Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939) Dir. Sidney Lanfield

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

“There’s no doubt of it in my mind. Or perhaps I should say, my imagination. For that’s where crimes are conceived and they’re solved – in the imagination.” – Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Today I want to talk about one of my all time favorite films, The Hound of The Baskervilles, starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson.  Basil Rathbone for a few years now has grown to be one of my all time favorite actors.  He is most well known for playing heavy villains in several of the Erroyl Flynn swashbucklers, as well as being involved in one of the greatest sword fights ever filmed, facing off against Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro.  Here with Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, this is the movie that made me fall in love with him.  I have seen all 14 Sherlock Holmes films with him and Nigel Bruce.  12 of them take place in modern times, where in at least one Holmes faces off against the Nazis!  But the first two, The Hound of The Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes take place in their respective Victorian Time periods.  The rest of the films took place in modern times and were considered “B” films making them more inexpensive.  But Hound of the Baskervilles is most definitely an “A” picture, with high production values, a great script, hilarious comic moments, suspense, and an terrific threat to our heroes.

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The most obvious reason these films work so well is the tremendous chemistry between Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson.  The two of them are almost like a comic team, bouncing off one another back and forth, throwing jibes, quips and sometimes hilarious insults at one another.  But there is a bond here that stretches the imagination, and makes for a unique pairing.  Unlike many other Holmes and Watson team ups, here about 90% of the time Watson is constantly getting fed up with Holmes’ erratic behavior.  The two men adore each other, but it constantly gets on Watson’s nerves when he gets almost everything wrong in his deductions next to Holme’s genius.  There’s a funny sequence where Watson comes up with a thorough deduction for the crime, and Holmes praises him for his insight, to which Watson asks, “Did I get anything wrong?” and Holmes’ reply, “Just about everything!”  There is also another section where Holmes has fooled Watson with a disguise as a begger, to the point where even I was surprised I didn’t catch on.  Watson just fumes at being tricked by Holmes.  Holmes: “Come now, Watson, don’t be in such a huff.”  Watson:”HUFF??  I’m in NO HUFF!!”  These are the comedy teams worth paying attention to, as Holmes and Watson make for an entertaining pair.

But getting on with the actual movie, the story for The Hound of the Baskervilles is a great one, with a great nemesis to boot.  The mysterious hound is frightening, murdering people on sight as they rush through the gloomy marshes.  There’s the odd maid and butler couple at the house, helping to give the signal and hide a man out in the marshes.  The supporting cast does a great job here, especially Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville, the next victim in line to the deaths of the Baskervilles.  He comes of as likeable and good natured, making us just as concerned for him and his safety.  The rest of the cast as well is just as good and likable support for Holmes and Watson which the majority of the film is based on.  The villain revealed later on is intriguing, as well as being real and manipulative.  The build up to the climax of the film generates a great amount of suspense as well.  This film is truly a classic above all others, including the terrific production values put into the film.

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The Hound of the Baskervilles in my mind is the penultimate Sherlock Holmes film.  It compares like no other version of Sherlock Holmes film can.  It’s comparable to The Chrismas Carol starring Alistar Sim, which is quite possibly the greatest version of the film, because nobody can compare to the joy and wonderful love for life when Scrooge has his joyous awakening at the end of the film.  In this film, no other pairing of Holmes and Watson can come close to the the classic comic pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, and the wonderful, inspiring chemistry they bring to the roles.  The films hilarious and wonderful last line, “Oh Watson…the needle!” makes a subtle reference to Holmes’ morphine addiction, which not to many versions talk about, and even for 1939, those people who are spry enough to catch onto the reference, its a great touch and a great ending to a classic film.  If you haven’t seen Hound of the Baskerville’s do yourself a favor and check it out.  It’s not only a real treat, it may well be the most fun you ever have watching a Sherlock Holmes film.

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