Friday, December 7, 2012

In-Class Movie: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

“Ah, me! It’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”

Austin: When we reviewed Dressed to Kill, it corresponded with the Doyle story we were reading that week. Last time, Without a Clue served as a decent transition from Elementary in that they were both about Sherlock Holmes pretending to be smart.

Now we have The Hound of the Baskervilles on a week where we read "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." I was worried there would be a clear connection, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are both really awesome. All I knew about this version was that Peter Cushing was playing the famed detective. We can get to him in a minute, because the real star is Hammer Film Productions.

"It's elementary, Watson. Hammer beats rock." "That's not even close to how you play that game."

They were a group that has been around for decades, but were the most popular when they started to produce gothic horror movies. All sorts of Frankenstein and Dracula films that were spooky and sometimes a bit ridiculous. This is taking the most gothic Sherlock Holmes story and giving it to a group that thrived with that genre. From the first scene, this movie sets a standard showing this will not be another routine mystery.

In a story that has been covered more than any other Sherlock Holmes but every frame of this movie felt new and vibrant while still feeling like a proper Sherlock Holmes story. Perhaps because it's Hammer behind the wheel, this is the only Hound story where I felt there might just be a curse.

What say you, Montano? Am I building this up too much or is it that awesome?

Leigh: I watch a lot of British television. One might have gathered that from reading our blog or talking to me. One of my favorite shows is QI. I have easily seen every episode of series A-G at least 10 times each. Easily. One episode Alan Davies mentions this song: 

I cannot think of Peter Cushing without hearing this song. Made watching Hound of the Baskervilles very entertaining. The cold meds might've helped with that too.

There are a lot of perfect pairings throughout history, a bunch that I can't think of right now except peanut butter and jelly, but I think Hound and Hammer are one of those perfect pairings. Were some of the day-to-night shots done badly, yes. Were some of the sets cheesy, yes. Were some of the actors bad, yes. But overall, this was a fantastic adaptation. It's been a while since I last read the story so I don't remember some of the finer details but I feel that this was a great interpretation. It definitely helps that we have at least two very skilled actors here with Cushing and Christopher Lee, who I might add looked a lot less creepy when he was younger. 

One thing that is very important in an adaptation whether it be something like Harry Potter or something like Sherlock Holmes, is the feel. One of the main reasons an adaptation fails is because it doesn't *feel* like what it's trying to adapt. That's why the first two Harry Potter movies weren't as great. They didn't get that feeling of magic and wonder and danger that the books give you. (I'm watching through Harry Potter, can you tell?) This adaptation gives off the great feeling of mystery that all Sherlock Holmes adaptations should. It just feels right, like eating that last Oreo in the pack.

Hammer shouldn't get all of the credit though. Like every other actor playing Holmes though, we have Cushing putting his own spin on the Holmes character and it is wonderful. I love how spastic he is at times. He gets Holmes' urgency and seriousness without being a strict, stern character like some Holmeses are. 

Before I start writing love letters to Peter Cushing, what do you think? Where does he rank on your list of Holmeses? And what about that Watson? 

Austin: With those first two Harry Potter films, they had the look down but never the feel. Fans of the book were thrilled to see Hogwarts and Quidditch and the like depicted faithfully, but I'm not sure there is anything in those first two movies to make you become a new fan of the series. You need to have the right storyteller to make those visual components work with the story. 

With Hound it all fits. The final showdown is exciting thanks to the art direction, editing, score and dedication to the story. All of its imperfections work in its favor to the point where I know that this film garnered new fans to Sherlock Holmes. I believe this is my Memaw's favorite story. When she was working her way through BBC's Sherlock last month, she kept wanting to get to their Hounds episode because this was her favorite when she was younger. 

If this doesn't pan out, I hear they need some leadership on the Death Star.

But yes, Peter Cushing is awesome. I have only seen the first episode of QI so my first exposure to him was from that obscure 70s film called Star Wars. I really learned more of who he was when he sorta-not-really played The Doctor when the creator of the Daleks decided to update his classic Doctor Who episodes into movies staring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who. Cushing was fine, the movies were lame. 

In this, Cushing is a wonderful weirdo. He's mastered so much of the look and feel of Holmes, while just adding a tad bit to his eccentricity showing that nobody else in the country talks/moves like him. In a film with a specific horror feel where everyone should put you on ease, that's impressive to still be the oddest man out in such a subtle way. I'd say he's up there as one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes performances. Great confidence and strange heroics where you want to see him investigate more crimes, just like how Doyle wrote him.

Watson was just fine. 

Are you game to review more Cushing films in the future? Are you worried they won't live up to these standards without a story like The Hound of Baskervilles?

Leigh: I would love to review another Cushing starred adaptation in the future just to see what changes when different production companies change but the actors stay the same.

Cushing has definitely taken one of the top three spots on my list of favorite Holmes portrayals. It goes back to that ever abstract "feel" of Sherlock Holmes and Cushing makes me believe that he is or at least that Sherlock Holmes could've existed. He has to be unrealistically realistic, if that makes any sense at all. He has to be super intelligent but at the same time grounded. Would it be weird if I wrote "Mr and Mrs Peter Cushing" all over my notebooks because I think I'm in love. Maybe it has something to do with cheek bones...

I think that Watson needs some praise here. This might be my second favorite Watson. He played the role of sidekick well. He was the muscle when he needed to be, he brought clues to Holmes' attention like ACD's Watson does, he is there when Holmes can't be. He even starts questioning that one guy whose name I can't remember right now before Holmes shows up at Baskerville Manor. He isn't the bumbling sidekick that we have seen and he actually serves a purpose unlike other Watson's we've encountered. A well portrayed Watson is a requirement for my liking of a Sherlock Holmes adaptation and this one passes.

No, it can't be......ringwaiths!

I would also like to give a shout out to Christopher Lee. I know he doesn't need any more praise but he did a damn fine job acting as the new inheritor of the Baskerville curse. He made me want to care about the story a bit more because he was commanding of the screen when he was on. You wanted this guy to survive and I fell for the false death of him at the midpoint of the movie and was sad when he "died." (It's been a REALLY long time since I've read this one.) Watching this adaptation with two of Hammer's go-to actors has made me want to go out and watch the other movies that these two were in together. This movie at least made me a fan of Hammer Productions since I was already a fan of Sherlock Holmes.

Next we find out what happens when engineers are under pressure (pun intended) even if the story is relayed to the audience. 
And here is Austin Lugar with the final word.

Austin: Hound!

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