Saturday, December 18, 2010

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Terence Fisher, 1959)


A canine curse stalks the Baskerville heirs, its howl a death knell heard from the foggy moors to the grandiose mansion where the current Lord resides. Terence Fisher directs Hammer’s only adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s deductive detective, derived as more of a horror story than criminal investigation though still races at breakneck speed towards a bloody denouement.

Peter Cushing is excellent as the smarmy and pernicious Sherlock Holmes, his mannerisms as active as his mind: though Holmes is absent for most of the second act, Cushing steals the film in every scene. Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, the latest target of the supposed curse, is woefully underwritten, relegated to plot device instead of proactivity. Andre Morell imbues Dr. Watson with a Doctorial wit, elevating him from bumbling sidekick to Holmes’ elementary peer.

The story is redacted then reduced to its basic elements, cutting to the narrative bone to allow complexities and exposition to be replaced with suspense and blood while everyone seems to be running in every scene. One great scene has Watson investigating a light in the mansion’s attic window: a shadow stalks him as he nears the door until he is lost in the penumbra, consumed by the mysterious perpetrator. It’s a momentary but neat effect and one of many flourishes that guide this towards Hammer tropes which inexplicably condemns it for Doyle purists.

The curse is revealed to be a shaggy dog story, and Holmes, once again proving his intellectual superiority takes full credit for services rendered.


Final Grade: (B+)

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