Up for a good mystery? Then let’s get into The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1939, starring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie and Nigel Bruce.
Upon the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), his nephew Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) comes from Canada to take over the estate. Among some of the late Sir Charles’ friends is Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who comes to see Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) in hopes that the famous detective might be able to convince Sir Henry to stay away from Baskerville Hall. When Sir Henry arrives, Sherlock instead wants to encourage him to go on. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt before Sir Henry leaves London, but sends Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) with Sir Henry, electing to stay behind to work on something else. After they arrive at Baskerville Hall, they meet Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie) and her brother John Stapleton (Morton Lowry), along with a few of their other neighbors. The howling of a hound at night bothers them, considering the legend of a hound that had killed one of Sir Henry’s ancestors, but it is the convict brother of Sir Henry’s butler’s wife that ends up killed (because he was wearing some of Sir Henry’s clothes). Sherlock, meanwhile, has been lurking in the background, trying to figure things out. After revealing himself, he decides to pretend to leave, in order to allow the potential murder of Sir Henry so that he could catch the killer. But can he get back in time and prevent the murder?
Based on the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1939 film is probably the best-known version of the tale. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that it would be so successful, spawning thirteen more films as well as a radio series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce continuing in their roles. But for this movie, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock was the second-billed actor, behind Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville (although, to be fair, Basil’s Sherlock disappears for a good part of the movie). But one remarkable point about this movie, according to TCM, is that it was the first Sherlock Holmes movie done as a period piece, being set firmly in the past as opposed to being done in then-modern times. The movie’s success resulted in another film being produced by Fox that same year (also a period film, based on a play), before the series moved to Universal a few years later, who brought the series back to modern times.
Having seen all of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, I will say that this is the best of the bunch. While it is definitely an introduction, I do like Basil’s portrayal of the character. It may not be based on the original stories, although I really don’t know myself, as I am going off what others have said plus other big and small screen versions of the character, but I like his way best. To me, he brings out the character’s humanity without maintaining the arrogance that I have seen in other portrayals. To me, he cares, and that alone makes his version more fun to watch. The fact that Basil and Nigel were friends offscreen just heightens the dynamic here. This is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend! The first movie in this series is definitely the best place to start (at least, if you want to start with a high point instead of a low one, anyways)!
This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the fourteen film Basil Rathbone In The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection from MPI Home Video.
Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Basil Rathbone – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)
Nigel Bruce – The Chocolate Soldier (1941)
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