HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (TWILIGHT TIME BLU RAY)
limited edition 3,000 units- Original release Hammer/ United Artists -1959- Color – 86 minutes $29.95
TWILIGHT TIME has gone all out with their release of Hammer’s classic adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes story THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Issued previously on DVD by MGM, the new Blu Ray cleans up both sound and image to make this hound appear as if it was made recently.
Peter Cushing is Sherlock Holmes. Before Jeremy Brett, Cushing was perhaps the closest to the character ever put on film. Rathbone and Bruce had gone further and further from the novels though they had been (and to many still are) the template in many people’s minds of what the Great Detective and his Boswell were like. In strong support was Andre Morell as Watson. Gone was the bumbling but lovable blustery Nigel Bruce and in his place was a man whom you felt had been a soldier, and while not as clever as Holmes, was at least an intelligent sounding board who had been a doctor.
Hammer was riding high from their back to back hits reinventing of Dracula and Frankenstein, and so they looked around for another popular character that might fit into their technicolor blood and thunder stylish thrillers. Their choice fell onto adapting perhaps the most famous mystery of all time.
First serialized in nine parts from August 1901 until April 1902 in The Strand Magazine, the complete novel was first published as THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES: ANOTHER ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES on March 25,1902 by George Newnes with a print run of 25,000 copies at 6 shillings each. 15,000 more copies were printed for India and the British Colonies on April 2,1902, with the American edition coming out at $1.25 on April 15th (print run of 70,000). Illustrations were done by the man most identified with drawing the Dynamic Detecting Duo, Sidney Paget.
HOUND has proven to be the most enduring of the Holmesian tales, which is interesting because Holmes disappears for about half the middle section of the book and Watson taking the lead. Still it’s Gothic atmosphere with dark moors, castles, curses and hell hounds still stirs the imagination of readers over 114 years later. The tale has been adapted onto radio, comics, stage and of course film adaptations.
To me, the Hammer film leads the pack (see what I did there?). Casting, script, direction, music, set design, every aspect of the film from beginning to end is a treat for any longtime fan of the Great Man as well as a perfect way to introduce new fans to the tales.
The Hammer Hound begins back in the 1700 s as the original Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley ,
who also appeared as The Doctor in Hammer’s YESTERDAY ENEMY (1959) and it is sad that he was not used in more of their films) has kidnapped a young woman for obviously unsavory pleasures during their debauched hunting party (a reference to the notorious Hellfire Club, perhaps). The poor woman escapes and the Lord glowers over a bannister and in a tight close-up says “The BITCH has escaped!” (a phrase that I am sure gave censors coronaries). They takeoff after the poor unfortunate who struggles through the deadly bog, only to be caught, and on an ancient site of sacrifice, he pulls out a dagger and stabs her to death. Moments later, a low growl is heard, and the man turns to the camera as a look of horror crosses his face.
Jump to Baker Street and we see that we are being told the tale of the Baskerville curse by a friend of the family, Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Woolf, who had been Black Ben in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (MGM,1958) asks,” What do you think, Mr Holmes?’ A quick cut, and we see Cushing, deep in thought, a hand across his face as he sits splayed out in an armchair, then suddenly cries “’AH!” but not to the case but a chess move he had been puzzling. This is one of the finest introductions that Holmes has ever had on screen and Cushing does not disappoint in his well studied charactization for a moment. His Holmes is intense, so even when not moving, you have a sense that he is a coiled spring, ready to set off at a moments’s notice. Balancing him superbly as Dr Watson is Andre Morell, who played Cushing’s nemesis in the controversial BBC adaptation of NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (1954) that propelled Cushing to national fame (he would later be Cushing’s antagonist in the superb CASH ON DEMAND (Hammer/Columbia ,1961 ,as well as appearing in 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, also released on Blu Ray previously reviewed here on the Street https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/10-rillington-place-twilight-time-blu-ray/).
Christopher Lee plays an aloof Sir Henry Baskervilles, who softens when he gets to Baskervilles Hall and meets Marla Landi (and who would later meet with pirate Chris Lee in Hammer’s THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Columbia,1962)). Other superlative actors in the film are scene stealer Miles Malleson (who portraying a befuddled undertaker nearly cracks Peter Cushing up in HORROR OF DRACULA (Hammer/Universal,1958) as a Bishop who is also an amateur Arachnologist, John Le Mesurier (Dr Tranter in JACK THE RIPPER, Embassy 1959) a marvelous proper Barrymore the Butler, and Ewan Salon (also in JACK THE RIPPER as Sir David) is a wonderful Stapleton.
I don’t wish to go into too many details, especially if you have seen it there is no need and if you haven’t you will want to enjoy discovering the wonderful story on its own.
Production values are top notch ,with Bernard Robinson wonderfully redressing and adding to prior set pieces from Hammer ( it is often fun to watch Hammer Films just to see how brilliantly sets were dressed and redressed to such great effect from film to film), Jack Asher’s Technicolor photography has never looked so colorful as it does in this new Blu Ray release , and James Bernard’s score once again is quite stirring .The screenplay by Peter Bryan ,while not entirely faithful to the Doyle novel , is quite faithful in tone and spirit (Bryan ,a former camera operator ,would also pen Hammer’s PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES(Hammer /Fox,1966) as well as the original story for TROG (WB,1970))and Hammer’s treasure director Terrence Fisher deftly guides his ensemble through an engrossing and entertaining 86 minutes.
The sound is in crisp clear 1.0 DTS-HD, with no noticeable pops or hiss, and the hound’s first howl and growl are quite chilling with the proper speakers. Subtitles are in English and follow the dialogue almost exactly.
Extras on this Blu Ray, besides the glorious region free 1080p High Definition / 1.66:1 / Color transfer, include
-An Isolated Music and effects track, you can enjoy Bernard’s score as well as seeing which sound bites are foleyed in.
-An audio commentary with Film Historians David Del Valle and Writer /Director Steven Peros, who have infectious respect for the film and its place in Hammer History.
-A Second Audio commentary moderated by friend of SCARLET film historian and filmmaker Paul Scrabo, Lee Pfeiffer, and Hanker Reineke, who cover both the film and where it varies from the Holmesian canon.
-A video interview with Margaret Robinson, who discusses her involvement with the film, in particular making the mask used on the Hound. Though warned the dog might bite her, the lovely woman recalls that the dog decided that she was alright and never had a problem with it.
Reversible blu ray artwork
A nice overview booklet on the film written by Julie Kirgo.
Ported over from the previous MGM DVD release are
-Actor’s Notebook: An interview with actor Christopher Lee
–Christopher Lee reading excerpts from the original Novel.
-The Theatrical Trailer.
Limited to only 3,000 copies, I would suggest that any fan of Holmes, Hammer, Cushing and company, or just great filmmaking should snap this film up!
– HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
–Kevin G Shinnick
Note: The U.K. Arrow release of this film has a lot of extras not available here, including historian Marcus Hearn commentary, commentary by Kim Newman and Mark Gatis, a documentary on Andre Morell, and a 1986 documentary called THE MANY FACES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. That it has both the Margaret Robinson interview and Lee reading Hound excerpts, it is a shame that the other wealth of extras from ARROW had not been ported over. Still, with the wealth of extras that TWILIGHT TIME has given us, this is petty nitpicking and most important, they have given us perhaps the finest presentation of this classic that we are likely to see.