THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Aside from the few films that starred both Karloff and Lugosi, there has never really been a screen horror team other than Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This horror duo starred in so many genre classics, both together and on their own, that they have become two of horror cinemas greatest icons. Additionally, during the course of their illustrious careers, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing helped build the reputation of the legendary Hammer Studios.
After starring together in the horror classics HORROR OF DRACULA, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY for director Terence Fisher, they three were re-teamed for the Hammer adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes adventure THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES ($15). While remaining reasonably faithful to the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this Hammer production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES does play up the more horrific aspects of the story. Additionally, this interpretation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES also featured the same gothic style and bits of gore that become part of the Hammer formula. In this adaptation of the story, Peter Cushing portrays Sherlock Holmes- and I have to say, that Cushing is quite good in the role of Conan Doyles master detective. Equally good is André Morell as Holmes biographer and friend Doctor John Watson, who is depicted as the character appeared in the Conan Doyle stories- not like the slightly bumbling sidekick of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films.
The plot of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES concerns a supposed curse on the Baskerville family line. Doctor Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) believes that the recently deceased Sir Charles Baskerville died because of his encounter with a hellhound that comes to claim all the heirs to the Baskerville title. Hoping to prevent another tragedy, Mortimer engages the services of Sherlock Holmes to protect Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), recently arrived from South Africa to claim his Uncles title and estate. As I stated, this adaptation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is rich in trademark Hammer atmosphere, in addition to affording its stars to branch out into different types of roles. I should note that THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES afforded Christopher Lee his only opportunity of his rather lengthy film career to play a romantic lead. The supporting cast of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES includes Marla Landi, David Oxley, Miles Malleson, Ewen Solon, John Le Mesurier and Helen Goss.
MGM Home Entertainment has made THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES in a 1.66:1 wide screen presentation that has NOT been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Again, I think that MGMs policy against issuing 1.66:1 films without the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays does a disservice to DVD consumers that will be felt a great deal more down the road. As it stands, the 1.66:1 transfer looks quite good on a 4:3 display, but digitally blowing up the image to fill a 16:9 display softens the image and introduces artifacts. Watching THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES on a 4:3 display, one will notice a rather sharp and well-defined image. The film element used for the transfer displays some blemishes, but not enough to remind one that this movie is over forty years old. Additionally, noticeable film grain is very minimal, but it is present at various times during the course of the movie. Colors are quite vivid and are a reminder of the glory days of the Technicolor format. Blacks are wonderfully inky and the level of shadow detail is quite good for a film of this vintage. Digital compression artifacts are never bothersome.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is only adequate. Obviously, the sound elements have not aged very well, with much of the sound coming across as rather harsh. James Bernards music suffers the most from the limited fidelity of the track, as well as the other age related anomalies that crop up. Dialogue holds up somewhat better, maintaining intelligibility almost all of the time. However, there are moments when the dialogue sounds dull, flat and recorded in a shoebox. French and Spanish monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extras. The Actors Notebook is a twelve-minute on camera interview with actor Christopher Lee, who speaks about the making of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, his distaste for the scene with the spider and his heartfelt admiration for his friend and co-star Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee also reads excerpts from Arthur Conan Doyles The Hound Of The Baskervilles, which makes me long for a complete recording of the story read by Lee. A theatrical trailer closes out the DVDs extras.
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is an enjoyable Hammer outing that will appeal to Hammer fans, Sherlock Holmes fans and fans of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I really wish that MGM had enhanced THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES for 16:9 displays and was able to uncover a better soundtrack source. Still, this is a bargain priced DVD that does offer some solid extras that will certainly please fans.
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