Cast & Crew
In turn-of-the-century England, mystery shrouds the deaths of the hereditary heads of the Baskerville estate. According to legend, a vicious hound stalks the descendents of Sir Hugo Baskerville in order to avenge the death of an abducted peasant girl. Latest to assume the heritage is young Sir Henry, who arrives from Canada after the mysterious death of his uncle. Suspecting that murder is afoot, the family physician, James Mortimer, sends for Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr. Watson, to investigate. Holmes dispatches Watson to the moors of Dartmoor to protect Sir Henry, while the great detective lurks in the background, undercover. Before Holmes's appearance at the estate, Watson meets neighbors John Stapleton and his charming half sister Beryl, the irascible Frankland, and the mysterious butler Barryman and his wife. As the bloodcurdling baying of the hound drifts across the moors, Mrs. Barryman's escaped convict brother is murdererd while wearing Sir Henry's clothes. This prompts Holmes to decide that he must set the stage for attempted murder in order to trap the killer, and thus he announces that he is leaving for London. That night, on the mist-shrouded moor, the ghostly figure of the ferocious hound rushes toward its victim, Sir Henry, but Holmes and Watson shoot the beast before it can kill its target. Afterward, in the great hall of the manor, Holmes unmasks the hound's master, John Stapleton, as a distant relative of Sir Hugo and proves that he was jockeying to place himself in line to inherit the Baskerville estate.
E. E. Clive
Nigel De Brulier
W. D. Flick
Cyril J. Mockridge
Darryl F. Zanuck
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The screenplay for The Hound of the Baskervilles (by Ernest Pascal) adhered closely to the source novel, and opens on the misty moors of Dartmoor in Devonshire, England, as a man is being chased outside Baskerville Hall, seemingly chased by a large animal. At a subsequent inquest, Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill) testifies that Sir Charles Baskerville died of a heart attack, while Mr. Frankland (Barlowe Borland) claims he was murdered. The scene shifts to gaslit London and 221-B Baker Street, the residence of detective Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone). Holmes is engaged in an exercise in deduction with his friend Dr. Watson (Bruce); Dr. Mortimer has visited in their absence and left his walking stick, and Holmes quizzes Watson on what he can deduce about the man just from observing his cane. When Mortimer returns, he asks for Holmes' help in protecting his friend, Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene), who has inherited the family estate. Mortimer fears that a giant hound was set loose on Henry's uncle and that now Henry will be a target of murder. Holmes soon foils an assassination attempt while trailing Mortimer and Sir Henry, and he assigns Watson to accompany Sir Henry to the Baskerville estate. After a long journey, the party is welcomed by Barryman (John Carradine), the mysterious butler of the Manor. The following day, while exploring the grounds, Watson and Sir Henry encounter neighboring residents Stapleton (Morton Lowry) and his step-sister Beryl (Wendy Barrie), who warn the curious hikers about the dangers of the moor, including wild animals and the Grimpen Mire, an innocent-looking patch of soft ground which can suck down any living thing that wanders in too far.
In his 1961 autobiography, In and Out of Character, Basil Rathbone wrote, "had I made but the one Holmes picture, my first, The Hound of the Baskervilles, I should probably not be as well known as I am today. But within myself, as an artist, I should have been well content. Of all the 'adventures' The Hound is my favorite story, and it was in this picture that I had the stimulating experience of creating, within my own limited framework, a character that has intrigued me as much as any I have ever played." The genesis of this bit of casting couldn't have been simpler; by one account Samuel Goldwyn ran into Rathbone at a Hollywood party and noted that he would make an excellent Holmes. The casting of Bruce was equally fortuitous; Rathbone and Bruce were already friends off the screen. Rathbone would later write, "there is no question in my mind that Nigel Bruce was the ideal Dr. Watson, not only of his time but possibly of and for all time. There was an endearing quality to his performance that to a very large extent, I believe, humanized the relationship between Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes. It has always seemed to me to be more than possible that our 'adventures' might have met with a less kindly public acceptance had they been recorded by a less lovable companion to Holmes than was Nigel's Dr. Watson, and a less engaging friend to me than was 'Willy' Bruce."
In addition to Rathbone and Bruce, The Hound of the Baskervilles features support from such colorful character actors as Lionel Atwill, E. E. Clive, and John Carradine. The romantic lead is provided by Fox contract star Richard Greene, who had made his film debut the previous year in the Zanuck-produced and John Ford-directed Four Men and a Prayer (1938). In fact, Greene was given top billing over Rathbone the only time Sherlock Holmes would be second-billed in his own adventure. As the romantic interest for Baskerville, Fox brought in British actress Wendy Barrie after first considering an American, Anita Louise. (Barrie would also appear opposite George Sanders in entries of his two detective series as The Saint and The Falcon).
The Hound of the Baskervilles went through a number of director assignments. Irving Cummings was initially set to helm the picture, but was moved to The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939) and William Seiter was next assigned to the Holmes film. Seiter was finally replaced by Sidney Lanfield, although Lanfield did not complete the shooting phase; Alfre Werker completed work on the movie, uncredited. The opulent-looking film was well-suited to a studio like Fox. As Steinbrunner and Michaels note, "Twentieth-Century Fox had an enormous, well-designed back lot with winding European streets ideally suited for London and the British villages detailed in the story." The moor was an indoor set, built on a large soundstage spanning 300 by 200 feet and in such a way that different camera angles and slight redressing could trick the eye and create the impression of a vast expanse. Very helpful in this regard was a huge amount of fake fog pumped into the set; according to the studio publicity department, $93,000 of the production budget was spent on fog machines.
Writing in the New York Times, Frank S. Nugent said that "putting its straightest face upon the matter and being weird as all get-out, the film succeeds rather well in reproducing Sir Arthur's macabre detective story along forthright cinema lines. The technicians have whipped up a moor at least twice as desolate as any ghost-story moor has need to be..." The critic writing for Variety had high praise for the lead role, saying "Rathbone gives a most effective characterization of Sherlock Holmes, which will be relished by mystery lovers."
The critic for Time magazine turned in a flip notice, praising Rathbone and adding, "the only serious bit of miscasting in The Hound of the Baskervilles is in the title role. The proper selection, obviously, would have been a calf-sized Norwegian elkhound; equipped with fright wig and false fangs. Instead, Associate producer Gene Markey, perhaps in the delightful confusion attendant on his recent marriage to Hedy Lamarr, put his O.K. on a friendly old Great Dane named Chief, who, despite all his yelpings, cannot even make his bark seem worse than his bite." Incidentally, the title character was actually played by a dog named "Blitzen" - the publicity department at Fox rechristened the pooch "Chief" since the former name sounded too Germanic in the volatile pre-WWII year of 1939.
Following the success of this first outing, Rathbone and Bruce starred in a follow-up for Fox, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939). Ostensibly, this film was based on the William Gillette play instead of any of the Doyle novels, although the plot was altered to a great extent, making it more of an original screenplay. In 1939 Rathbone and Bruce also began appearing in a long-running Sherlock Holmes radio series on NBC. In 1941, Rathbone signed a long-term contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM loaned the actor out to Universal Pictures for their long-running Sherlock Holmes series, while Universal signed Bruce to his own contract to reprise the role of Watson. The pair made twelve films for Universal, while also continuing the radio series, moving to the Mutual network in 1943. Rathbone found the numerous subsequent entries in the series to be repetitive, and he later observed that "my first picture was, as it were, a negative from which I merely continued to produce endless positives of the same photograph." In 1946, Rathbone walked away from the character, refusing to sign on for more films or radio programs as Sherlock Holmes. He had made fourteen movies and over 200 radio shows, and at first he suffered some backlash from his decision, writing, "...to all intents and purposes I might just as well have killed him. My friends excoriated me for my dastardly behavior, and for a while my long-time friendship with Nigel Bruce suffered severe and recurring shocks."
Twentieth-Century Fox let the literary rights to The Hound of the Baskervilles lapse in the early 1960s, so the film was out of circulation for several years, unavailable for television syndication. In 1975 a distribution company called Film Specialties picked up the rights and The Hound of the Baskervilles was reissued to movie theaters, garnering quite a bit of publicity, since by then it had a long held reputation for being the best of the Rathbone series.
Executive Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Associate Producer: Gene Markey
Director: Sidney Lanfield
Screenplay: Ernest Pascal; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles")
Cinematography: Peverell Marley
Art Direction: Richard Day, Hans Peters
Music: David Buttolph, Charles Maxwell, Cyril J. Mockridge, David Raksin (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Cast: Richard Greene (Sir Henry Baskerville), Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Wendy Barrie (Beryl Stapleton), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Lionel Atwill (James Mortimer, M.D.), John Carradine (Barryman), Barlowe Borland (Frankland), Beryl Mercer (Mrs. Jenifer Mortimer), Morton Lowry (John Stapleton), Ralph Forbes (Sir Hugo Baskerville)
By John M. Miller
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The Hound of the Baskervilles - The 1939 Version on DVD
It's ironic that The Hound of the Baskervilles is by far the most famous title in the Holmes canon since it wasn't even originally conceived as a Holmes story. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1901. This was a huge pop-culture event of the time, for Doyle had stopped writing Holmes stories eight years earlier, much to the dismay of the reading public. He had grown so tired of the character that he famously climaxed The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893) with Holmes and arch-nemesis Prof. Moriarty plunging down Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland - presumably to their deaths.
But on a 1901 golfing trip with his friend Fletcher Robinson, Doyle came up with the idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles and visited his friend's home at Dartmoor to research the fog-enshrouded moor setting. There he was driven around by a coachman named Baskerville. Doyle liked the name and used it. But he realized that he needed a detective character for his new hound story; Holmes was the simplest and most logical choice so Doyle reluctantly brought him back and set the story before the Reichenbach Falls incident. Predictably, the public clamored for yet more Sherlock Holmes, and Doyle relented, bringing the detective back for real in 1903 with The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the (if not the) most-filmed characters in history, and The Hound of the Baskervilles has been filmed at least a dozen times starting with a 1914 German production. Sources vary as to who had the bright idea of casting Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson in 1939. Legend has it that it was Darryl Zanuck himself who ran into Rathbone at a cocktail party and said he'd make a great Holmes. However it happened, it was one of those casting decisions that was so perfect it seemed as if these actors were truly born to play these roles. They may be billed 2nd and 4th in the credits of Hound, but that would quickly change to 1st and 2nd in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (and above-the-title thereafter).
Basil Rathbone, who was born in South Africa as Philip St. John Basil Rathbone, had mixed feelings about the role. In his autobiography In and Out of Character, he wrote: "Ever since I was a boy and first got acquainted with the great detective, I wanted to be like him. To play such a character means as much to me as ten Hamlets." Later in the same book he wrote, "Had I made but the one Holmes picture, my first, Hound of the Baskervilles, I should probably not be as well known as I am today. But within myself, as an artist, I should have been well content." After 14 movies and countless radio programs, Rathbone tired of the role in 1946 and left the series in both mediums. He revisited it a few times here and there, including TV cameos and a short-lived Broadway play, but his career steadily declined.
Unlike MPI's previously issued Universal films, the DVD of The Hound of the Baskervilles is not from a transfer of UCLA-restored print. It didn't need to be; the print they have used looks and sounds excellent. Like the other releases, this one has a similar case design and top-notch liner notes and commentary, by Richard Valley and David Stuart Davies, repectively. The information is interesting, well-delivered, humorous and informative. There is one little item that doesn't quite gel, however: Davies notes that the studio cast as the hound a 140-pound Great Dane named Blitzen. But in 1939, he explains, the name seemed too Germanic for the studio's comfort and so the dog (like so many other Hollywood stars!) received credit under a new name: Chief. This is a great story, but the problem is that no credit for the hound appears in the film at all. (Perhaps Davies was referring to publicity material at the time of the film's release.)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the only Rathbone/Bruce film to be adapted directly from a Doyle story. The others are all inspired or suggested by stories - in some cases, more than one at a time. And for that matter, only Hound and Adventures are even set in the proper Victorian era. (The others are set in the WWII era and often involve Holmes aiding the war effort.) The Hound of the Baskervilles' famous last line, referring to Holmes' drug addiction, was bleeped out of British prints until the 1960s.
To order The Hound of the Baskervilles, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Hound of the Baskervilles - The 1939 Version on DVD
Oh, Watson, the needle.- Sherlock Holmes
In the original novel, and in all later film versions, the butler is named Barrymore. In the 1939, this had to be changed to Barryman because the famous Barrymore family was still acting in films.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel was first serialized in The Strand magazine between August 1901 and April 1902. The film was also reviewed as Hound of the Baskervilles. Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter note that Irving Cummings was slated to originally direct this film, but he was re-assigned to The Story of Alexander Graham Bell and replaced by William Seiter, who was later replaced by Sidney Lanfield. According to other news items in Hollywood Reporter, Wendy Barrie replaced Anita Louise in the female lead after Robert Kane, the head of foreign production at Fox, advised the studio that the British would not accept the picture unless it featured an all-English cast. Other items in Hollywood Reporter note the following about the production: a new, light-weight aluminum camera rail was used in this picture; technicians claimed that it was much quieter than the old type of rail. Alfred Werker stepped in to finish directing the picture so that Sidney Lanfield could prepare for When Winter Comes. Among the many films that have been based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel are a 1922 FBO film directed by Maurice Elvey; the 1932 British film First Division directed by V. Gareth Gundrey and starring John Stuart and Reginald Bach; and the 1977 British film Hound of the Baskervilles directed by Paul Morrissey and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. This film was the first Holmes picture to star Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Rathbone and Bruce went on to make one other Holmes picture for Fox, the 1939 film Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In 1941, Rathbone signed a contract with M-G-M, who loaned him to Universal to play the role of Holmes for a series of low budget films. Universal then hired Bruce to appear as Watson and together the pair appeared in a total of fourteen Holmes films. Their last film was the 1946 picture Dressed to Kill. They also made a cameo appearance, parodying their characters, in director Edward Cline's 1943 Universal film Crazy House. In addition to films, the pair starred as Holmes and Watson on 275 radio episodes, from 1939-43 on the NBC radio network and from 1943-46 on the Mutual network. For additional information on the series and other films featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle characters, consult the Series Index and see entry above for Sherlock Holmes.