The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
What parents need to know
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.
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?
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.