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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that (generally non-graphic) violence in this Sherlock Holmes adaptation includes a dog mauling, a few shootings, and an attempted poisoning. Closing line, "Watson, the needle," is a faint clue about the notorious recreational cocaine use by Conan Doyle's hero Holmes, who in the stories called for the drug to come down from his natural "high" of solving a mystery. Watson smokes tobacco throughout; other characters drink regularly. This was the first of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce adventures; they fell into public domain and are carried on cheap video labels -- beware of inferior picture and sound quality.
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What's the story?
In London the great detective and his companion Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are consulted by a country doctor who fears for the safety of aristocratic Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) when he arrives to inherit the rich family estate on the Devonshire Moors. A family legend claims a monstrous phantom dog comes to kill all male Baskervilles, but Holmes notices that someone very real also seems to be following Sir Henry around London with sinister intent. Holmes sends Watson to watch over Sir Henry in the creepy countryside, where a menacing, ragged man is lurking amidst the old ruins and people have indeed heard a howling hound in the night.
Is it any good?
Kid viewers raised on fancy CGI monsters might expect more from the dreaded Hound when it finally shows up, though a toothsome close-up of the vicious dog makes for a bit of a thrill. In any case, it's Basil Rathbone who is the chief special effect.
This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles was a box-office hit, and Rathbone and Bruce would continue to reprise the iconic roles through more than a dozen follow-up films, which -- after the outbreak of WWII -- made an unexplained time-warp jump that put Holmes in the 20th century fighting German spies! Most critics rank this the best. It's not overly long, is nicely atmospheric, and it doesn't make Nigel Bruce's Watson too much of a cloddish comic-sidekick, as the later films in the series did (Watson in the stories is actually quite intelligent).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Holmes and his famous problem-solving methods by logical deduction and observation. How can these methods be used in other fields?
Ask kids if they know about the numerous actors who have played Sherlock Holmes. Who is the favorite? A documentary, The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes, could be additional viewing.
Discuss Basil Rathbone, and how, when not playing Holmes (in films, on the radio, in audio recordings) he was customarily cast as bad guys. As an expert swordsman, he needed no stunt double to take on the hero in swashbucklers. Can you think of modern-day actors who have made the jump from action bad-guy to good guy?
For kids who love whodunits
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