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Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959)

Main image of Hound of the Baskervilles, The (1959)
35mm, 87 min, colour
Directed byTerence Fisher
Production CompanyHammer Film Productions
Produced byAnthony Hinds
CinematographyJack Asher
From the novel byArthur Conan Doyle
ScreenplayPeter Bryan
MusicJames Bernard

Cast: Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing); Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee); Dr Watson (André Morell); Cecile Stapleton (Marla Landi); Stapleton (Ewen Solon); Dr Richard Mortimer (Francis De Wolff)

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Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enlisted to protect Sir Henry Baskerville from the legendary Dartmoor hound that caused the death of his uncle Sir Charles.

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In 1958, with money pouring in from their radical reimagining of the Frankenstein and Dracula archetypes, Hammer Film Productions naturally leapt at a classic property brought to them by their US associate Kenneth Hyman. Hammer's version of The Hound of the Baskervilles accordingly became the first Sherlock Holmes film made in colour.

Not content with a possibly spectral hound abroad on Dartmoor, cameraman-turned-screenwriter Peter Bryan added to Conan Doyle's 1902 original several outré details of his own - a marauding tarantula, an escaped convict who sounds like Jack the Ripper, ritualistic post-mortem mutilations, a web-fingered villain; finally, another Gothic archetype, the classic 'Fatal Woman'. And, in David Oxley's Sir Hugo, the film's ten-minute 18th century prologue showcases one of the nastiest of Hammer's lengthening line of sadistic aristocrats, his monstrous concept of droit de seigneur later echoed by Marques Siniestro in The Curse of the Werewolf (d. Terence Fisher, 1961) and Squire Hamilton in The Plague of the Zombies (d. John Gilling, 1966).

The result was a film in which Hammer's early house style reached new heights of lurid perfection, director Terence Fisher orchestrating the by-now familiar elements with practised precision. Hammer's brilliant production designer, Bernard Robinson, lays out the interior of Baskerville Hall - a baronial staircase abutting a right-hand wall, with a gallery leading off it - according to a template established in The Curse of Frankenstein (d. Fisher, 1957) and later remodelled in films like The Brides of Dracula (d. Fisher, 1960) and Dracula Prince of Darkness (d. Fisher, 1965). Cinematographer Jack Asher, meanwhile, turns the film into a sumptuous Technicolor feast, allotting equal weight to the scarlet jackets of Sir Hugo's cronies, the blue lightning illuminating Baskerville Hall, the bilious greens fluorescing from the depths of the derelict abbey, the lustrous purple worn by the femme fatale at the climax, even the high-gloss boot-black of Sir Henry's brilliantined hair.

Three of Hammer's most prolific actors add numerous stylish touches of their own. André Morell restores dryly humorous dignity to Dr Watson and Christopher Lee is profitably cast against type as the threatened Sir Henry. A Conan Doyle aficionado, Peter Cushing loaded his very first scene with authentic details - the acid burns on Holmes's dressing gown, a live coal used to light his pipe, the aide-memoire scrawled on his shirt cuff, a jack-knife skewering documents to the mantelpiece. Lean, waspish and dynamic, Cushing remains arguably the ideal Holmes.

Jonathan Rigby

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Carreras, Michael (1927-1994)
Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)
Fisher, Terence (1904-1980)
Hinds, Anthony (1922-2013)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Morell, André (1909-1978)
Hammer Horror