The Hound of the Baskervilles
U.K. / 1959
Directed by Terence Fisher
Peter Cushing
Andre Morell
Christopher Lee
Color / 86 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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    9   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
It's one of those often quoted movie facts that the two most filmed characters in history are Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. One of the great joys for those who love these characters is watching different actors take on the roles, to see what nuance and insight can be brought out by new interpretations. Holmes has been played on stage and screen by hundreds of actors but only a few have been remembered for "being" Holmes to a large number of fans. Basil Rathbone was the first to be strongly associated in the public consciousness with Doyle's great creation in the '30s and '40s. Jeremy Brett spent most of the 1980s becoming the most text-faithful Holmes ever presented, in Granada's long-running British TV series. But there was one legendary actor in between these iconic portrayals that qualifies to be mentioned in the same breath — Peter Cushing. Best known for his always solid performances in Hammer's horror movies, Cushing was also famous in England as Sherlock Holmes. In 1959 he starred in The Hound of the Baskervilles; nine years later Cushing again took the role in a 16-episode television series for the BBC that included another adaptation of the story. Of course, if you’re one of the many people in North America who'd love to see this series you're out of luck. The BBC destroyed most of the tapes years ago to make space for other things! (The surviving episodes have been released on DVD in Britain, but the discs are Region 2.)
The packaging of MGM's new DVD release of Hammer's Hound of the Baskervilles carries the critic's quote, "The best Sherlock Holmes film ever made." That may be stretching the truth a little but I'm willing to go along with the hyperbole when the film is this good. The movie begins with Holmes and Watson being told the tale of Sir Hugo Baskerville by Dr. Mortimer (Francis DeWolff). One hundred years earlier, Sir Hugo kidnapped a young girl servant for his pleasure. When the girl escaped across the moors Hugo gave chase with a pack of hounds and stabbed her to death. Moments later he was attacked and killed by a giant hound. Since that day every male Baskerville heir has died a mysterious death. Dr. Mortimer, a friend of the family, also informs Holmes that just weeks before, the most recent Lord of Baskerville Hall was found dead under strange circumstances. Mortimer asks Holmes to help him protect the life of the last male member of the family, who is arriving soon to take over the estate. The detective meets with the new Lord and agrees to help in the matter of the "Hound of Hell".
    This is the best known and most often filmed Holmes story, even though no version has ever been able to overcome the difficult problem of having Sherlock absent from the middle part of the tale. One of the strengths of this version is that when Dr. Watson and Henry Baskerville take center stage, the film doesn't suffer for it. Andre Morell is an excellent Dr. Watson, avoiding the horrible trap of making the character an idiot. Watson was never supposed to be a bumbling fool and Morell shows us a competent man caught up in mystifying circumstances, doing his level best to solve the case. Christopher Lee, as Baskerville heir Sir Henry, is given a rare opportunity to play a romantic lead and does a fantastic job. (Lee was petitioning for better roles at Hammer and this film had to feel like a step in the right direction.) Here he is urbane, sophisticated, and a true gentleman — things that cannot be said of Dracula in the sequels he was being asked to make. But the real acting laurels have to go to Cushing as Holmes. He wonderfully captures the many facets of Doyle's beloved character. He is at times arrogant and pompous but always most concerned with finding and stopping evil. He doesn't suffer fools but you never doubt his innate goodness. Cushing is in many ways the perfect Holmes and it's a shame that this fine film is our only record of his interpretation.

This DVD from MGM is so good that I can find very little to gripe about. The film is presented letterboxed at 1.66:1, avoiding the too-cramped look of so many Hammer films on DVD these days. The print of the movie is incredibly sharp with rich colors and good detail. While there are few spots of speckling and marks as the film progresses I can imagine few people complaining. I've seen the film on television and on videotape and you'd really have to hunt to find fault with the way it looks here. The film has never looked better on your TV. This might be enough, but luckily MGM has also included some extras. First is a 13-minute interview with Christopher Lee, in which he discusses Holmes (whom Lee has also played), Doyle, director Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing. This is a nice, informative piece that I was very glad to see I only wish it were longer. The second major extra is two separate readings from the original novel done by Chris Lee! Talk about a surprise... This is a marvelous idea and I'm shocked no one has ever done it before for DVD. The first reading is the opening of the book and last for about 15 minutes; the second is the climax of the story and clocks in at around 6 minutes. During each, Sydney Padget's classic illustrations from the original stories are played across your TV screen. This is a fantastic extra and one I'd love to see more of in the future. Also included is the theatrical trailer, which strangely is in black & white and (not surprisingly from Hammer) plays up the horror angle of the story very strongly.
    This a great DVD of a very good film and I recommend it highly. Good job MGM! 6/05/02