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The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles(1959)

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teaser The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Almost thirteen years after Basil Rathbone had filmed his final screen appearance as Sherlock Holmes, Hammer Studios decided to resurrect Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's internationally famous detective in a color remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) which had been previously filmed with Rathbone in 1939. The eerie tale, which opens in a flashback sequence to an earlier time, depicts the origins of the Baskerville curse: the decadent Sir Hugo Baskerville brutally murders a servant girl who flees a group orgy at his mansion. Immediately following her death, however, Baskerville hears a strange braying on the moors before encountering an immense spectral hound which avenges the girl's death. We then flash forward to the present, where Sherlock Holmes and his partner, Dr. Watson, are investigating the mysterious recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville.

At the time of production, Hammer, a small British film studio, was at the height of its success, enjoying huge profits from two trend-setting horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958). Peter Cushing gave definitive performances in both of those period thrillers and producer Anthony Hinds and director Terence Fisher knew he would make a great Sherlock Holmes. The announcement of his casting generated a great deal of excitement about the project in the British press and Cushing was soon joined by Andre Morell as Dr. Watson and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, the unfortunate heir to a dreadful curse. Lee was anxious to escape his villainous typecasting (he played Frankenstein's monster and Dracula in the previously mentioned Hammer horrors) and relished the opportunity to play the victim for a change.

Cushing heavily researched his role prior to creating Holmes' character and took care to incorporate the sleuth's well-known addiction to morphine into his physical appearance and behavior. He even provided his own costumes which accurately matched the famous Paget illustrations from the Sherlock Holmes series published in the Strand magazine. Cushing added, in an interview for The Evening News, that "everything is accurate right down to the famous 'mouse-colored' dressing-gown which I charred with cigarettes to get the burns Holmes made during his experiments. The producer had some absurd idea that I should not wear a deerstalker. I told them you might as well play Nelson without a patch over his eye! But still I am avoiding the more obvious props - the things like the huge curved pipe and magnifying glass that make Holmes a music-hall joke. Quite a bit of time, I wear a homburg on the moors - which is absolutely right, I find."

Several exterior sequences for The Hound of the Baskervilles were shot near Frensham Ponds, Surrey, which served as a reliable stand-in for the real Dartmoor, but the majority of the filming took place on the Bray studio set. Animation techniques were first considered for introducing the monstrous hound, but cost factors prevented it so the production crew was forced to use a real dog. In Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, crew member Margaret Robinson said, "They had two dogs originally. One had been typecast because he once bit a barmaid! This was Colonel, who actually played the part. The other dog was owned by Barbara Wodehouse, and cost five times as much to hire. Also, Barbara wanted to double for Christopher Lee!" Robinson was charged with creating a frightening mask for the dog to wear and added, "I made the mask out of rabbit fur, and the dog wouldn't allow anyone else to put the mask on him. He was a lovely dog - to me, at least!" As for the climactic scene between Sir Henry and the hound, Robinson revealed that "they duplicated the part of the set in miniature where the dog was to leap onto Sir Henry. A small boy named Robert was dressed to duplicate Christopher Lee. The dog couldn't bear the sound of crumpled paper, and the idea was he would go straight for a prop man as he crumpled it. What we didn't know is that Colonel hated small boys, too! The prop man caught the dog in mid-air before he got to Robert." Otherwise, the rest of the filming went smoothly, even Christopher Lee's hair-raising encounter with a deadly tarantula.

In the end, The Hound of the Baskervilles succeeds as a stylish and colorful period thriller which demonstrates Terence Fisher's skills as a director (For one thing, he was able to compress the entire Baskerville legend into a ten minute opening sequence!). Unfortunately, it was not successful enough at the box office to justify Hammer's plans to continue the series despite Peter Cushing's fine portrayal of Holmes. And in the United States, the film was marketed as a creature feature and not a murder mystery since the Hammer name was more synonymous with horror there. The Hound of the Baskervilles has since been remade by Andy Warhol protege Paul Morrissey who directed a parody of it in 1978 starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, and again by Douglas Hickox, who helmed a 1983 television version with Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes.

Producer: Anthony Hinds
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Peter Bryan, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Cinematography: Jack Asher
Special Effects: Sydney Pearson
Film Editing: Alfred Cox
Original Music: James Bernard
Principal Cast: Peter Cushing (Sherlock Holmes), Andre Morell (Dr. Watson), Christopher Lee (Sir Henry Baskerville), Marla Landi (Cecile), Miles Malleson (Bishop Frankland), David Oxley (Sir Hugo Baskerville), John Le Mesurier (Barrymore).
C-87m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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