The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Although this is in the horror list, and IMDB classifies it as such, I’m not 100% convinced this particular version fully qualifies. I come to it at an interesting point, having long admired the 1959 version from Hammer, and having also watched a fair bit of the TV series with Jeremy Brett, so my first encounter with the supposedly definitive team of Rathbone & Bruce was going to be an interesting one. Having seen so much of Brett lately, he’s kind of taken on that “definitive” thing for me, and on the whole I think the Hammer version still beats this one for me… Not that there’s anything wrong with this telling of the story, of course, which surely is very good, as well as being somewhat more faithful to the novel (no fucking tarantulas in this one!)… the main difference, of course, being Nigel Bruce’s reading of Dr Watson, not everyone would be enamoured of his take on the good doctor as an only mildly competent bumbler (the Hammer film was more faithful in that regard), though it didn’t strike me as too bad here (maybe it got worse later in the series?)… I like Rathbone, too, although this is the Holmes story in which Holmes is offscreen for a good while… and yeah, it’s a perfectly fine example of a High Hollywood version of the story. But it seemed to me to play far more as a mystery (which is fair enough, cos that’s what it really is) than a horror film, whereas I recall the Hammer film playing it somewhat less cold-blooded and more melodramatic and bringing that side of the story out more than this seemed to do; I think Hammer’s film has a better claim to being on the top 500 horror list than this does. Taken on its own terms, though, I found nothing particularly wrong with it; compact, atmospheric and well-played (even if Robert Greene’s Sir Henry occasionally seems to be channelling Clark Gable), a perfectly good example of the golden age…

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