The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1939 mystery film based on the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was directed by Sidney Lanfield and produced by 20th Century Fox.
It is among the best-known cinematic adaptations of the book, and is often regarded as one of the best. The film stars Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and Richard Greene as Henry Baskerville. Because the studio was unsure that the film would be a success, and that Rathbone and Bruce would make many more Sherlock Holmes films together, top billing went to Richard Greene, who was the film's romantic lead. Rathbone was billed second. Wendy Barrie, who played Beryl Stapleton, the woman with whom Greene falls in love, received third billing, and Nigel Bruce, the film's Dr. Watson, was billed fourth. In all their other Holmes films, Rathbone and Bruce would receive first and second billing respectively.
The Hound of the Baskervilles marks the first of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films starring Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson, respectively. It is also notable as the earliest known Sherlock Holmes film to be set in the Victorian period of the original stories; all known previous Holmes films, up to and including the 1930s British film series starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes, had been updated to a setting contemporaneous with the films' release. It is also the only film in the series to be a strict adaptation of a source material, while subsequent installments would feature original titles and incorporate various elements of different stories.
Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. John Watson (Nigel Bruce) receive a visit from Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who wishes to consult them before the arrival of Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene), the last of the Baskervilles, heir to the Baskerville estate in Devonshire.
Dr. Mortimer is anxious about letting Sir Henry go to Baskerville Hall, owing to a supposed family curse. He tells Holmes and Watson the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that first killed Sir Hugo Baskerville (Ralph Forbes) several hundred years ago (seen in flashback) and is believed to kill all Baskervilles in the region of Devonshire.
Holmes dismisses it as a fairy tale, but Mortimer narrates the events of the recent death of his best friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, Sir Henry's uncle. Although he was found dead in his garden without any trace of physical damage, Sir Charles's face was distorted as if he died in utter terror, from heart failure. He alone had noticed footprints at some distance from the body when it was found; they were the paw marks of a gigantic hound.
Holmes decides to send Watson to Baskerville Hall along with Sir Henry, claiming that he is too busy to accompany them himself. Sir Henry quickly develops a romantic interest in Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie), the step-sister of his neighbour Jack Stapleton (Morton Lowry), a local naturalist. Meanwhile, a homicidal maniac (Nigel De Brulier), escaped from Dartmoor Prison, lurks on the moor.
Holmes eventually makes an appearance, having been hiding in the vicinity for some time making his own investigation. An effective scene, not in the original book, occurs when Watson and Sir Henry attend a seance held by Mrs. Mortimer (Beryl Mercer). In a trance, she asks, "What happened that night on the moor, Sir Charles?" The only reply is a lone howl, possibly from a hound. After some clever deception by Holmes, he surmises that the true criminal is Stapleton, a long-lost cousin of the Baskervilles, who hopes to claim their vast fortune himself after removing all other members of the bloodline.
Stapleton kept a huge, half-starved, vicious dog (played by a Great Dane) trained to attack individual members of the Baskervilles after prolonged exposure to their scent. However, when the hound is finally sent to kill Sir Henry Baskerville, Holmes and Watson arrive to save him just in time. They kill the hound. Stapleton then traps Holmes down in the hound's underground kennel, and sends Watson into the moor to meet Holmes. Holmes cuts his way out of the kennel and returns to the house and destroys the poison that Stapleton had just given to the wounded Baskerville. Stapleton pulls a gun and flees. Holmes says ominously, "He won't get very far. I've posted constables along the roads and the only other way is across the Grimpen Mire." Holmes is praised for his work on the case, and he turns in.Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce as Dr. John H. Watson
Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville
Wendy Barrie as Beryl Stapleton
Lionel Atwill as Dr. James Mortimer
John Carradine as Barryman, butler
Morton Lowry as John (Jack) Stapleton
Eily Malyon as Mrs. Barryman
Barlowe Borland as Frankland
Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Jennifer Mortimer
Ralph Forbes as Sir Hugo Baskerville (in flashback sequence)
E. E. Clive as Cabby in London
Lionel Pape as Coroner
Nigel De Brulier as Convict (as Nigel de Brulier)
Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson
Ian Maclaren as Sir Charles
The butler was named Barrymore in the novel, but because of the existence of the real-life John Barrymore of the Barrymore family theatrical dynasty, his name was changed to Barryman in the film.
In a contemporary review, the Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as a "excellent film version" of the novel." noting that the films elements "sustain the suspense until the exciting climax," and that "the atmosphere is extremely well contrived". Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were praised for their roles, while "only Wendy Barrie seems lifeless as Beryl in a cast which is uniformly good."
American Film Institute recognition2001 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
2003 - AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - Nominated Heroes
2008 - AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Mystery Film