THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939)
Article #1183 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2004
Posting Date: 11-7-2004
Directed by Sidney Lanfield
Featuring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie
Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate a curse on the house of the Baskervilles that may have caused the death of the current lord of the manor.
This wasn’t the first version of the classic Sherlock Holmes novel; I have several other versions on my hunt list that predate it. However, it’s the earliest one I’ve been able to find at this point, and it may be one of the most significant, as it introduced us to the actors who would become the most famous for the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. It’s also one of the most horror-oriented of the Sherlock Holmes movies, partly due to the fact that the ancestral curse storyline is the stuff of horror, and partly due to the moody scenes on the moor. It’s also fairly faithful to the novel, though that does create one frustrating situation, and that is that Holmes himself is missing from the story for a good stretch of the running time; this may explain why Richard Greene got higher billing as Sir Henry Baskerville. Horror fans will also want to note the presence of Lionel Atwill and John Carradine in significant roles. I also took note of the name of Eily Malyon, who plays Mrs. Berryman; I’d never known her name before, but I distinctly remembered her face, and a quick note of her credits shows that she appeared in DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, THE UNDYING MONSTER and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON. Bruce and Rathbone aren’t quite as relaxed with each other here as they would be in later entries of the series, but that’s to be expected in the first of what would prove to be a successful series.
Hmmm… I think the Hammer version of this tale plays up the horror even more. In the Fox version, the moors are dark, foggy and creepy, but the terror of the hound is greatly underplayed. The tone of the film leans much more toward charming drawing room mystery, while the Hammer is much more doom laden, with even the “happy ending” being engloomed.