THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
The rights to the book were obtained by US producer Sy Weintraub, most known for producing seven fairly good Tarzan films during the 1960s. Weintraub planned to make a series of theatrically released Sherlock Holmes films that adhered closely to the original Conan Doyle stories. This resulted in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the subsequent The Sign of Four (1983), which also starred Ian Richardson (although recast Dr Watson with another actor). However, the rights to the Sherlock Holmes stories had just come into public domain in England in 1980 (fifty years after Conan Doyles death) and Granada Television started up their The Adventures -, The Return and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1983-7) tv series starring Jeremy Brett. Weintraub was reportedly unhappy about this and cancelled plans to make any further films. The Hound of the Baskervilles did receive some limited theatrical screenings but was mostly seen by the rest of the world as a tv movie.
Sy Weintraub and co deliver a solid and effective adaptation of the Conan Doyle novel. Charles Edward Pogues script follows the text of the original point for point in almost every regard and more so than any other version of the story seen to date. About the only area I picked up that it strays from the text is the inclusion of Inspector Lestrade Lestrade does turn up much later in the book but the film adds several meetings between Watson and Lestrade in the village post office, which are played for comedy.
In many regards, this version of the story is surprisingly traditional. Ian Richardson has clearly modelled his performance on Basil Rathbone in the Universal Sherlock Holmes of the 1940s, giving us a traditional Holmes with a piercing intellect and as a jolly man of the British aristocracy. By contrast, other adaptations from this point onwards tend to amplify Holmess psychological quirks or make him rude and intolerable. Donald Churchills Dr Watson is still portrayed as the same middle-aged old duffer that he was in most Holmes adaptations up until the 2000s. Even the set layout of 221B Baker Street looks exactly the same as it was in the Jeremy Brett series and the subsequent Sherlock (2010 ) tv series.
Sy Weintraub and co have shot the film with a series of lavish period dressings and costumes, heading to real country estates and the moors of Devon to stand in for the locations. The only aspects that seems slightly setbound are some of the clearly indoor locations for Grimpen Mire. Douglas Hickox tells the story with good dramatic flow, even if at the end of the day what we get feels like a good and worthwhile version of the Conan Doyle story but never something that is anything more than that.
One of the things that impresses about the film is that Weintraub has mounted it with a sterling cast line-up from the British acting profession of the day, including Ian Richardson, Denholm Elliott, Ronald Lacey, Brian Blessed, Edward Judd, Nicholas Clay, Martin Shaw who was a dashing handsome lead on the basis of the tv series The Professionals (1977-83) and Connie Booth, John Cleeses former wife, best known for her role on Fawlty Towers (1975-9).
Director Douglas Hickox had previously made the rather funny screen adaptation of Joe Ortons Entertaining Mr Sloane (1969) and the horror film Theater of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price as a mad Shakespearean actor. Charles Edward Pogue was an American writer who delivered his first screen credit here and subsequently went on to write a number of other films including David Cronenbergs The Fly (1986), Psycho III (1986), DragonHeart (1996), Kull the Conqueror (1997) and Hercules (tv mini-series, 2005).
Other adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles include:- a series of six German films released under the same title between 1914 and 1920, which were made by two different companies when one director defected and both companies kept making rival sequels. These soon abandoned the Conan Doyle material and developed the story out like a complex serial, even went back into the history of the Baskerville family. One of the directors Richard Oswald attempted a further German remake The Hound of the Baskervilles (1929). Other versions include a lost silent French version The Hound of the Baskervilles (1914); the first American version, the silent The Hound of the Baskervilles (1920) with Ellie Norwood; a lost British sound version The Hound of the Baskervilles (1931), written by thriller writer Edgar Wallace; another German version The Hound of the Baskervilles (1936); The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), the first of the series of Sherlock Holmes films featuring Basil Rathbone; the celebrated Hammer version The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) with Peter Cushing as Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry; a two-part adaptation as part of the tv series Sherlock Holmes (1964-8) also starring Peter Cushing; a tv adaptation The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972) with Farley Granger as Holmes; the unfunny comedic version The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978) with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore respectively as Holmes and Watson; a six-part BBC mini-series adaptation The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982) with Tom Baker as Holmes; a routine Canadian-made tv movie The Hound of the Baskervilles (2000) with Matt Frewer miscast as Holmes; and an excellent British tv version The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002) with Richard Roxburgh as Holmes. The story was also given an interesting modernisation in the BBCs Sherlock (2010 ) tv series, which set it around a bacteriological research facility, and in the Hounded (2016) episode of Elementary where it is set around the murder of a financier by a ghostly hound.