Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DARK AND DEEP: THE GOTHIC HORROR BLOGATHON: The Hound of the Baskervilles, novel and 1939 film


Pale Writer Gabriela is giving us a Hallowe'en treat with Dark and Deep: The Gothic Horror Blogathon. Click HERE for your autumn chills.


Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles with illustrations by Sidney Paget was serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901/1902 and published as a novel in 1902. The Sherlock Holmes mystery has been continually in print and is considered a favourite tale of that most favourite character.

The Gothic setting and nature of this murder mystery tinged with the supernatural reach out from the pages as Dr. Watson recounts the unfathomably suspicious events and the gloomy atmosphere of Grimpen Mire and Baskerville Hall. The dread which weighs on our friend and storyteller makes every footstep in the dark, every flickering candle an object of suspense.

On a brisk evening in October, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson are visited by a Dr. Mortimer of Devon. The recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall has been blamed on heart failure, but was there something sinister behind that heart failure?


Dr. Mortimer relates the legend of the Baskervilles in which an evil ancestor, Hugo, kidnapped and caused the death of a neighbour's daughter. Hugo was then overtaken by a supernatural hound and himself killed, dooming the future line of Baskerville. Sherlock Holmes obliges Dr. Mortimer's request for protection for Sir Henry, the new heir arriving from Canada. He will send Dr. Watson to observe and report. The idea may be too fantastic for a modern man of science, yet Dr. Mortimer has kept secret something he saw on the grounds of Baskerville Hall near Sir Charles' body.

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."
- Dr. Mortimer



"A few minutes later we had reached the lodge-gates, a maze of fantastic tracery in wrought iron, with weather-bitten pillars on either side, blotched with lichens, and surmounted by the boars' heads of the Baskervilles."
- Dr. Watson

Watson recounts to Holmes the various people of the household and village in his daily reports to Holmes. This includes the news of an escaped convict evading capture on the moors. Sir Henry proves himself an amiable host, master, and friend. He even has hopes of romance. However, in the gloom and isolation, and mysterious actions among servants and acquaintances, it becomes very easy to believe in the legend of the hound.


"The fellow is wary and cunning to the last degree. It is not what we know, but what we can prove. If we make some false move the villain may escape us yet."
- Sherlock Holmes


"A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
- Dr. Watson

The story is perhaps overly familiar to many of us after all these years, but on a brisk October evening, such as the one on which Dr. Mortimer recited the legend, there is nothing better than to sit in a circle of light with your favourite beverage at your side as you travel with Dr. Watson to the treacherous Grimpen Mire.



The instant popularity of Sherlock Holmes on the page naturally led to popularity and success on the stage and screen. Universally acknowledged as one of Hollywood's finest years, 1939 saw lasting movie magic. One piece of superlative casting occurred when Darryl F. Zanuck of Twentieth Century Fox had the idea that versatile Basil Rathbone would make a perfect Sherlock Holmes. The studio was noted for several worthy literary adaptations and historical dramas such as Kidnapped and Lloyds of London. It was time for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Holmes was in place, and now they needed a Watson. In Nigel Bruce's unpublished memoir Games, Gossip and Greasepaint (found online), depressed when his 1938 gig in a Broadway play closed too quickly, a telegram from Mr. Rathbone cheered Mr. Bruce. "Do come back to Hollywood, Willie dear boy, and play Doctor Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. We'll have great fun together."


Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Richard Greene

The outstanding cast surrounding this new team included Richard Greene as Sir Henry, Lionel Atwill and Beryl Mercer as Dr. and Mrs. Mortimer, and Wendy Barrie and Morton Lowery as the Stapletons. John Carradine and Eily Malyon play the Baskerville Hall servants whose names were changed from Barrymore to Barrowman. Barlow Borland is the contentious neighbour Frankland. E.E. Clive is a delight as a London cabbie. The doomed Sir Charles was played by Ian Maclaren, Seldon the convict by Nigel De Brulier, and the wicked Sir Hugo by Ralph Forbes in a flashback/storytelling sequence. Mary Gordon made the first of seven appearances as Mrs. Hudson with Rathbone and Bruce. 

Nigel Bruce, Beryl Mercer, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Barlowe Borland

Ernest Pascal (Lloyds of London) adapted the novel and Sidney Lanfield (Station West) directed. Gwen Wakeling (Samson and Delilah) designed the costumes. Each character looks appropriate for each scene and the gowns for the ladies are beautiful and detailed. Eerie music from 20th Century Fox stalwarts Cyril Mockridge, David Raksin, David Buttolph and Charles Maxwell contributed greatly to the evocative atmosphere of the film.

Baskerville Hall

The movie clocks in at 80 minutes and with not one wasted moment. We are introduced to Holmes and Watson in their Baker Street abode and treated to some exciting and witty London scenes. When the action changes to Baskerville Hall the superb work of art directors Richard Day (Dead End) and Hans Peters (The Picture of Dorian Gray) truly comes to the fore with its Gothic nature. The set for the Dartmoor countryside and Baskerville Hall took up an entire soundstage and is filled with hills, caves, and the dangerous marshland. A persistent fog was created and pumped onto the set, adding to the atmosphere of suspense and dread. Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (Suez) creates an inky palate keeping us off-guard and looking over our shoulders.

Richard Greene, at 21-years of age, was top-billed as Sir Henry, followed by Basil Rathbone as Holmes. Leading lady Wendy Barrie was next and then Nigel Bruce as Watson. Perhaps this indicates that the studio was not certain if the audience would take to this new team. Certainly, the audience would be more than aware that they were going to see a Sherlock Holmes story. The film proved to be such a great success both at home and internationally that before the year was out, an adaptation of William Gillette's play was underway, and we had Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the stars of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

Sherlock Holmes: "Murder, my dear Watson, refined, cold-blooded murder. There's no doubt about it in my mind. Or, perhaps I should say in my imagination. That's where crimes are conceived, and where they're solved, in the imagination."

The team of Rathbone and Bruce would make 12 modern-day set Holmes films for Universal Studios between 1942 and 1946, also performing in a popular radio series. For many of us, these actors were our introduction to the world of Baker Street and the films from 20th Century Fox are a special treat for giving us the characters in their true Victorian/Edwardian setting.















27 comments:

  1. Those book illustrations are pretty sweet.

    Is that THE Wendy Barrie, as in JM Barrie, as in PETER PAN? Didn’t know she went on to become a movie actress.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was born Marguerite Wendy Jenkin in 1912, and took the surname of her godfather, James M. Barrie when she entered acting.

      She did a lot of RKO movies, appearing in a number of The Saint pictures. Featured to good advantage in Five Came Back, and Dead End.

      Delete
  2. Hi Caftan Woman, I remember reading "Hound" in high school and loving it. The beautiful language and atmospheric setting swept me away. I love the telegram Rathbone sent to Bruce asking him to be his Watson. So great! They made a wonderful team. Thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. To me Holmes and Watson will always be Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Whenever I read an Arthur C. Doyle story, its those two who appear in my mind. Better actors have played the pair (Nigel Williamson and Duvall for example) but no one had better chemistry together, or is as memorable. Of course, Bruce played Watson to be a bit of a bumbler, always one - and usually two or three - steps behind Holmes, but he was certainly lovable. I suppose Bruce's Watson is supposed to comfort the audience. We may feel inferior to Rathbone -what the deuce is he up to? But we're certainly smarter than poor ol' Watson. IRC, in the stories, Watson is actually a sharp fellow. He's a Doctor after all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bruce, according to those memoirs, was rather peeved that he was expected to make Watson more and more of a bumbler as time went on, but - that's life in the old acting game. I agree their chemistry was marvelous and it is their voices I hear when reading my Doyle.

      Delete
  4. I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan and I read The Hound of the Baskervilles about once a year on a dark and gloomy night. I liked the film a lot though it takes great liberties with the plot, including a happy ending. The book is much darker. Do you know the 1959 Hammer version with Peter Cushing? It's quite good too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! My daughter berated me for not including or doing the 1959 version! She used to keep the poster on her desk at college, and it was in this movie that we nicknamed Christopher Lee, "Dreamboat".

      The 1939 movie created a great atmosphere for the story, and I forgive its changes. I did have a paragraph listing each one, but it got the blue pencil for dragging the piece down. Those who know, know and those who don't will just have to find out!

      Delete
  5. I love the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles, as well as Hammer's 1959 version, but when I picture Sherlock Holmes in my mind it is always Basil Rathbone I see! I have read the original novel more than once and the 1939 movie does depart from the novel a good deal, but it is faithful to it in a spirit. It is a wonderful Gothic mystery with touches of horror.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, that 20th Century Fox fog machine was invaluable to making a memorable version of the story. Contrasted with the vivid colours of the Hammer production, it makes for a wild double bill.

      Delete
  6. Such a divine review, Paddy. I adore the illustrations you included, as well as the quotes from the book. I’ve actually been watching all of the Rathbone and Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies with my mother and we’re so enjoying it. I really like this adaptation. The cinematograph is fabulous, and everything looks so wonderfully gloomy in black and white. Thanks so much for writing such an interesting contribution for my Blogathon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for hosting this most intriguing blogathon. I am learning about a lot of new-to-me films.

      My best to you and your mother on your evenings with Rathbone and Bruce.

      Delete
  7. THE HOUND OF THE BASKETVILLES is my favorite of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes works. I quite like the 1939 film version. In retrospect, it's fascinating that--as you point out--Richard Greene gets top billing in the cast! It took me a long time to see this version. It would be listed as being on the late show in our local newspaper. However, when we tuned in, it would be the Hammer version. Finally, in the 1970s, it popped up on The CBS Late Movie. The irony is that I probably like the Hammer version even better these days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is interesting, and convenient, that we have a "Hound" to suit our different moods. Plus, the glorious book to return to often.

      So annoying when TV stations and TV guides would never get together. After a while, we'd learn but would still hold out hope.

      Delete
  8. Have you seen all the SHERLOCK HOLMES movies starring BASIL RATHBONE? Have you been a fan for a long time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I am a fan of the movies having seen them first in my childhood. I own the DVD set so whenever I'm in the Rathbone/Bruce mood, in they go!

      Delete
  9. To date the only version of the Baskerville story I have seen is the one that featured Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the modernized version. Keeping an eye out for the Rathbone one, but haven't run across it yet (at the used store.) I do have a few of the other Rathbone Bruce pairings though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The two Holmes pictures from 20th Century Fox keep them in their natural habitat and, in that way, are special and apart from the Universal pictures. I don't enjoy the contemporary 1940s pictures any less, but Rathbone and Bruce look particularly suited to their Edwardian setting.

      Good luck on the movie hunt. I enjoyed the Sherlock modernized version very much. If you read any of the earlier comments, you know that the Hammer version has a lot of fans. Hounds everywhere!

      Delete
  10. Really good review! Even though I have never read or seen this particular Sherlock Holmes story, I felt like I learned something new by reading your article. I also reviewed a Sherlock Holmes movie, so here's the link if you want to check it out!

    https://18cinemalane.wordpress.com/2018/10/31/the-case-of-the-whitechapel-vampire-review-halloween-double-feature-part-1/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by. I don't know how I missed your post. I'll check it out later today. Thanks for that as well.

      Delete
  11. Thanks for this great post on a wonderful movie; like many of us, I grew up watching the Rathbone-Bruce films on television (in my area they were often shown on Saturday afternoons) and always loved them. While they're all enjoyable, the two period films are beautifully done; I especially like seeing a young Ida Lupino in "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ida was, as always, amazing. She could go from damsel in distress to tough broad in an instant. The lovely cinematography and production values in the two period movies are exquisite.

      Delete
  12. A fantastic article on one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes series. I love Rathbone and Bruce as the incomparable pair and they bring back fond memories of growing up watching these on late Friday nights and I'm glad you can still find them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I assume younger generations will still find the pair enchanting. I hope so.

      Delete
  13. This doesn't have anything to do with SHERLOCK HOLMES but did you watch any of the mystery cartoon shows? I watched SCOOBY-DOO when I was a kid and also CLUE CLUB which had kids and two dogs. Later I saw some of the SCOOBY-DOO movie episodes. I saw the ones with SANDY DUNCAN, DON KNOTTS and DICK VAN DYKE. I also saw MAMA CASS ELIOTT and one with the HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The shows sound like fun, and certainly had interesting guests, but the cartoon mysteries and I never had the opportunity to cross paths.

      Delete
  14. Great stuff, Paddy. I've always love those illustrations from the Holmes novels. The ones for this book certainly have a Gothic vibe about them. The film is great fun. Loved that adorable message Basil sent to Nigel asking him to be his Watson. I do like Wendy Barrie in the Saint films.

    ReplyDelete

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: George Zucco

The annual What a Character! blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club , Once Upon A Screen , and Outspoken And Freckled runs from Nov...