The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Director: Terence Fisher

Ah, how nice to finally have an anamorphic edition of this film, not to mention a high-definition one (even if I could’ve lived without the tarantula being in higher resolution, obviously), and how pleasant to revisit it tonight. The novel seems to be widely regarded as peak Sherlock Holmes, and Hammer’s film version of it was certainly one of their finer hours, not to mention markedly more faithful to that novel than their takes on Frankenstein and Dracula were… still fiddled with somewhat but the broad outlines at least are a lot closer to the source than their versions of Shelley and Stoker. And it was, obviously, the most logical Holmes adventure for a studio like Hammer to take on; late Victorian gothic setting, ancestral curse, monstrous hound apparently from Hell… they couldn’t go far wrong with it. And even now, the decision to cast Christopher Lee as Sir Henry, i.e. the hero (or at least the good guy) rather than the villain, and the romantic lead at that, still seems kind of remarkable, counter-intuitive and yet perfectly successful because it’s so head-scratching. Peter Cushing’s Holmes doesn’t seem to have been appreciated by everyone at the time, but he obviously impressed the BBC well enough to give him the role again in 1968, though Andre Morell’s Watson seems to have been more widely praised. But really, it’s just a generally solid example of Hammer’s strengths; excellent cast, strong production values on a moderate budget, and well-deployed atmospherics. And, to be sure, some not entirely happy comic relief, but the good reverend is still much less aggravating than some of Universal’s mood lighteners. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have been a box office hit, and so an apparent series of Holmes films (another cue they were taking from the old Universal films, though I wonder if they would’ve been more faithful to the original stories) never went ahead. Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing, though, as it left the 1959 Hound to stand by itself without having to trail a bunch of follow-ups that might not have been up to its fairly high standard…

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