The Hound of the Baskervilles

Elementary, you fucktard
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1938
Director: 
Sidney Lanfield
Starring: 
Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie
The Setup: 
Sherlock Holmes is on the case of a curse afflicting a wealthy heir.
Discussion: 

I’ve been curious to watch this since reading the novel several years ago, but it has been hard to find on DVD and well, maybe I wasn’t THAT interested. But now there’s the new Sherlock Holmes film by whatshisname, Madonna’s ex, coming out, and my friend got interested in finding it, and look, here we are.

We open on a spooky moor where a man is running, the bestial cries of a hound heard in the distance. He collapses and dies, and then a bystander steps in and robs his body. We then see a newspaper clipping that this was Charles Baskerville, and now Henry Baskerville, the young heir to the estate, is coming home from wherever. Sherlock Holmes is all interested, and awaits the return of a Dr. Mortimer, who left his walking stick in his office. This is Sherlock Holmes in the famous Basil Rathbone interpretation, which set the template of him as an intellectual in one of those round hats with the flaps and pipe permanently in his mouth. Watson is here presented as a sputtering but faithful doof, and this is the template for many Rathbone Holmes films, that established the popular image of both characters. Anyway, Mortimer shows up, and tells them that Charles was actually murdered, and there’s this whole curse on the Baskerville family that will surely claim the life of the arriving Henry. He reads a paper on the curse, and we go into a flashback, where an early Baskerville brings a “wench” home as a prize, but she escapes and ends up dying on the moor, and now this magical hound will kill any Baskerville who possesses the house. Holmes decides to take the case, but before you know it has received a note telling him to stay off the case and don’t go out to the moor, in Devonshire.

Henry arrives, and Holmes meets him. It’s the most curious thing: first one of his new boots was missing, then it was returned and one of his older was was stolen. After a minor assassination attempt in the street, Holmes sends Watson out to Baskerville Hall with Henry. There we meet a ton of new characters, including Baron the creepy servant and his mother, and nearby neighbors Jack Stapleton and his comely sister Beryl. Henry is taken with Beryl right away, and she seems to like him, too.

Mysterious events happen. There’s a light signal out on the moor, and soon a robber guy who has stolen Henry’s clothes is killed by this big hound. They figure the doggie thought it was Henry, because of the clothes. Then they decide to have a séance, pretty unexciting as séances go, and there’s also this weird cripple guy hanging out on the moor, who limps with one foot and then later with the other. And, just like when reading the novel, you start to think: Is Sherlock Holmes going to be in this story any more?

SPOILERS > > >
Turns out the crippled fellow IS Holmes, who wanted to hang out without anyone knowing he was there. Soon the thief guy is killed, and everyone thinks the killer has been found... except Holmes and Watson, who make to go back to London, but return in secret. Holmes feels bad that he is using Henry as bait for the killer, but needs to catch the fellow in the act in order to nab him.

Meanwhile the passion between Henry and Beryl has been heating up, with lots of grinding and dirty dancing, and soon they decide to be married. Henry decides to walk back home across the moor, since the killer has been caught, and we know that this is when the killer will strike. Sure enough, Jack, Beryl’s brother, shows Henry’s old boot to a hound he keeps locked up on the moor, and sends it out to fell the fellow. Seems to me a large dog is rather unreliable as a murder weapon, but what it loses in effectiveness it gains in drama. Holmes barely saves Henry in time, and is able to knock away the poison Jack has tried to serve Henry later to calm his nerves. He exposes the plot—Jack was trying to revive the curse and kill off Henry because he is a long-lost relative of the Baskervilles and would inherit the hall—and Jack flees. What’s curious about this movie is that we never see Jack get caught—Holmes just tosses off a remark about how he posted constables on the road and he’ll be picked up in time. Henry and Beryl are free to go get married, the end.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was amusing enough. The best thing about it is the spooky foggy moor atmosphere, which it has in spades. It has dark creepy mansions that look out onto fog-shrouded moors with big craggy rocks, and a lot of the action takes place out there, so that’s always kind of fun. And this features the famous incarnation of Holmes as a superior intellect and Watson as his slightly bumbling, sputtering comic foil, which is still kind of amusing. Apparently the new version by Guy Ritchie [THAT’S who it is] makes Holmes into a martial artist! Which gives rise to a bunch of questions about how popular movies and heroes lately are growing to be all essentially the same. And after all, we can no longer have a character whose defining characteristic is his intellect, can we? I mean, what would the audience RELATE TO?

Anyway, it’s cute, and has those old-time movie thrills, although it’s doubtful too many people are going to watch it for a great story and performance, or filmmaking, or thrills. It’s just kind of a nostalgia trip. But on a rainy Saturday with a big bowl of macaroni and cheese with ketchup and a warm snuggly dog or cat or rabbit, it might be just the thing.

Should you watch it: 

If you’re in the mood for this kind of thing. It can be safely skipped with no damage to your filmic knowledge and experience.