The Hound of the Baskervilles / The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

| March 4, 2004

MPI Video is rolling out two more restored Sherlock Holmes gems this month. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) become available at the end of this month.
These first two films of the Basil Rathbone-Holmes canon have been beautifully restored by the UCLA film archive and both of these classic tales faithfully place Holmes in the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Victorian environs.
The historical period of both these films, highlighted by the lush 20th Century Fox production values, contrast with the later, more austere entries made at Universal. These two tales, that are directly adapted from original Conan Doyle stories, are assuredly for the more faithful Sherlock Holmes aficionado.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) was the initial bow for Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce who subsequently played Holmes and Watson for another 13 features through 1946.
This macabre 1902 tale of the curse of the Baskervilles amid the moors of England is a classic mystery that has lost none of its bite. After Holmes is retained to ensure the inheritance of the young heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, he encounters a baffling supernatural curse involving family skeletons, a fearsome hound that stalks the moors at night and calculated, cold-blooded murder.
A stellar cast is headed by a youthful Richard Greene (well before his Robin Hood period on 1950’s television) and Fox contract player Wendy Barrie (later involved with that pioneering gambling entrepreneur, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel).
Rathbone and Bruce bring most of the heft to this Sidney Lanfield helmed picture. Hound introduced audiences to Holmes’ predilection with both deductions and disguises and Bruce’s rendering of Dr. Watson as his faithful, but bumbling assistant became definitive. The enigmatic Lionel Atwill appears as family retainer, Dr Mortimer with John Carradine, E.E. Clive, and Eily Malyon playing assorted red herrings and strange characters. Hound of the Baskervilles holds up extremely well and might be the best Holmes screen adaptation ever.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) pits Holmes and Watson against their most infamous nemesis, Professor Moriarty. This handsome production is largely based on a stage play of Holmes dating from the teens to the twenties by William Gillette, the definitive portrayer of Holmes until being eclipsed by Basil Rathbone, who is largely forgotten today.
This film may be the best designed of all the Holmes pictures with Rathbone donning his deerstalker and racing around the wet, cobblestone streets of London ( Fox’s backlot, now Century City) to thwart the evil Moriarty from stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
The appearance of a beautiful, 25-year-old Ida Lupino is a welcome distraction from a somewhat jumbled plot that suffers from an abundance of convoluted loose ends. Alan Marshal, Henry Stephenson and Mary Gordon, introduced as Holmes’ landlady, Mrs. Hudson lend credible support to a first class production.
The real showstopper in this film is George Zucco’s Professor Moriarty. The pop-eyed English character actor with the velvet, precise diction, Zucco excelled at playing heavies, villains, monsters and psychopaths in Hollywood productions from the late 30’s to the early 1950’s. As Moriarty, his stylistic rebuke to a servant who failed to water his orchids, “…you should be flogged, broken on the wheel…” is a hilarious highlight to an extremely entertaining film.
Both of these DVDs include voice-over commentary by British author, David Stuart Davies, a photo gallery of original Holmes movie posters, and most interesting, selected theatrical trailers of the 1940s Holmes films.
These high quality restorations belong in the libraries of both vintage film and Holmes fans alike.

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