Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
United Kingdom, 1959. Hammer Films. Screenplay by Peter Bryan, based on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. Cinematography by Jack Asher. Produced by Anthony Hinds. Music by James Bernard. Production Design by Bernard Robinson. Costume Design by Molly Arbuthnot. Film Editing by Alfred Cox.
One of the best known and most beloved adventures in the Sherlock Holmes canon is turned into a juicy good time by the folks at Hammer, with a game Peter Cushing in the lead as Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal detective. He and his trusted friend Watson (a spirited André Morell) are approached by a country doctor named Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) who tells them the legend of the Baskerville family, a landowning family of crumbling aristocrats who have been dogged (literally) by a curse that has seen members of their family killed by a ghostly beast when traipsing about the moors on their lands late at night.
The recent mysterious death of Sir Charles means that his nearest heir Sir Henry (Christopher Lee) is brought back from South Africa to take over his birthright, but Mortimer is concerned for Sir Henry’s safety and asks for the most famous sleuth in all of England (if not the world) to look into the matter.
Sending Watson on ahead with Sir Henry to be his bodyguard, Holmes soon arrives at Baskerville Hall and begins to make deductions about the various colourful personalities he encounters, including a suspicious butler (John Le Mesurier) and his wife (Helen Goss), a nearby tenant farmer (Ewen Solon) and his resentful Spanish daughter (Marla Landi) and an escaped convict (Michael Mulcaster) who is hiding out on the grim, barren landscape that surrounds the manor.
Along the way there are close calls with deadly spiders, ancestral knives and the possibility that there really is a hound from hell somewhere on the grounds, but you can bet that it’s all elementary to the true bloodhound who will nose out the truth even if it means climbing into a dangerous, abandoned mine.
This was the first major film production of a Holmes story to be filmed in colour and, as usual, Hammer spares the viewer no pleasure in its visual richness, the mostly muted cinematography brings out the odd spot of bright colour with a bright red settee or vividly painted portrait so that the effect is as moody as the earlier monochrome films without ever becoming a garish Technicolour indulgence.
Faithfully adapting the original story (which has been altered in most film versions), it is directed with great energy and humour but does not deny the viewer any delicious sense of intrigue or excitement when it is required.