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Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Andre Morell
Screenplay: Peter Bryan, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Director: Terence Fisher
Loosely based on Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel, and not a Hammer film a lot of people would name in their first breath, it’s nonetheless an effective thriller and, while of a modest budget, still one of the better cinematic Holmes adaptations.
Long ago, Sir Hugo Baskerville humiliates a local peasant girl at a party at his manor, then chases and kills her out on the moors, before a huge, doglike creature kills him. Thereafter, it’s said there’s a curse on the Baskervilles, and they’re told to stay away from the moors for fear of the demonic dog. Centuries later, it seems a Sir Charles Baskerville falls victim to the curse, leaving the estate to his nephew, Sir Henry (Lee). Cushing and Morell play Holmes and Watson, who agree to investigate the murder and make sure Sir Henry is safe, especially after Holmes saves him from a tarantula attack in his study.
Holmes is going to be away on a previous engagement, so a chunk of the film has Watson take the lead, gathering information from the locals (some of whom have motives against the Baskerville family), while Henry falls for a local girl, Cecile. Is she trustworthy? Is her father? And even if they are, well, there’s always the danger of Grimpen Mire, a deadly, quicksand-like swamp out on the moors. And then there’s the escaped murderer out there, and the howls of the hound.
Unlike the buffoon he is sometimes portrayed as, Watson is more like he is in the books, quite capable and brave, just not as brilliant as Holmes. Holmes shows up soon enough, and after some suspense out on the moors, puts it all together.
Typical Fisher efficiency (I’m pretty sure the moor was one basic set, with a few rocks and bushes moved around to make it look different from scene to scene), and nice atmosphere. Even the hound is pretty effective. Cushing is certainly a physical match for Holmes, and is played with both physical and mental agility, though there isn’t a lot of time spent on analysis. Morell is a Hammer utility player I’m liking more and more, and Lee gets to stretch a bit as the romantic, lovestruck Henry Baskerville. A very good Hammer effort, despite not really being a horror film.