Friday, 17 February 2017

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) The Hammer Holmes

18th Century Dartmoor; the cruel and notorious Sir. Hugo Baskerville is holding a party for his aristocratic friends at Baskerville Hall. Much as with aristos today, Sir. Hugo is a complete shit and gets his jollies torturing servants and raping their daughters. 

(Badly) colorized Lobby card depicting the scene.
When one such girl escapes him, he hunts her with horse and hounds, to an ancient and time-forgotten ruin-then murders her with a Moorish-style dagger. 

This brings forth a spectral hound who attacks and devours him. From that time on, any Baskerville to tread the Moors at night will be killed by the Hound. So goes the legend of The Baskervilles, set down on ancient parchment. Doctor Richard Mortimer has travelled up to Baker Street to read the legend to a disinterested and distracted Holmes. 

Peter Cushing is Sherlock Holmes
He tells Holmes and, naturally, Watson of the recent unexplained death of Sir. Charles Baskerville. 

Andre Morell plays Watson
When the Doctor leaves, however, Holmes springs into life; the death has some elements of interest to him-the dead man died from fear, running for his life until his very heart burst. Holmes and his companion travel to meet Sir. Henry Baskerville, the last in line for the title at his hotel. A missing boot causes confusion as Sir. Henry confuses the two with Hotel Management, but soon realises his mistake. 

Christopher Lee plays Sir. Henry Baskerville

A deadly tarantula appears, nearly killing the new owner of Baskerville Hall-but Holmes manages to knock it clear and kill it with his stick. Claiming to have business keeping him in London, he assigns Watson in the role of bodyguard, to travel down to Devon with Sir. Henry and Dr. Mortimer.

Travelling down, the party learns of the escape of Selden, an infamous murderer and lunatic, from nearby Dartmoor prison. Later, Barrymore, the Baskerville Butler shows his new master the portrait of Sir. Hugo, who brought the curse upon the family. 

The adjacent painting is lost, stolen a while back. Sir. Henry proposes a toast, to his refusal to accept the legend of the Hound-at which Mrs. Barrymore drops her glass and goes from the room. Watson then questions Barrymore as to his actions on finding Sir. Charles' body. The butler reveals he heard the Hound howling that awful night-a sound he never wishes to hear again. That night, from his bedroom, Watson hears a hound baying, and sees a pinpoint of light far out on the moor.

The next day an eccentric old clergyman wheels his tricycle up to Baskerville Hall and introduces himself to Sir. Henry as Bishop Frankland, a keen entomologist. Making small talk, the whimsical old duffer accepts some of his host's sherry and asks for some old clothes for the village jumble.* Sir. Henry is, it seems settling in nicely to his new role-even being invited to judge the Mother and Baby contest. Meanwhile, Watson has gone down to the Grimpen Post Office to collect a telegram from Holmes; on no account is he to allow Sir. Henry onto the moor alone at night!. 

Walking back, Watson almost triggers a savage iron trap, saved from doing so by the man who laid it. 

Angrily, Watson berates the man for his cruelty... can't he use a gun?. In mute response, the man shows his webbed and deformed hand. 

This is Stapleton, who grubs a living as a farmer. He gives the lost Doctor directions back to the Hall, with advice not to step from the path; this is the Great Grimpen Mire, which can swallow a man whole.
*A curiously British event where old clothes, bric-a-brac etc are sold to raise funds, usually for the local church or suchlike. 

Whistling merrily along, Watson spies a peasant girl and asks her the way, but, taking him for Sir. Henry, she takes flight and he gives chase, thinking her in danger from the mire. As Watsons do, this one ends up in it, only the timely appearance of Stapleton and the girl saving him. 

The girl, it transpires is Cecile, Stapleton's daughter. Giving the muddy* Watson a lift back on their cart, Stapleton goes in with him and Sir. Henry rides up to meet the girl; she runs off and he follows the family tradition of chasing pretty girls on horseback. The girl fights him, but being a decent fellow he demands to know why she ran. Her Father would have seen them, she says-and then kisses him abruptly. 

Stapleton emerges and invites Sir. Henry to drop by Home Farm when he's in the area before leaving with Cecile.
*Either he has self-cleaning clothes or half the mud simply vanishes between shots.

Drawn by the sound of a woman sobbing (there's only one in the house, it shouldn't need Sherlock Holmes to solve), Sir. Henry and Watson investigate, finding a single candle burning by a window in the very room Sir. Hugo kept the girl prisoner centuries before, now a storage attic. 

Spotting a light out on the moor, Sir. Henry calls Watson over to shine the light at the window; the mysterious light signals back in response!. 

Revolver in hand Watson accompanies Sir. Henry in a wild dash far out onto the moor, where they find a lantern burning, abandoned. Selden the escaped murderer is watching, however and is spotted, the two men giving chase. 

He gets away and then a ghastly howl sounds over the moors, at which Baskerville is seized with heart pains. 

Watson gives him some brandy and helps him back to Baskerville Hall, but not before he spots a solitary figure standing on a rocky outcrop.

Watson sends for doctor Mortimer, agreeing it is a hereditary condition, though nowhere near as advanced as Sir. Charles'. charging him with looking after the stricken Lord until he returns from the moor.

Sallying forth once more, Watson finds the ancient ruin where Sir. Hugo murdered the girl. In it, he is startled to find Holmes, who reveals he's been there almost as long as Watson, having come down on the very next train. 

The telegram he sent was a contrivance, to assist the ruse; secrecy is vital. Holmes had found Selden, who told him of what he'd seen himself since hiding on the moor. And what was that?; that there is more evil here than Holmes has ever encountered. Right on cue; the hound, that spectral howl sending chills through the very night. Rushing to a Tor*, Holmes uses his binoculars to find Mortimer's carriage has gone from Baskerville Hall. A growl and a scream; someone is being mauled, terribly!. Dashing to the spot, the two find a body, lying prone at the edge of the Mire. 

The clothes leave no doubt, that this is Sir. Henry Baskerville, the body itself inaccessible without ladders and rope. Returning to the Hall, Holmes orders Barrymore to fetch these-and to clean his muddy boots (For some reason, clean footwear is essential in a crisis...).
*A rocky outcrop unique to the moors of South-West England.

As they go up to Watson's room, John freezes; the room at the end of the passage is again lit from within; Watson arms himself and they enter. A shadow of a man, bent over reading by candlelight-it's Baskerville!; Sir. Henry is reading the ancient legend. 

Holmes is delighted to see his host alive. Around a convivial fire, the small group is soon engaged in the serious work of smoking and taking brandy, Holmes lighting his pipe from a burning ember in some style... stylishly burning the side of his pipe. 

Holmes speculates the corpse on the Moor to be Selden; a vicious killer, yet undeserving of such cruel fate. (Actually, he killed prostitutes; desperate women struggling to feed their families or habits-my sympathy lies with them.) But how did he come to be wearing Sir. Henry's clothes?. Sir. Henry reveals the erason Dr. Mortimer departed-a stupid row they had concerning the curse and the death of his uncle Sir. Charles. 

Barrymore appears and Holmes defers his request for equipment until morning, pointedly asking the butler about the empty room and asking him to extinguish the 'pointless' light within. Barrymore's face says more than words could. On the stairs for bed, Holmes examines the Hugo Baskerville portrait and asks after the missing one; when told of the theft he remarks that it had to disappear... it had to...

Next morning bright and early finds the sleuth and his colleague leading a party at the edge of the Grimpen mire, to find the corpse of Selden gone. 

Going to the ancient ruins, they find blood-and Sir. Hugo's dagger, then Barrymore finds Selden, horribly mutilated in a sacrificial rite of some depraved kind. Returning, Holmes sends for Mrs. Barrymore and questions her and her husband, revealing he knows her to be originally Miss. Selden. 

Breaking down, she admits Selden was her brother; she could not see him suffer despite his crimes and gave him the clothes Sir. Henry donated for the Jumble. Some-one-or some-thing mistook him for Sir. Henry. In gentle tones, Holmes concludes by assuring her that Selden had stated he would'nt have been taken alive in any case. Alone, he informs Watson he has settled matters with the local police; no further action will be taken against the Barrymores.

Going to Bishop Frankland's house, Holmes is mistaken for a telescope repair-man, the bumbling old fool allowing him to repair the instrument with graphite grease. Carelessly, the old man swings the telescope through a pane of the open window. After a while, holmes convinces the eccentric he isn't a repair-man and introduces himself. The Bishop is pleased to meet the Country's greatest detective-Holmes to meet the Country's greatest entomologist, a leading expert on spiders-tarantulas especially. Holmes tells him he found one, from Frankland's collection; the Bishop reluctantly admits this after some prevarication and the detective questions him on his visitors on the day it went missing, some five days previous. These were; an old lady, Dr. Mortimer, the Stapletons for tea and a workman come about the woodworm in the belfry. Leaving the old duffer to ramble on, Holmes has gone long before he stops.

Going to the Stapleton farmhouse, Sir. Henry's knock goes unanswered, so he enters to find Cecile alone. She offers him a tankard of cider, which he accepts and after he accepts her invitation to dinner she tells him of her life in far-away Spain. She misses the country dearly. 
Marla Landi plays Cecile Stapleton

Her Mother was a fine Spaniard, who would live and die there. They came to farm, but the land was cruel and the crop meagre, their savings gone. She dreams of returning, but her Father is too proud. No-one wants to know poor people. He does. Earnestly, he goes to her and asks why she ran from him, why she kissed him... she doesn't know. 

Taking her, he kisses her passionately, but Stapleton is standing there and demands a drink of cider from his daughter. He repeats the invitation, which Sir. Henry is pleased to accept. Stapleton toasts his health.

Holmes and Watson travel by carriage; discussing the tarantula attack-how can Holmes be sure the tarantula wasn't simply a stowaway in Sir. Henry's luggage from South Africa?. 'Elementary, my Dear Watson, there are no Tarantulas in South Africa.' (There are) Whoever placed it knew Sir. Henry suffered with a weak heart, indicating a local. There is, after all, an excellent train service from London. Watson suspects Dr. Mortimer-he alone knew of Sir. Henry's arrival in London. Holmes dismisses this; the London Times would surely have published details of his stay. Then what of the legend of the Hound of Horror?. Holmes is seized with inspiration, taking up the map of Dartmoor, he examines it with his glass. Selden swre the howls came from the depths of the earth...

Dr. Mortimer greets the pair on their arrival, feeling it about time Holmes arrived. He came to the Hall to look over the Estate. He finds Sir. Henry impossible, Holmes turning the conversation to his quarrel and abandonment of Sir. Henry-he only mentioned the legend. Seizing on this, Holmes comments on his obsession with the legend, on the fact that he, Dr. Mortimer discovered it. The Doctor flares up, Holmes too briefly, but calms himself to turn matters to the old tin mine marked on the map. Cleverly, he assesses Mortimer's knowledge and familiarity of the place; is he current with it?. He says not. Holmes asks him to accompany him there, as an archaeologist. 

Suddenly, he turns, throwing the Moorish dagger into the top of a side-table on which Mortimer is perched. Slyly, the Doctor asks where he got it; Holmes asks its age. 

Mortimer thinks 1700-Holmes 1740, to be exact. And the age of the blood?; he couldn't say. Holmes says under ten hours old. Mortimer pretends he is unaware of the grim provenance of the dagger...

Together with Stapleton and Mortimer, Holmes descends the planking of the old tin mine, lanterns in hand the group traverses a narrow passage, held up by rotting and decaying props. Nervous, Mortimer advises against going further. Holmes pushes past a mine cart, which is dangerously un-chocked on a slope. The other two remain, ostensibly to chock it as Holmes goes on alone to make a discovery. 

He calls out he's found what he was after when a ghastly howl echoes through the tunnels of the mine, turning back Holmes sees the mine cart crashing down into a prop, the entire roof collapsing in an avalanche of dirt, rock and falling woodwork. Sherlock Holmes is surely dead!. (Go with it...)

The small group returns to the horse-cart to find Holmes propped up in it, his leg injured by the fall. He found an air-shaft and escaped!. Irritably, he demands to return to Baskerville Hall, as he is both cold and hungry.

At the Hall, Holmes rails against Watson's attempts to care for him, arguing the 'old beef bone' he found in the mine to be a relatively new one, which is a vital point. He asks for tobacco, but his things have been interfered with-and the Moorish dagger has been removed, the drawer in which it was kept broken into. Sir. Henry enters and, rudely Holmes rebuffs his invite to accompany him to the Stapleton place for dinner, insulting the Lord for consorting with 'peasants'. 

Angered, yet still a gentleman, Sir. Henry rises to admonish and remind Holmes he remains a guest in his house. Alone, Watson's attempt to remonstrate with Holmes is barked down; 'You know my methods; couldn't you see I was being purposefully rude?.' The dagger's theft can only mean one thing; Sir. Henry is to die tonight!.

Walking alone with Cecile across the moor, she leads him to the ruins, but not before they kiss again. Meanwhile, Holmes is limping along the passage to the stairs with Watson, who is aware the portrait of Sir. Hugo told Holmes' keen mind something he could not perceive. 

It was the hands; Sir. Hugo's right hand is gloved, hiding something; of course!-he had a webbed hand. Stapleton!. Indeed, Stapleton is a Baskerville!. As they speak, Stapleton is at the ruins, preparing to unleash the Hound, going to the ruins with lantern and a package wrapped up beneath his arm.

Holmes and Watson rush along as quickly as Sherlock's wound will allow, Watson thinks they are headed to the Stapleton place, but Holmes insists they head to the ruins, arriving there just before Sir. Henry and Cecile, who are taking their time on the hill leading up to the ancient remains. 

Spotting a sepulchral light from within a crypt, Holmes cautions Watson and they draw their revolvers to steal forwards quietly to conceal themselves in an adjoining vault just as Cecile leads the unwitting Sir. Henry down into the ruins. 

He wishes to kiss her, but she draws away, before turning and slapping him savagely. Spitting venom, she informs the confused Baskerville he won't be the first to die here because of a girl. 

Sir. Charles died here, too. Died because he wanted a woman enough to bring her here at night. He died screaming; she knows, she watched him. She explains she, too is a Baskerville, as is her Father before her-living in poverty while scum inherit the title and wealth. Now the curse of the Hound is on him!. Bemusement turns slowly to terror as a terrible howl rends the night.

Sir. Henry backs away in fear and apprehension, the girl in expectation of his death. Holmes divests himself of his Inverness, preparing for the worst. A sudden growl-turning in horror, Sir. Henry beholds a gigantic, other-worldy Hound, standing above on the parapet. 

The eyes that glitter down on him in the un-naturally massive and wolf-like head know no pity and, with a giant bound, the creature leaps down onto a sacrificial altar-stone and is upon him in a flash of tooth and claw, the cruel fangs ripping into his flesh as he struggles for his very life. 

Holmes attempts a shot-but he'll hit Sir. Henry!-the girl's lips split in a manic grin-Watson takes aim-Stapleton appears, knocks his gun-arm down-they struggle. Watson pushes Stapleton back, but the illegitimate scion of Sir. Hugo Baskerville draws his dagger to attack. BLAM! Watson's shot catches the killer in the arm and, to Cecile's horror, he staggers back, collapsing onto the altar- stone. His very life-blood ebbing with his strength, Sir. Henry is still valiantly attempting to defend himself against the overwhelming force of the beast's jaws. A shot rings out from Holmes' revolver-the animal lets out a yelp of pain, turning from the prostrate Lord in rage and agony, to see the bleeding form of Stapleton on the altar... 

Stapleton dies a hideous death, mauled by the Hound as his daughter watches. Another shot from Holmes despatches the Hound, but, insane with jealous rage and her desire for revenge, Cecile snatches up the dagger to avenge her father and attempt to murder the helpless Sir. Henry. 

Holmes races forward, his steely fingers grappling with hers to wrest the dagger from her grasp, the deadly blade falling to the flagstones. Biting Holmes, she wrests herself free and dashes off. Holmes cautions Watson against following; she won't get far-Sir. Henry needs attention.

The battered and torn figure of Sir. Henry Baskerville is supported by his two allies, Holmes insisting on showing him the Hound that had so nearly cost him his life. The detective reveals the existence of a passageway connecting the mine with this place-he discovered it after Stapleton's attempt on his life. Crouching by the body, Holmes unbuckles the mask that Stapleton had affixed to it's head-a device intended to make the beast even more terrifying. The creature was starved for weeks, then given the scent and released. Removing Sir. Henry's missing boot from Stapleton's jacket pocket, Holmes discloses the dog had to have something of his to follow the scent. Watson asks Holmes to retrieve his cape to wrap around the injured Sir. Henry for the walk back.

Cecile Stapleton dashes through the Grimpen Mire that she knows so well. However, even the most familiar of places can become foreign at night; she falls into one of the deadly pits and her screams alert the trio as they ascend a nearby Tor. 

A Lobby Card showing the scene

Grimly, Watson states the curse has claimed another victim. 'Sherlock Holmes replies; 'Yes, no more will be heard of the Hound of the Baskerville.'

Returning to the convivial surrounds of 221b, Baker Street, Holmes reads a letter of thanks from Sir. Henry, Watson studying the portrait of Sir. Hugo, complete with webbed hand that was found amongst the Stapleton's possessions. Sir. Henry has gifted the portrait to Holmes, along with a generous cheque. Sitting to tea, Holmes remarks afterwards he shall write to Sir. Henry to accept both his gifts. 

Joining him, Watson asks when he first suspected the truth about the case, that the hound was a real dog and not just a myth?. When Sir. Henry complained of a missing boot, that put him on the scent as it were. As early as that?; that's incredible, feels Watson. 'Elementary, my Dear Watson, elementary.' Concluding the case, Sherlock Holmes offers his friend and comrade a muffin to go with his tea.

When I first saw Peter Cushing's name attached to the Holmes role, I felt it a mistake; this wonderful British character actor was surely better suited to Horror films; he had played Garnd Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977) and even Doctor Who in two films from the sixties. But Sherlock Holmes?. I knew he had reprised the role for BBC television in 1968, playing the detective in sixteen episodes and The Masks of Death, a 1984 production co-starring John Mills. How wrong can one person be?; Cushing scintillates throughout-his mannerisms, gaunt features and spare frame lend themselves wonderfully to the part, as does his ascerbic manner. The logical thinking machine comes to life!. André Morell plays a refreshingly intelligent Watson; just normal enough to make Holmes seem to be a super-brain, Morell gives the role solid dependability and is a far cry from the bumbling, yet loveable Nigel Bruce character.

A French poster for the film.
Christopher Lee-himself to play Holmes, first in 1962 with Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, then in the early nineties with two TV movies, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady and Incident at Victoria Falls. None of Lee's Holmes films are considered classics, sadly (Though if all he had ever done was Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) he'd still be a legend in my eyes). Here Lee is upright, kind and decent-a good man if not a great character. His role is second fiddle, of course to that of his long-time collaborator and friend Peter Cushing's; he's the bait for the big dog and not a lot more. That said, his performance is memorable-his screen presence and magnetism marking him out as a man apart.

A Publicity shot for the film
The supporting cast are all solid, Francis De Wolff as Doctor Mortimer gives a good 'is he a baddie or a goodie?' performance, Miles Malleson plays the dotty old Bishop to a T and Ewen Solon is a believable Stapleton. Marla Landi is Cecile and clearly Italian rather than Spanish. Why they didn't just re-write the part is beyond me. Dad's Army stalwart John le Mesurier plays Barrymore, the Butler with a subdued elegance.

Hammer films simply would have vanished if it wasn't for one man; Terence Fisher. Graduating from clapper boy to film editor to director, Fisher took colour and gore and gave the Hammer films their iconic feel, directing both Cushing and Lee in thirteen and twelve films, respectively.
Hammer regular James Bernard returns to Compose a dramatic, if not exactly Earth-shattering score.

The cover of the First Edition of the novel in Art Nouveau style
The screenplay, written by Peter Bryan, differs from the Novel on several points; these actually serve to bring suspense back for Conan-Doyle readers. Sir. Henry's heart condition was added, as was the tarantula and mine scene. Stapleton's wife becomes his daughter and hates Baskerville; in the novel, she survives. The webbed hand gimmick wasn't in the book, but Stapleton drowning in the Grimpen Mire was. Other details were also changed, although more trivial in nature, such as Sir. Henry's country of origin. The film was intended to be the first of a series, but apparently Hammer fans found it lacking; the production was hampered by the typical low-budget approach of Hammer; for instance, the painted backdrop outside the window of 221b, Baker Street is simply laughable.

The first Sherlock Holmes film made in colour, the set for Baskerville Hall was originally used for the Horror of Dracula (1958). Peter Cushing detested pipes and drank milk on-set to remove the taste. The dog used in the production, a Great Dane (Colonel by name) reportedly attacked Christopher Lee after successive takes had to be aborted due to the animals' placidity; production staff goaded the dog who then took it out on Lee, biting his arm. Apart from some stock, or second-unit shots of Dartmoor, the film was made on location at Chobham Common and Frensham Ponds, both in Surrey. 

The chessboard Holmes is briefly seen with is set up incorrectly. 

The Bishop's window is clearly already scored for the telescope to easily smash it.

When asked why he doesn't shoot his game, Stapleton shows his deformed hand as answer; yet he clearly owns a shotgun as one is visible in his house. This may not be an actual error as it's possible his daughter used it, or it was an heirloom.

The late, Great Peter Cushing; Cushing brought his knowledge of the story and character to the part brilliantly.
When Stapleton is savaged by the Hound, he has to drag it onto him due to Colonel's aforementioned lack of aggression.

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