HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, THE
(director: Sidney Lanfield; screenwriters: Ernest Pascal/from the novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; cinematographer: Peverell Marley; editor: Robert Simpson; music: David Buttolph/Charles Maxwell/ Cyril J. Mockridge/David Raksin; cast: Richard Greene (Sir Henry Baskerville), Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Wendy Barrie (Beryl Stapleton), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Lionel Atwill (James Mortimer, M.D.), John Carradine (Barryman), Eily Malyon (Mrs. Barryman), Nigel de Brulier (Convict), Barlowe Borland (Frankland), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Jenifer Mortimer), Morton Lowry (John Stapleton), Ralph Forbes (Sir Hugo Baskerville); Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1939)
“It was the first in the long-running Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce teaming in the Sherlock Holmes series.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The 1939 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best known version of the 1902 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel that was filmed five times before (the first a 1914 German production directed by Rudolph Meinert, with Alwin Neuss as Holmes). This popular 1939 version deserves its critical reputation as one of the finest in the Sherlock Holmes series. It’s written by Ernest Pascal (keeping it close to the novel and keeping intact the Victorian period setting) and is directed by Sidney Lanfield (“The Lemon Drop Kid”/”Skirts Ahoy!”/”Swanee River”), the so-so director’s best film, who grandly creates the eerie atmospheric period piece from stage sets but could have been more imaginative in his killer hound presentation. It was the first in the long-running Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce teaming in the Sherlock Holmes series (they appeared together in 14 episodes).
It opens in 1889, on the misty moors of Dartmoor in Devonshire, England, where Sir Charles Baskerville is being chased to his death outside Baskerville Hall by a ferocious giant hound. At the inquest Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill) testifies that Sir Charles died of a heart attack, while the antagonistic Mr. Frankland (Barlowe Borland) claims he was murdered. Mortimer didn’t mention the giant dog tracks he found at the crime scene because they were washed away in the rain and he feared he would not be believed. But his suspicions bring him to London’s 221-B Baker Street, the residence of master detective Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone). Mortimer asks the sardonic Holmes to protect Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene), who has inherited the family estate from his deceased Uncle Charles. When the handsome young lad arrives from Canada, Mortimer has him meet Holmes and also tells of a family legend dating back to 1650. The legend, passed on in the form of a letter, has it that ever since the profane Sir Hugo, the estate’s founder, was murdered there’s been a curse on the owner of Baskerville Hall in the form of a supernatural hound haunting the estate.
Holmes dispatches the blustery Watson to Baskerville Hall to protect Sir Henry, while the great detective roams the moors of Dartmoor disguised as a peddler to try and piece together the mysterious murder of Sir Charles without interference. Later there’s the mysterious death of an escaped convict, who is killed in the same manner as Sir Charles.
Meanwhile Watson and Sir Henry meet their neighbors, the twentysomething John Stapleton (Morton Lowry) and his attractive half sister Beryl (Wendy Barrie). Sir Henry is immediately smitten with Beryl and after a few days on the moors she accepts his marriage proposal. Also lurking around is the sinister looking manservant Barryman (John Carradine) and his housekeeper wife (Eily Malyon).
When Holmes believes he’s sorted things out but has no proof who is the murderer, he sets a trap that uses Sir Henry as bait. The result is that the mystery of the supernatural hound is solved.
REVIEWED ON 1/3/2009 GRADE: A- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/