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The Hound of the Baskervilles - 1939- Poster

Theatrical poster for the public domain film "The Hound of the Baskervilles"

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1939 American gothic mystery film[1] based on the 1902 Sherlock Holmes novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Sidney Lanfield, the film stars Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John Watson. Released by 20th Century Fox,[2] it is the first of fourteen Sherlock Holmes films produced between 1939 and 1946 starring Rathbone and Bruce.

Among the most-known cinematic adaptations of the novel,[3] the film co-stars Richard Greene as Henry Baskerville (who received top billing, as the studio was unsure of the potential of a film about Sherlock Holmes[3]) and Wendy Barrie as Beryl Stapleton.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is notable as the earliest known Sherlock Holmes film to be set in the Victorian period of the original stories. All known previous Holmes films, up to and including the 1930s British film series starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes, had been updated to a setting contemporaneous with the films' release.[4]

Plot[]

In 1889, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson receive a visit from Dr. James Mortimer, who wishes to consult them before the arrival of Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the Baskervilles, heir to the Baskerville estate in Devonshire. Dr Mortimer is anxious about letting Sir Henry go to Baskerville Hall, and talks about the events of the recent death of his best friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, Sir Henry's uncle. Although he was found dead in his garden from heart failure, Mortimer noticed the footprints of a gigantic hound. He tells the story of a supposed family curse, the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that first killed Sir Hugo Baskerville several hundred years ago and is believed to have caused the death of many Baskervilles in the region of Devonshire. Though Holmes dismisses the curse as a fairy-tale, he agrees to meet Sir Henry, who receives a message warning him to stay away from the moor. Holmes witnesses someone attempt to assassinate Sir Henry. Holmes asks Watson to go to Baskerville Hall along with Sir Henry, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. The first night, Sir Henry and Watson discover Barryman, the butler, signalling from a window with a candle to someone on the moor. After witnessing a man flee across the moor, Watson and Sir Henry are startled by hound like howls. The next day, Watson is suspicious of the neighbour Jack Stapleton, a local naturalist, while Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton, the step-sister of Jack Stapleton.

Watson and Sir Henry attend a seance held by Mrs. Mortimer. In a trance, she asks, "What happened that night on the moor, Sir Charles?". The only reply is howls, possibly from a hound. Watson notes a crippled peddler, limping on each of his legs, and receives a message to come with him. The peddler reveals himself to be Holmes, having been hiding in the vicinity all the time making his own investigation. The hound kills a man on the moor whom Holmes and Watson fear is Sir Henry, but turns out to be the man Barryman was signalling to; Holmes explains that it was a convicted murderer, who escaped from Dartmoor Prison, and was Mrs Barryman's brother, who had given him Sir Henry's clothes, during the time he was hiding on the moor.

Stapleton kept a huge, half-starved, vicious dog trained to attack individual members of the Baskervilles after prolonged exposure to their scent. However, when the hound is finally sent to kill Sir Henry Baskerville, Holmes and Watson arrive to save him just in time. They kill the hound. Stapleton traps Holmes down in the hound's underground kennel, and sends Watson into the moor to meet Holmes. Holmes cuts his way out of the kennel and returns to the house and destroys the poison that Stapleton had just given to Baskerville as a medication for his injuries. Holmes surmises that Stapleton was a Baskerville, who hopes to claim their vast fortune himself after removing all other members of the bloodline. Stapleton pulls a gun and flees. Holmes says ominously to Watson, "He won't get very far. I've posted constables along the roads and the only other way is across the Grimpen Mire." Holmes is praised for his work on the case, and he turns in.

Cast[]

  • Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville
  • Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
  • Wendy Barrie as Beryl Stapleton
  • Nigel Bruce as Dr. John H. Watson
  • Lionel Atwill as Dr. James Mortimer
  • John Carradine as Barryman, butler
  • Morton Lowry as John (Jack) Stapleton
  • Eily Malyon as Mrs Barryman
  • Barlowe Borland as Frankland
  • Beryl Mercer as Mrs Jennifer Mortimer
  • Ralph Forbes as Sir Hugo Baskerville (in flashback sequence)
  • E. E. Clive as Cabby in London
  • Lionel Pape as Coroner
  • Nigel De Brulier as Convict (as Nigel de Brulier)
  • Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson
  • Ian Maclaren as Sir Charles

Production[]

There are several significant changes in plot details. Among them:

  • Miss Stapleton is Stapleton's wife in the novel and is playing the part of his sister and is an unwilling participant in his crimes. In the film, she is Stapleton's stepsister, and is completely unaware of his criminal actions until Holmes reveals the truth. Miss Stapleton falls in love with and arranges to marry Sir Henry in the film. Her feelings for Sir Henry are left open ended in the novel.
  • The film has a séance performed by Dr. Mortimer's wife. This scene never appeared in the original novel. Frankland's estranged daughter, Laura Lyons and Inspector Lestrade are omitted from the film.
  • The butler was named Barrymore in the novel, but possibly because of the existence of the real-life John Barrymore of the Barrymore family theatrical dynasty, his name was changed to Barryman in the film.[5]

Reception[]

In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as an "excellent film version of the novel." noting that the film's elements "sustain the suspense until the exciting climax," and that "the atmosphere is extremely well contrived". Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were praised for their roles, while "only Wendy Barrie seems lifeless as Beryl in a cast which is uniformly good."

Awards and honors[]

American Film Institute recognition

  • 2001 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
  • 2003 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
    • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - Nominated Heroes
  • 2008 - AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Mystery Film

References[]

  1. "The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)".
  2. Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 186–188. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) at Turner Classic Movies
  4. Boström, Mattias (2018). From Holmes to Sherlock. Mysterious Press. 
  5. Miller p.60
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