The Hounds of Baskerville (1959): Hammer’s Good Adaptation of a Classic

The Hound of the Baskervilles

     Hammer pulled off a pretty good “Sherlock Holmes” adaptation! What certainly helped was having Sir Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville and Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t simply this either. This was one of the early color films and their use of cinematography creates very powerful images that drive the story.

     The film was directed by Terrance Fisher, written by Peter Bryan and produced by Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys and Kenneth Hyman.

  The story involves Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) being asked to come to the Baskerville Manor to protect Henry Baskerville (Sir Christopher Lee) and solve the mystery of the Hound of Baskerville and the Curse of the Baskervilles as they have been slowly killed off under mysterious circumstances.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I think this is reason this version of the story received critical acclaim. It is one of the earliest color films and this is used to create beautiful color contrasts, especially with the use of red in regards to blood or murders.

The Prologue – The prologue is haunting and realizes that the Baskervilles were people high on their privilege who used it to rape and beat those on their land…which bread resentment leading to the final end of what we see in the modern day. The scenes are haunting and beautiful as this is where we see the Baskerville’s on in red symbolizing their lust and hedonism.

Henry Baskerville – Christopher Lee is fantastic as this character who just wants to do the right thing! He is the guy trying to set things right and get away from what his ancestors have done. To this end he helps those on his land and we see him very aware of other people. This also makes him susceptible when the Stapletons exploit this to try and kill him so they can get the fortune as their as Baskerville bastards.

The Stapletons – Cecile the daughter is the one who almost kills Henry to get revenge on what was done to her ancestors by the Baskervilles of the past and her father is in on it too. They have a dog they have made feral that they set on Henry but are killed when Watson and Sherlock stop them and Cecile falls into one of the sink holes in the moor.

Sherlock Holmes – Peter Cushing is amazing at Sherlock Holmes! His is a very sharp and cold Holmes and one who is very much the manipulator…this is perfect as he plays up Sherlock’s detachment and skepticism making a very enjoyable performance. Cushing truly owns this role and is a big reason besides Lee why I enjoyed this film so much.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson is alright and he does have a great voice but he also is just kind of there. Andre Morell isn’t memorable and so far the only memorable Watsons have been Lucy Liu as Joan and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock.”

The Minor Characters – Henry’s friend is unmemorable as are a lot of the other characters who aren’t Stapletons…which is a shame as the world could have got fleshed out a lot more.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – It is very Hammer (horrorish in the classic sense) and just doesn’t work. I would have preferred they do something more original given what made this film work was how it was unlike a Hammer film and got away from a lot of their tropes and going for cheapness.

   This film is not a favorite but it is really good and it is one I’d recommend. Cushing as Sherlock and Lee as Henry Baskerville drive the story and the early color cinematography makes for creating amazing cinematography that captures the mystery and haunting nature of the moors on the Baskerville estate.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

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