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Holmes under the Hammer...
on 9 January 2007
Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous Sherlock Holmes story, Terence Fisher's film of The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the very best attempts to immortalise the Great Detective on film. The movie has several things in its favour, notably a director at the top of his game, teamed yet again with the initial Bray crew who made Hammer's initial run of gothic fantasies so memorable; in particular Jack Asher's cinematography deserves special praise. The cast, too, is almost flawless; in terms of faithfulness to the literary source, the Holmes and Watson team of Peter Cushing and Andre Morell is second only to the Jeremy Brett / David Burke pairing of the Granada TV series, twenty-five years later. The supporting performances are respectable, with such British cinema stalwarts as John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson, and Francis DeWolff giving their usual accomplished turns, and David Oxley memorably evil as the depraved Sir Hugo Baskerville. The film doesn't quite follow the source novel, subtracting several characters and beefing up the roles of others, but as this is one of the most-adapted stories in TV and film history that is hardly a bad thing; this 1959 adaptation is easily the most enjoyable, being more action-packed than either the 1939 Basil Rathbone version or the 1988 Brett TV movie, whilst still building up a memorable atmosphere of menace and dread, aided by James Bernard's typically doom-laden score.
The only real flaw in the film (and this is perhaps a controversial opinion) is the casting of Christopher Lee as the victimised Sir Henry Baskerville. Lee is, of course, typically professional in the role, and there is nothing technically wrong with his performance; but after viewing his more forceful performances opposite Cushing in other, more even-handed movies, made both before and after this one, it is a little hard to accept him as a physically weak, mild-mannered aristocrat who is constantly in awe of Cushing's dynamic Holmes. The fact that he towers above both Cushing and Morell, supposedly his bodyguards, doesn't help either; surely an actor who would have been a better fit for the role would have been Francis Matthews, Cushing's young co-star in the previous year's The Revenge of Frankenstein.