The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

"I think that Holmes is one of the greatest characters in fiction. With all the thousands of detective and mystery stories that have been written since, the name of Sherlock Holmes still stands at the head of the roster of famous sleuths. It is synonymous with the very word "detective." To play such a character means as much to me as ten Hamlets." – Basil Rathbone, being interviewed about the film in 1938.

Produced by Darryl Zanuck for Twentieth Century Fox, The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first performance of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Although Rathbone was later ambivalent about the part of Holmes, he was suitably enthusiastic for the benefit of the press in 1938. In any case, the film did his career no harm, he was to star in many sequels and the part gave him an opportunity to play a leading role in an "A" picture. The result is arguably Rathbone's best work as Holmes, even though this was ostensibly a star vehicle for Richard Greene.

Rathbone is assisted in this film by Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. There are elements of Bruce's later "Boobus Britannicus Filmicus", but for the most part both Bruce and the screenplay present a capable and loyal Watson. For those whose only experience with Bruce's Watson comes from the later films produced by Universal, his work here "may come as a revelation."

The supporting cast included John Carradine, a well-known screen villain, and Lionel Atwill, another leading character actor. Atwill was to later play Professor Moriarty opposite Rathbone in one of the Universal films (despite Moriarty having been inconveniently killed off in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes).

The film also marked the first appearance of Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson, "the grandmother of all Mrs. Hudsons". The Hound was portrayed by Chief, an amiable 140-pound Great Dane, who is something of a disappointment after the poster (above).

For the first time in film history the story was kept correctly in period and followed the original narrative quite closely.

With lavish production values, including the huge recreation of the Great Grimpen Mire, it is often considered the best Holmes film and is certainly the best Rathbone film. Great Grimpen Mire was reportedly so large that Richard Greene, the actor playing Sir Henry Baskerville, (later Robin Hood on 1950s TV) once became lost on it.

For a variety of legal reasons, the film was not on general release for many years. In 1975, these legal problems were finally resolved and there was a limited re-release. Those who rushed to see it hoping for an examination of Holmes' cocaine use were disappointed, (wrong film!) for the film alludes to it directly only in the last line – "Watson, the needle!"

In 1975, Film Specialties Inc. acquired the rights to the film and rereleased the movie packaged with a Buster Keaton parody, Sherlock Jr. (1924) and a filmed interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Produced by 20th Century Fox March 31, 1939

Producer – Darryl F. Zanuck

Associate Producer, Gene Markey

Director – Sidney Lanfiield

Screenplay – Ernest Pascal
Photography – Peverell Marley
Editor – Robert Simpson
Music Director – Cyril J. Mockridge

Sir Henry Baskerville

Richard Greene

Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone

Beryl Stapleton

Wendy Barrie

Dr. Watson

Nigel Bruce

Dr. Mortimer

Lionnel Atwill


John Carradine

Mr. Frankland

Barlowe Borland

Sir Hugo Baskerville

Ralph Forbes

Mrs. Barryman

Eily Malyon

Mrs. Mortimer

Beryl Mercer

John Stapleton

Morton Lowry

Beryl Stapleton

Wendy Barrie

Mrs. Barryman

Eily Malyon

Mrs. Hudson

Mary Gordon

The Hound


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