The Hound of the Baskervilles, DVD released 2002 by MGM/UA Video; rated PG, 86 minutes, color, widescreen letterbox (1.66:1 aspect ratio), Dolby digital mono, includes theatrical trailer, actors notebook: Christopher Lee, Hound of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee with illustrations by Sydney Paget. Suggested retail price: $14.95.
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As I write this, MGM, the studio, has fallen upon hard times. Several of their recent big budget releases have been box office duds, most recently Windtalkers. However, many analysts have noted that their losses at the theaters have been tempered somewhat by the successful DVD releases of many, many classic gems from the MGM library, including their Midnite Movies line. This year, MGM released a DVD quite notable for old horror film fans (and notably not included under the Midnite Movies banner). Value-priced and easily found for under $10, The Hound of the Baskervilles is yet another solid disc from MGM that should make genre fans very happy. The 1959 Hammer film is yet another example of why Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are horrors greatest duo, and here they are reunited with Terence Fisher, who also directed them in the legendary Horror of Dracula and The Mummy.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, of course, is based upon the novel by Sir Arther Conan Doyle and is arguably one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories. The movie opens with a ten minute historical prologue about Sir Hugo Baskervillea vile and disreputable nobleman who indulges in debauchery of all sorts. After a young farmgirl he is about to rape escapes his hall, he swears to his fellow miscreants May the hounds of Hell take me if I cant hunt her down! The chase, replete with real hounds, ends with Hugo murdering the girl. Afterward, he is attacked by a mysterious larger hound, thus establishing a curse on the Baskerville line.
After this morbid prologue, the audience is introduced to Holmes and Watson. It seems that a Dr. Mortimer wishes Holmes to investigate the Baskerville curse as it has claimed another victim: Charles. Although an inquiry ruled the official cause of death as arteriosclerosis, Mortimer claims there was a terrified look on the mans face. He is concerned about Sir Henry, the last of the Baskervilles, who is the successor to the family title. Holmes and Watson agree to look into the matter. When they meet Sir Henry, they discover that one of his boots is missing (yes, a clue!). Holmes is concerned about Henrys safety after a tarantula inexplicably appears in his room and nearly kills him. Holmes sends Watson to accompany Henry to the Baskerville estate while Holmes himself secretly investigates the area.
The DVDs liner notes claim that The Hound of the Baskervilles is the first Sherlock Holmes film to be made in color. It may also very well be the first Sherlock Holmes adaptation to be aimed at the horror film crowd. The Hound, however, should stand out for neither of these reasons but for the fact that it is a very good movie. Peter Cushing plays Holmes quite energetically and convincingly. Indeed, he is probably one of the finest actors to have played Holmes. Christopher Lee is equally engaging as the suave and headstrong Henry Baskerville, a role that is central to the storyline. The movie has a similar gothic atmosphere of most of Hammers films from that time period. And while the action is sometimes set-bound and a few scenes were filmed in that annoying day-for-night technique common in Hammer productions, the acting, staging, and direction more than compensate the technical deficiencies. Also, the print used for the DVD is quite good. The colors are sharp and clean, and there are only minor blemishes during the course of the film.
Like MGMs releases of the classic Roger Corman Poe pictures The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, The Hound of the Baskervilles is surprisingly full of very fun features. While a running commentary is lacking, a very intimate talk by Christopher Lee is included as a featurette. The thirteen-minute reminiscence by Lee is similar in tone to the lengthy one he gave in The Many Faces Of Christopher Lee that was included on the bonus disc of Anchor Bays Scars of Dracula DVD release. In this shorter monologue, Lee claims to have known Adrian Conan Doyle, one of the famed authors sons. After offering some insight Adrian gave him about his father, Lee turns to talking about Terence Fisher, Marla Landi (the actress who played the love interest in Hound), Peter Cushing, and even the dog that played The Hound. Also included is a twenty-minute reading Lee performs of two extracts from the novel Hound of the Baskervilles. With that deep, inflective voice of his, the reading is very fun to listen to. A slideshow of illustrations by Sydney Paget accompanies the reading. The theatrical trailer is also included, and, to my surprise, it is in black and white.
I would most definitely recommend The Hound of the Baskervilles to horror film fans, particularly those who like the Hammer-era historical movies like The Mummy, Horror of Dracula, etc. You cant go too wrong, of course, anytime you get to see two masters of their craftLee and Cushingperform together. For the low price, the extras add to the value of the DVD. While I dont know about the future of MGMs theatrically released films, it looks like their DVD line will continue to deliver, as a special edition of John Carpenters The Fog as well as a couple double-features of more unreleased Vincent Price Poe pictures are coming in September.