THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939)

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

No literary character has been made it onto film as many times as Sherlock Holmes. To be honest, we haven’t researched that at all [not like you – Ed] so that might not actually be true. But you get the idea. He’s been in a lot of movies, TV series and even radio adaptations. But, while some will cite Brett, Cushing, Lee or even Cumberbatch as the definitive Holmes, to some of us it will always be Basil Rathbone with Nigel Bruce as the indomitable (and entirely inaccurate) Watson at his side.

Between 1939 and 1946 they made fourteen together but what is sometimes forgotten is that the first two were very different from the rest. They were made by 20th Century Fox with a decent budget and were actually set in the correct Victorian period. The rest were B-movies banged out by Universal and set in the (then) present day in order to join in with the (understandably) popular pastime of defeating the Nazis. Don’t get us wrong, they were still fun, but they lacked a bit of authenticity and were occasionally even set in America. But The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first and it’s about the only one to even stick vaguely to the original plot.

We’re not going to go into that plot though because we’re sure you know it. But if you’re familiar with the later ones, the first thing you notice here is the relatively stellar cast. Rathbone and Bruce don’t even top the bill as that goes to Richard Greene as the titular Sir Henry [he’s the dog? – Ed]. And then, despite this being 20th Century Fox, we get the Universal stalwarts of Lionel Atwill and John Carradine. The Rathbone/Bruce dynamic that gave the series its popularity is quickly established with the “who would own a walking stick like this?” routine (Watson gets it all wrong) and a million Conon Doyle enthusiasts presumably all groaned at how this bumbling Watson was nothing like the character from the books. But Bruce’s Watson is so lovable (Bruce was a genuinely great comic actor) that he ended up exaggerating it for the rest of the series and many people still think of Watson that way even though he hasn’t been played like that since.

So what else? Wonderful atmosphere in both the London streets and on the pretty-well-done studio-bound Moors set; Rathbone doing his brilliant ‘master of disguise’ act (although he actually surpassed that in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes later the same year); lots of fog; a big dog and it’s on Blu-ray. Not much more we can say than that other than to bemoan the fact that we’re going to have to replace our old DVD boxset.

Extras: Interview with Sir Christopher Frayling / Interview with Basil Rathbone biographer Michael Druxman

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) / DIRECTOR: SIDNEY
LANFIELD / SCREENPLAY: ERNEST PASCAL / STARRING: RICHARD GREENE, BASIL RATHBONE, NIGEL BRUCE, WENDY BARRIE, LIONEL ATWILL, JOHN CARRADINE / RELEASED: OUT NOW

 


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