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"This is a job for an imbecile!" "Quite right, Holmes! Let me deal with this!"
on 11 July 2012
Reviled as one of the worst films ever made when it came out in 1978 and no better with age, Paul Morrissey's catastrophic spoof of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore is an infantile effort that wastes a impressive supporting cast that's practically a history of British popular cinema in itself: Kenneth Williams, Terry Thomas, Irene Handl, Joan Greenwood, Spike Milligan, Max Wall, Denholm Elliott, Hugh Griffith, Roy Kinnear, even Jessie Matthews and a host of familiar faces like Penelope Keith, Mollie Maureen, Prunella Scales, Josephine Tewson and Henry Woolf (who at least gets a good costume gag) all line up for thankless roles in a testament to the desperate lack of work going round in the British film industry at the time.
It aspires to the music hall tradition but never rises above playground toilet humour, which wouldn't be a problem if it was funny toilet humour, but the semi-improvised, wildly self-indulgent script veers all over the place (there's even a prolonged Exorcist parody thrown in for no good reason) without hitting many targets, and those it does almost more by accident than design. A few stray jokes do survive the energetic overplaying that sees Cook playing Holmes like a lisping Jewish garment trader who sells it by the yard in what amounts to such an obvious impersonation of Peter Jones you don't know why they didn't save some money and hire him instead while Moore plays Watson as an enthusiastic sputtering imbecile with an accent that veers from the valleys of Wales to the Highlands of Scotland as well as Holmes' domineering fake spiritualist mother who insists on calling him Shirl. Aside from a throwaway gag with Holmes reading Sigmund Freud's `Guilt Without Sex,' there's little of the smart wit or screen chemistry of their classic work here even when they desperately throw in a particularly poor variation of their classic "I've nothing against your right leg - the trouble is, neither do you" `unidexter' sketch. By this time the two had grown to dislike and resent each enough for it to probably be a blessing that the story dictates they spend much of the film separated. Their last fictional feature together, only the self-loathing vitriol of Derek and Clive and the sporadic TV guest spot reunion lay in their joint future.
Thomas and Handl emerge with reputations intact, as does Penelope Keith in her brief turn as a brothel madam, but most of the supporting cast aren't so lucky, with humiliation the order of the day. There's a terrible self-awareness to lines like "These people can scarcely sink any lower," what with an even more over the top than usual Kenneth Williams alternating between bad wig and severe alopetia while poor Joan Greenwood is required to projectile vomit over Watson, having already attempted to rape him: Kind Hearts and Coronets must have seemed such a distant memory. There's a heavy emphasis on the grotesque and the puerile, exemplified one lengthy sequence involving a Chihuahua with a weak bladder peeing all over Watson's face for a whole minute, and it doesn't get much better than that. Only a kind of car crash fascination keeps you viewing. Still, at least Dana Gillespie's astonishing cleavage briefly offers some breathtaking scenery.
Curiously the film exists in two separate cuts on the original UK DVD release, the first the uncut version in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the second a re-edited and badly cropped fullframe version that is ten minutes shorter, which at least reduces the time you'll waste watching it, though Ms Gillespie's parts have borne the brunt of the cuts. CDA's DVD also includes an interview with the director and re-edited trailer.