Holmes and the Hound, part 1

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“The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939) 

80 minutes; black & white

Starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce 

As promised, here are my comments on this film.  I’ll be presenting them in two parts.

I’ve owned a set of the “New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” radio dramas (1939-46) since high school, so I am very familiar with Rathbone & Bruce’s voices and their acting styles.  In 46, Rathbone bowed out, and Bruce then continued the series for a bit with Tom Conway as Holmes.  I’m considerably less familiar with their film work, though I have seen a few movies.  “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was Rathbone & Bruce’s first movie together, and its popularity inspired all of the later films, as well as the radio series.  So, this is an important film in the Holmesian canon.

 I’m working with a foggy memory as regards the plot of this story, as it has been donkey’s years since I read Conan Doyle’s novel, not since my ill-fated attempt to teach it to seventh graders.  Yeah, it didn’t go well, but never mind.  It wasn’t the book’s fault. And… we’re moving on…

The preceding paragraph will probably be the last truly coherent one in this post.  I could write a sophisticated and erudite analysis of this film’s cinematography and its pivotal role in our modern collective consciousness’s image of Sherlock Holmes, but what fun would that be?

 

Instead, what follows are my scribbled thoughts as I made my way through the film.

 

–    As they run the credits, I am reminded that a new Holmes movie is on its way to our theaters.  I’m tentatively anticipating it. 

–    Who is this David Stewart Davies on the optional commentary?  What has he done to make him qualified to comment on this?  The booklet doesn’t say.

–    Bizarre fact: the *stars* of the film are credited 2nd & 4th.

–    I  ♥ Big Ben & foggy Baker Street.

–    Interesting how much these 1930’s movies expected their audience to read.  Not just “oh, look, something is written in the newspaper” but then leaving said paper up on the screen long enough for everyone to read the entire article.  A hold over from silent films, perhaps, or just indicative of their expectations of an intelligent, literate, participatory audience?

–    After hearing so many of the radio adventures, ‘tis strange to SEE the actors speaking with those familiar voices.

–    The bit with Watson’s deductions from the walking stick—I don’t know if I approve of his giving Watson a chance, or if I am annoyed that Holmes so gleefully knocks down his friend’s efforts.

teeth marks

–    Ah, now we know what Doctor Mortimer’s wife didn’t want him telling the coroner, but why was she so interested in keeping it a secret?

–    Ok—this just annoys me.  This “flashback/ reading the legend” scene is presented as the wacky hijinks of drunken frat-boys, complete with “sitcom-esque” music in the background.  Um…hello, Director:  this scene describes the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an under-aged girl by a sadistic aristocrat.  It lays the groundwork for why this sinister, supernatural Hound torments and murders the Baskerville family down the ages.  What WERE you thinking?

–    When compared to the previous sheaf of papers, Mortimer’s “few pages” seem to have expanded to a novella.

–    If I were Holmes, at this point, I would have yanked the pages from Mortimer by now and skimmed them myself.

–    I wonder if Rathbone was actually playing the violin here?  If so… yum!

   {wait for it.  song starts around 1:45}

–    Right off, we establish Sir Henry as handsome, generous, and polite to girls in glasses.  [see Dorothy Parker]

–    Point of order:  how will they know where to send Sir Henry’s luggage?

–    It can’t be easy to throw a stone through the side window of a moving vehicle.

–    More reading for the audience.  I’m going to stop mentioning it, and simply put a count total at the bottom of this post.  Let’s see if your count matches mine.

–    Here’s where I like Watson.  I was wondering that about the boots myself, and he asked it.

–    How much do I love male Victorian garb!  Gentlemen—you should really all wear more of this.

–    Nice bit of tension-building with the pistol, but it got me thinking {too much NCIS, clearly} how good is the sniper’s aim?  How far is the range of that dinky pistol?

–    Realism of the costumes extends to the chambermaid—no modern brassiere for her.  Couldn’t pull off that kind of accuracy nowadays.

–    What’s going on outside the window as Holmes interviews the cabbie?  A thunderstorm?

–    Sir Henry’s “Canadian” accent seems sketchy here.

–    Lovely atmospheric work on the matte paintings & studio-bound Stonehenge.

–    “If I believed all of the legends about this place, I wouldn’t live here.  I wouldn’t have the courage.”

–    Beautifully detailed paintings of Baskerville Hall.

–    I’m going to assume that the casting of Spartan-looking woman= servant who is up to no good.

–    Love Watson’s pen.  Want one.

–    Great moment with the door handle.

–    Watson and Sir Henry make a good, if bumbling, team.  Watson gets to do a bit of thinking for a change.

–    How far away WAS that light?

–    Gee, let’s hide in plain sight.  I’m sure the villain will return and ignore us completely.

–    Look out, Watson!

–    He’s right, you know.  Holmes would not want clodhopping policemen trouncing all over his investigation.

–    Sounds like a wolf to me.

–    Watson is a bit over-the-top here with Stapleton.  Why are they both so shocked to hear a woman’s voice?  Stapleton knows his sister was right behind him.

–    Was there any chance that Sir Henry WOULDN’T hear her calling him?  They were only about 4 feet apart, and she was shouting quite loudly.

–    No, no, you will not be a love interest at all.

–    Clearly, we are at the monthly dinner meeting of chops and ‘staches.

–    Poor wife looks really frightened of séance.  Why?

–    I like Franklin.  He’s spunky!

–    She does not look like the fisherman-type to me.

–    Nice how the conversation indicates that time has passed.

–    Aww.  Sweet—but awkward embrace there, and distinctly chaste.

–    Way to be prejudiced against the old peddler, everyone in this scene!  Bad!

being mean to beggar

–    Clever observation there, Watson; but you have not redeemed yourself.

–    Nice that his drawing room provides a convenient view of the exact place on all of the entire Moor where Sir Henry happens to be wandering.

–    That’s one long-burning match!

–    “What blasted impertinence!”

–    Ah—he gets you with that old chestnut every time, Watson, my lad.

–    Ok—why is Watson all shocked about “murder.”—isn’t that why ya’ll are out here on the Moor in the first place?  Have you not been paying attention?

 

So, as Watson & the newly-revealed Holmes head back to Baskerville Hall, we’ll call it a night.  More to come soon.

 

 

*** Starting from the beginning, I have so far counted 6 instances of the audience being expected to read from the screen.  Did I miss any?

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