The Hound Strikes!
This day in 1959, the game was afoot more devilishly than ever. A fresh take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved British detective Sherlock Holmes debuted on U.S. movie screens yet again, this time in a more visceral form outfitted with a mixture of flavorful location filming and period-precise studio sets, a bold splash of Technicolor (the first full-length color feature for the indomitable sleuth) and an actor in the role who, in the view of Sherlock Holmes on the Screen authors Robert W. Pohle Jr. and Douglas C. Hart, “studied his Conan Doyle with great care and emerged with the same kind of manic Holmes as had Basil Rathbone.” Hammer Film Productions’ vivid reimagining of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) stars Peter Cushing as the peerless investigator, and like the man he played, immersed himself in the details to create, Pohle and Hart asserted in 1977, “perhaps the only screen Holmes who truly made any attempt the play Holmes with the appropriate symptoms of a drug addict. He took the part very seriously, consulting the works of Doyle and [artist Sidney] Paget and even supplying his own costumes to be sure they would accurately match the Paget illustrations in the Strand magazine: ‘Fortunately my father left me the whole set,’ Cushing told Evening News interviewer Felix Barker at the time of production. ‘Everything is accurate right down to the famous ‘mouse-colored’ dressing-gown which I charred with cigarettes to get the burns Holmes made during his experiments.” Though the adaptation fashioned by two Hammer stalwarts, cameraman-turned-screenwriter Peter Bryan and director Terence Fisher, deviated from Doyle in noticeable ways and pitched the tale toward the studio’s then-current trend of classic horror reinvention, Cushing stayed his particular course. “Cushing described Holmes as ‘not the pleasantest of characters,’” Pohle and Hart note, “which must have been something of a heresy to those who had grown up with the highly gentlemanly interpretation of Arthur Wontner [in several 1930s British films], but which an objective observer must admit to be not far short of the mark. ‘Holmes didn’t suffer fools, and he must have been insufferable to live with. He was always so right!’ A case in point is that Cushing lit his pipe with a coal from the fire with tongs, as dictated by Doyle. Some other Cushing-introduced accuracies were the detective’s habit of keeping his tobacco in a Persian slipper, and the pipes, themselves, of which there were a large variety to suit the various Holmesian moods; however, for some reason, Holmes is minus his violin in this film.” (A lush and appropriately blood-curdling score by Hammer house composer James Bernard effectively compensates.) Also starring Andre Morell as a thoughtful and steadfast Dr. Watson and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, the endangered heir to a spooky family legacy enmeshed in the supernaturally tinged legend of a murderous canine, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) inaugurated an ongoing association between Cushing and Holmes in subsequent TV and feature-film iterations. Upon exploring the film’s chilling Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray that includes two expert Audio Commentaries and great making-of extras, you’ll fall under the spell of its mystery and Cushing-powered authenticity.