Column: The Vault of Secrets: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

By Orrin Grey

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Director: Terence Fisher. Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where, every other week, we’ll be unearthing a classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight’s installment is a Hammer classic pairing – Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – but it isn’t a Dracula or a Frankenstein or even The Mummy. Instead, it’s an adaptation of the famous Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Peter Cushing playing Holmes for the first time (but not the last) in his career.

Cushing isn’t the most famous face of Sherlock Holmes. Even among his many characters, Holmes isn’t the one for which he is best known. But when I try to picture Sherlock Holmes, as often as not, it’s Cushing’s face that I see and this movie is a big part of why. I’m not as much of a Holmes aficionado as many of the people I know, so I don’t feel that I’m qualified to judge how well Cushing plays the character. But as for his role in this movie, and as it stacks up against Cushing’s other parts, he’s at the top of his game here. While his Holmes isn’t quite as good as, say, his Baron Frankenstein at its best, it’s still a great role and it’s great to watch one of my favourite actors acquitting himself so nicely.

He’s ably supported by Andre Morell (who would later do great work as the lead in The Plague of the Zombies) as Watson and, of course, Christopher Lee playing somewhat against his usual type as Sir Henry Baskerville.

I’m no better able to judge how true the movie is to the book than I am how good of a job Cushing does as Holmes, but again, judged on its own merits, the movie is good Hammer fare. Whether or not it technically counts as one of Hammer’s Gothic horror pictures is perhaps up for some debate, but it certainly has a lot of the trademarks, including the usual opening credits with dramatic music playing over a matte painting of a castle (in this case, Baskerville Hall). The backstory involving Sir Hugo is also rendered very appropriately Hammer-ish. It is vaguely reminiscent of the very effective opening scenes of the later Curse of the Werewolf. It makes sense, as Hound was directed by Hammer veteran Terrence Fisher, who helmed pretty much every movie I’ve mentioned here, as well as a host of other Hammer horrors, including our next installment, The Gorgon.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is available at Amazon.com

 

Orrin Grey

About Orrin Grey

Orrin Grey is a skeleton who likes monsters. His stories of ghosts, monsters, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies and been collected in Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts. He can be found online at orringrey.com.

Orrin GreyColumn: The Vault of Secrets: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

2 Comments on “Column: The Vault of Secrets: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)”

  1. J. Keith Haney

    As an actual Holmes acolyte who has read the original novel three times in his life, allow me to plug in some gaps, Orrin. First, Peter Cushing actually caught a lot of flak upon this movie’s premiere (it was, by sheer accident, the first Sherlock Holmes film in color) for not being Basil Rathbone. His performance was the first to show some of the unpleasant aspects of Holmes, mainly his snottiness and hauture. Cushing’s banter with Morrell (the first onscreen Watson who was actually treated as something other than a joke) paved the way for the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law dynamics that we saw in the most recent Sherlock Holmes films. Second, the film does take a good many liberties with the novel, simplifying some elements, eliminating other aspects, and changing Stapleton’s sister into his daughter (though they did retain the Spanish heritage of the original novel). I can say, though, that none of this gets in the way of my enjoying the piece, as the rewriting delivers a few surprises that make sense.

    One final note: I highly recommend the recent DVD release for its one special feature of note: an interview with Christopher Lee. In it, he recounts going to school with one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sons, various facts about the film (including his understated dancing around the fact that he is an arachnophobe), and most especially, his life-long friendship with Peter Cushing. The latter alone is worth the time spent watching it.

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