The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) Movie Poster Image

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

(i)

 

Old-school take on classic story offers thrills, not gore.
  • Review Date: May 11, 2009
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 1959
  • Running Time: 89 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The heroes are valiant crimefighters, though Holmes pretends to be rude on more than one occasion to get the reactions from suspects/clients that he wants. The Holmes character is an idealization of superior intellect; nonetheless he has a nice, respectful friendship going on with the less-brilliant Watson.

Violence

No gore, but bloodied corpses shown. A man is beaten by a sadistic gang and then thrust into a fireplace early on. Shootings at close range. Death by knifing. An attempted suicide. Intense (but visually non-explicit flashback) of wicked Sir Hugo Baskerville attempting to rape a comely servant girl (and inferences that he did this routinely, fathering illegitimate children).

Sex

 Some low-cut cleavage.

Language

A woman angrily called a "witch" by an unsavory character.

Consumerism

Of course, the well-known tie-in novel/series exists, with numerous "Sherlockian" societies and Web sites out there in support.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Much polite social drinking. Holmes smokes routinely (at least it's explicitly tobacco; in the original stories it's often cocaine!).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the generally non-graphic violence in this Sherlock Holmes adaptation includes a fatal stabbing, shootings, and an indication that bullying aristocrats have scorched a man in a fireplace. There are also references to young women being sexually violated. Though drops of blood are shown, it could have been a lot worse. Holmes smokes tobacco throughout; other characters drink regularly. Viewers with phobias over spiders and big dogs may find some of the imagery disturbing, though in general the thriller is PG-tame.

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What's the story?

An opening flashback shows how the legend of the "Hound of the Baskervilles" began, as a decadent 18th-century British aristocrat on the Devonshire Moors cruelly kills a girl who resists his lust and is straightaway punished with a deadly attack by a vengeful, ghostly dog. More than a century later the great detective, Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and his companion Dr. Watson (Andre Morrell) are consulted in their London apartment by a Baskerville family doctor, who fears that the last surviving Baskerville descendant, Sir Henry (Christopher Lee), will be in danger from the curse when he arrives to inherit the rich family estate. Haughty Sir Henry doesn't believe in the hound, but an escaped psycho is loose on the Moors, and an unearthly baying howl is heard occasionally. Holmes sends Watson to accompany Sir Henry to the ancestral mansion, certain that villainous forces are indeed plotting against the heir.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Horror-film fans in particular cherish this satisfying version of HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, partially for the lush color and respect for the original characters. (Hollywood had stereotyped Dr. Watson as foolish sidekick, while he's intelligent here, as Arthur Conan Doyle intended.). But mainly fans like because it cast actors better-known for playing Dracula or Dr. Frankenstein in bloodier flicks. The familiar troupers easily switch to more heroic roles, even if -- rather surprisingly -- the supernatural elements aren't particularly intense, and the dreaded Hound makes only a brief appearance.

In the tradition of great whodunits, nearly everybody seems shifty and suspicious at one point or another, and the fairly short running time is just about right; any longer and the wordy script and formal direction would have been an encumbrance. Peter Cushing later reprised the role of Holmes in the less well-known Masks of Death, while Christopher Lee played the character in Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady -- and Sherlock's own brother in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the character of Holmes, usually said to be (along with Tarzan and Superman) one of the most recognizable fictional heroes around the world. What makes him appealing? Ask kids if they know about the many actors who have played Sherlock Holmes. Who is the best? A documentary, The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes, is recommended additional viewing. This could, of course, turn kids on to reading the original Conan Doyle stories and the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, which differs from this film on several key points.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 3, 1959
DVD release date:May 7, 2002
Cast:Andre Morrell, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
Director:Terence Fisher
Studio:MGM/UA
Genre:Thriller
Run time:89 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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