Fantastic Restoration of a True Classic
E. Hornaday | Lawrenceville, NJ United States | 03/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With the release of this feature and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," all 14 classic films by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce will have finally been released in a quality DVD format. The UCLA Theatre Archives has done an outstanding job in restoring and thus preserving these great films from 35mm master copies into the digital format, sometimes literally being forced to piece together the celluloid remnants they found. It took the archivists years to complete the entire project, but is well worth the wait. The result is that the black and white images seem as fresh today as when the films were released to theatres more than 40 years ago. The archivists deserve a hearty thanks from all movie fans concerned with preserving America's classic cinema heritage for future generations to enjoy.Atmospherically, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is arguably the best of the 14 Holmes films, and the only one based specifically on a Conan Doyle story. It, and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," are the only two "period" films in the series and run longer, the remainder taking place in then modern-day England and America of the late 30s and early 40s and run about 90 minutes each. In both "Hound" and "Adventures," Holmes dons his deerstalker cap, popularized by original Strand Magazine illustrator Sidney Paget who made the image synonymous with the great detective. It is interesting to note that in the first of the non-period films in the series, Holmes reaches for his handy deerstalker, but is stopped by Watson. "Holmes," Watson said, "you promised." Leaving the deerstalker on the peg, Holmes grabs a "modern" hat instead.Rathbone is especially sharp in "Hound of the Baskervilles," and is partnered by Bruce, who plays a bumbling Watson throughout the 14 films that was not Conan Doyle's vision of the great
sleuth's biographical "Boswell." Nonetheless, the pairing is hugely entertaining and satisfying.The creation of the moor, the sinister grimpen mire and truly terrifying hound remains fantastic and does much to engender this story as one of Conan Doyle's most popular with modern-day
readers and viewers alike.The final scene represents the only reference any of the 14 films made to Holmes' "seven-percent" cocaine habit as Rathbone asks Bruce to retrieve "the needle." The scene, criticized as too risque by 1939 audiences, caused the film's producers to make a conscious decision to omit any additional mention of Holmes' recreational drug use in future outings.I only wish that Rathbone and Bruce had lived to see their great work released to new audiences in this pristine DVD condition."
Classic version of Sherlock Holmes mystery
Simon Davis | 10/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the many versions of this often filmed story, Twentieth Century Fox's 1939 filming of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is rightfully considered to be not only a classic but also the finest version to be put onto film. Boasting the superb talents of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the roles that became their trademarks, the film is a superb blend of mystery, suspense and classic adventure in its telling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous story of the curse that plagues a titled family through many generations in the form of a savage hound that causes the demise of each male member of the clan.Twentieth Century Fox put all of their considerable resources into this lavish production and the film was a great success, so much so that they quickly followed it with another film
"The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes" with the same main cast which enjoyed equal success. Unfortunately for some unknown reason Fox then handed the series over to Universal, possibly as a result of rising costs as World War Two approached. Universal made the serious mistake of up dating the series to a 1940's setting and had Holmes and Watson doing battle with Nazi etc. In all there was finally 14 films made in the series. It is however for the first two films that Sherlock Holmes's fame rests and certainly "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is the most famous and best loved of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories based around the famous detective .If ever there was a piece of perfect casting for a film it would have to be the superb combination of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Never has there been such a perfect marriage of actor and character as here and for Rathbone in particular the part became his absolute trademark and was the interpretation that was used as a benchmark for all the later Holmes's. Sherlock Holmes became for Rathbone what Rhett Butler was for Clark Gable, a part that would overshadow any other part he took on in the future. Nigel Bruces's interpretation of Dr. Watson certainly was a variation on the character created by Arthur Conan Doyle however he does such a memorable turn as the character that it really becomes unimportant."The Hound Of The Baskervilles" benefits greatly from the superb cast that has been assembled around the two principals. Foremost among them is British actor Richard Greene who plays young Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the line who, on the savage death of his uncle, finds himself the target of the family curse. Greene was a handsome actor and his Hollywood career was basically cut short by World War Two, however he is excellent here as the romantic young lead. Fox regular John Carradine excels in the role of Barryman the mysterious manservant of the Baskerville estate who carries his own secrets. Horror veteran Lionel Atwill also scores in the role of James Mortimer the local doctor. Morton Lowry has a very showy part as the unexpected villian of the piece and is involved in the very interesting twist in the story at the conclusion that I wont reveal to those who have not seen the film. Veteran character actress Mary Gordon takes on the role of Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper and she would go over to Universal with Rathbone and Bruce for the remainder of the film series playing the housekeeper. Finally Wendy Barrie provides the love interest for Sir. Henry and she makes a nice couple with Richard Greene.Directed by veteran director Sidney Lanfield the film is rich in Victorian atmosphere with its period sets, Gaslights, old carriages, foogy moors, and eerie old mansion holding secrets. This adds tremendously to the excitement of the story of the legendary hound from hell that terrorises successive generations of the Baskerville family. The film benefits from a lavish budget and despite being filmed in Hollywood has a vivid English feel about it. The scenes on the moors in particular are very well done and one is kept guessing all the time about whether the vicious hound is pure legend or actually real. This film was Basil Rathbone's personal favourite of all his body of work as Sherlock Holmes and he said that the atmosphere of this piece was never really duplicated properly again in the later films.I strongly recommend this 1939 version of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" to all those who enjoy a good mystery. I know this film was responsible for me wanting to read more of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. There have been many fine versions made over the years, in particular the Hammer version with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but this would have to be the most famous and has the added benefit of the first legendary teaming of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the roles for which they are still best known. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan you will love this film despite some of the changes made and if you like good old fashioned thriller mysteries it is unsurpassed as great entertainment. Enjoy!"
The essential "Hound"
Sarah Hadley | Murfreesboro, Tennessee USA | 02/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's perhaps surprising that "Hound of the Baskervilles" has become the single most well-known Sherlock Holmes story. True, like many of the short stories, it takes Holmes and Watson away from their digs in London and out to an ancient familial estate. But it has two elements that make it distinct from nearly every other of the original stories: it has a distinct supernatural element, and Holmes himself is absent for a sizeable portion of the narrative.No doubt Fox chose to adapt this story for its popularity as much as anything else, but the supernatural element was certainly a factor in its favor. One of the great selling points of the film is its recreation of the ghostly moors, even with studio sets. And it's only natural that Fox wanted to cover up Holmes' absence as much as possible, by creating what really hadn't been seen before on film: a convincing and engaging Holmes/Watson dichotomy.
Rathbone and Bruce make this film. Whether you like or dislike their individual interpretations, you've got to admit they work well together. And it's a testament to Nigel Bruce's ability as an actor, bumbler or no, that he can carry the film for those twenty or thirty minutes when Sherlock Holmes is completely absent. Richard Greene gets top billing, sure, but this is the first time a Holmes and Watson team completely outshine everything else in the production.
Some reviews take great pains to point out what Fox changed about this story. But in reality, this is probably the most straightforward "Hound" ever made. Most of the changes are made for simple brevity, stripping away the subplots and leaving the core. This is probably to keep the film both within budget, and from shifting too far from the Holmes/Watson focus; in other adaptations, Holmes might be off the screen for up to an hour. A couple changes are obviously made to please the studio (changing Barrymore to Barryman, so as not to insult the famous acting family) or the morals of the day (the complications concerning Stapleton's sister have been removed), but the only one that's really strange is the decision not to make the hound itself glow! It reduces the effectiveness of the climax, particularly after all the supernatural lead-up, and it's the one flaw I can really find with the film.
MPI presents this film in a very nice package that compliments its earlier "Sherlock Holmes Collection" releases of the later Universal films. Although the film, unlike the later ones, hasn't been restored by the UCLA, you'll hardly notice it; there's a few spots on certain scenes late in the action, but they are very fleeting indeed. This is a lovely, clean picture, very sharp, with great greys and blacks. Similarly, the mono audio is crisp and clear. You won't be unhappy.
The extras are a little more of a mixed bag. Richard Valley's booklet of production notes (should you purchase the disc) are, as usual, very insightful and well worth your time. Unfortunately, David Stuart Davies' commentary is rather dry and simplistic. If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, you probably already know most of the information he relates, and may want skip it. Casual viewers, however, might find interest in skimming it with the chapter search buttons. A photo gallery is included, although it's constantly animated with zooms and pans (something which personally bothers me), and three trailers are included in a 'trailer gallery.' None of them, however, are for "The Hound of the Baskervilles." They are all re-release trailers, in pretty poor condition, for later films in the Universal series: "Dressed to Kill" (film #14), "House of Fear" (film #10), and "Terror by Night" (film #13). Why these particular trailers were chosen, I'm not sure.
If you're a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you'll not only want to see this film, you'll want to own it; at the $15-$20 price point, it's well worth it. This is the essential version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and even more so, the quintessential Sherlock Holmes film. Highly recommended."
HOUND: A Child's Memory
Walter B. Conger | California central coast | 07/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw this movie on TV when I was 9 or 10 in 1963-64. We lived in Los Angeles, and local channel 9 would run the SAME movie, Monday through Friday, for one week at 7:00 or 8:00 on its "Million Dollar Movie" program (a ridiculous title nowadays). Anyway, I watched it all five times in one week and adored it. I didn't see it again until its special, limited re-release to theaters in 1975; by then, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Sherlockian. Remarkably, my 10-year-old mind hadn't exaggerated the greatness of Rathbone or this film. It remained marvelous!Now it's available on DVD...and what a wonderful transfer. And the commentary is superb. I haven't yet watched it five nights in a row, but it certainly deserves that kind of attention. Highly recommended!"