a featurette looking at the late great actor André Morell and his work with Hammer
· The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes – a 1986 documentary looking at the many incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character, narrated and presented by Christopher Lee
· Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville
· The Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee
· Original Theatrical Trailer
· Extensive Image Gallery
· Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
· Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

The Hound of the Baskervilles is Region B.

Blu ray to be released Monday 1st June by Arrow Video.

David Paul Hellings

Twitter: @HellingsOnFilm

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