Conan Doyle and His Chilling Dog

Conan Doyle and His Chilling Dog

Posted by Mike Finnegan on May 22nd 2018

The large literary afterglow of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), born 159 years ago today, remains with us in the form of poems, historical fiction, treatises on spiritualism and adventure yarns featuring enduring protagonists like Brigadier Gerard and Professor Challenger. Lording over them all is the towering, four-book/56-story crime-solving legacy of the inscrutable Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart biographer Dr. John Watson. Encounters with the detective can prove memorable; in obituaries to the lovely actress/singer Patricia Morison, who died Sunday at age 103, second only to her memorable creation of the role of Kate in the original 1948 Broadway production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate is her canny and seductive portrayal of the (non-Doyle-originated) criminal gang leader Hilda Courtney, who slyly pilfers a clue-laden music box out from under the noses of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson in the 1946 movie thriller Dressed to Kill.Today two new reimaginings of Holmes/Watson cases are being published: a two-volume set of cases edited and assembled by David Marcum, The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Volumes IX and X [www.mxpublishing.com] and Bonnie MacBird’s book Unquiet Spirits: Whisky, Ghosts, Murder (A Sherlock Holmes Adventure) [www.macbird.com]. These can be consumed when you’re not otherwise watching Elementary Sunday nights on CBS-TV (with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu) or looking forward to the home video release of the animated theatrical feature Sherlock Gnomes (voiced by Johnny Depp and Chiwetel Ejiofor) on June 12, or the theatrical arrivals of the comically slanted Holmes and Watson (i.e. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) this coming Christmas and yet another Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes case now in development for Christmas 2020. 

Twilight Time’s contribution to the canon remembrance is a sleek and startling standout: Hammer Studios’ gripping, first-in-color adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), with Peter Cushing as a brusque, coolly calculating, laser-focused Holmes and André Morell as, according to Holmes pastiche novelist Kieran McMullen, “a strong, independent and indelible” Watson, facing down the legendary “Hound from Hell” in dynamic fashion as they attempt to protect the newly returned Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) a repeat of the horrifying death of his depraved ancestor by a mysterious fanged beast. Its creative team devised clever interpolations to blend the Doyle text with Hammer’s developing genre “brand.” Per BFI’s ScreenOnline essayist Jonathan Rigby: Not content with a possibly spectral hound abroad on Dartmoor, cameraman-turned-screenwriter Peter Bryan added to Conan Doyle’s 1902 original several outré details of his own – a marauding tarantula, an escaped convict who sounds like Jack the Ripper, ritualistic post-mortem mutilations, a web-fingered villain; finally, another Gothic archetype, the classic ‘Fatal Woman.’ And, in David Oxley’s Sir Hugo, the film's 10-minute 18th-century prologue showcases one of the nastiest of Hammer’s lengthening line of sadistic aristocrats. The result was a film in which Hammer’s early house style reached new heights of lurid perfection, director Terence Fisher orchestrating the by-now familiar elements with practiced precision. Cinematographer Jack Asher, meanwhile, turns the film into a sumptuous Technicolor feast, allotting equal weight to the scarlet jackets of Sir Hugo's cronies, the blue lightning illuminating Baskerville Hall, the bilious greens fluorescing from the depths of the derelict abbey, the lustrous purple worn by the femme fatale at the climax, even the high-gloss boot-black of Sir Henry's brilliantined hair. A Conan Doyle aficionado, Peter Cushing loaded his very first scene with authentic details – the acid burns on Holmes's dressing gown, a live coal used to light his pipe, the aide-memoire scrawled on his shirt cuff, a jack-knife skewering documents to the mantelpiece. Lean, waspish and dynamic, Cushing remains arguably the ideal Holmes.” Featuring two expert Audio Commentaries and several featurettes, TT’s hi-def Blu-ray The Hound of the Baskervilles also proves quite the ideal bargain, available now through May 31 at 50% off list. Stalk and pounce on it here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/31803/THE-HOUND-OF-THE-BASKERVILLES-1959-SPECIAL-PROMOTION/.