Watson: “That’s a fine way to treat me, I must say!”
Holmes: “Sit down, Watson, do sit down. Perhaps a little supper will help you
to get over your huff.”
Watson (roaring): “Huff? I’m in no huff!”
— Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in The Hound of the Baskervilles, their first pairing as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
Sherlock Holmes is everywhere in 2012: a BBC series, a CBS series and, with Robert Downey, Jr. as the celebrated sleuth, once again on the silver screen. And wherever Holmes goes, so goes Watson (although in the CBS version, Watson goes there in high heels).
Arthur Conan Doyle purists tend to get huffy about Nigel Bruce’s rendition of Watson, which is often as a blithering, dithering oaf, but after re-watching 1939’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, I have to disagree with them. True, Bruce’s interpretation of the good doctor is not faithful to Doyle’s creation, but there’s good reason that his teaming with Rathbone was movie magic. Holmes, brilliant and intense though he is, is also a pompous know-it-all; with comic foil Watson at his side, Holmes’s genius is a lot easier to take. And in Hollywood, no one did genial companions better than Bruce.
This Hound also strays from Doyle in some of its plot elements, and there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a stretch to describe it (or any 73-year-old thriller) as “scary,” but the 20th Century Fox production is still a treat. The sets, constructed in a gigantic Fox sound studio, are beyond cool. Surreal, murky, rocky and in black-and-white, the outdoor scenes do look artificial — but in a gothic fantasyland manner, teeming with ominous shadows and phantom-like mists.
The story, for any eight-year-olds reading this, finds Holmes and Watson investigating the curse of Baskerville Hall, in which Baskerville descendants are said to fall prey to a devilish hound roaming the moors of Devon. The Hound of the Baskervilles is atypical Doyle because Holmes himself is absent for nearly a third of the story, leaving Watson to document and puzzle over spooky goings-on at the hall. But I love to watch Bruce’s Watson, so I have no problem with that. Grade: B+
Director: Sidney Lanfield Cast: Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Barlowe Borland, Beryl Mercer, Morton Lowry Release: 1939
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