The Hound of the Baskervilles Review

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Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in another stunning Gothic romp!

by Chris McEneany Jun 9, 2015 at 4:52 PM

  • Movies review


    The Hound of the Baskervilles Review
    Every dog shall have its day!

    The Hound of the Baskervilles came to Hammer as a done deal, pre-packaged by American producer Kenneth Hyman and delivered with marketing and distribution all arranged via United Artists. This wasn’t the normal working practice for the studio, but it allowed for a situation in which they could sit back, adapt, produce and shoot with all their customary passion, wit and economical genius in the knowledge that their name, now a brand in its own right, should guarantee success. This was only partially the case, however. Although profitable at the time, it is only in later years that the film has gained the recognition that it so deserves. For whilst so much seemed to be in its favour, what with the gothic setting, its iconic hero and a well-known and adored story, a couple of elements would conspire against it.

    Providing stellar turns for their rising in-house superstars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, affording Lee the opportunity to expand his repertoire by playing a good guy and not another monster in the cursed Sir Henry, and giving Cushing the chance to portray his literary champion of Holmes, and dip his toes into a role that he would then flesh out considerably for the BBC in later years, the film was the perfect follow-on from the throat-clutching international successes of the studio’s previous two genre giants – The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula.

    Pairing these two actors together again in period costume and setting them against an infernal monster on the moors would have seemed a dead cert... which is clearly why Hyman approached Hammer in the first place. Adding the likes of the awesome Andre Morell, fresh from portraying possibly the greatest version of Quatermass for TV’s classic serial Quatermass and the Pit, as the first realistically formidable Dr. Watson, and with staunch support from terrific character actors Francis De Wolff, Miles Malleson, John Le Mesurier and Sam Kydd, Hammer set in-motion the modus operandi that would cement their name as being the best around for chilling gothic period-set romps.

    Which all seems gloriously apparent right now.

    The only real downside to the deal, and the detail that would prove instrumental in downscaling its inherent “wow” factor was that the film was to be an “A” certificate, something that would test director Terence Fisher’s restraint to the limit. With the studio having paved the way for more explicit films with the brutal POW saga, The Camp on Blood Island, and then the super-shock double-whammy of Frankenstein and Dracula, Hound was to go against the grain and be a considerably toned-down affair. This was something that sensation-seeking crowds would not have anticipated when they saw the Hammer logo on the intimidating and bestial poster. They wanted blood and titillation... and from Hammer they had every right to expect it. And Fisher certainly wanted to deliver the goods.

    Thus, even with these constraints, the canny filmmaker clearly set about pushing the limits of what was acceptable in a supposedly family yarn, as expertly and viscerally emphasised in the extended prologue sequence in which the truly nasty Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley on fine fiery form) torments, abuses and almost murders one of his unfortunate servants for the mocking glee of his equally sadistic friends, and then sets up another for what surely amounts to a gang-rape. But when the maid (Judi Moylens) escapes and flees across the moors, Sir Hugo’s rage escalates and he hunts her down with a pack of dogs, corners her in the ruins of the old abbey, and metaphorically ravages her with a symbolic knife... thereby setting up the curse on the Baskervilles when an unseen beast slays him for this atrocity.

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    Whoa! Censors be damned, this was testing stuff. Even today, this is a gruelling and intense set-piece that, perhaps, flies in the face of the prevailing mood that follows. Fisher would revisit such noble savagery with even more severity in the opening of Curse of the Werewolf, stamping his rage against assumed authority with yet stronger conviction. But his anger was fuelled here. It is a bravura intro to a film that, faithfully to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated Holmes mystery, drifts then into a milder tone of windswept sleuthing in dark ancestral edifices and around spooky, isolated moorland, eschewing the histrionic gore-spattered high-notes and heaving cleavages that Hammer was to become synonymous with.

    Be that as it may, what this heart-stopping introduction delivered was a stark reminder that Hammer was never going to mess around, or pussyfoot, even if their hands were tied. Fisher’s warning is clear and vivid in its gloriously resplendent Technicolor, written in a few daring drips of Kensington Gore. This may have been a relatively tame literary adaptation but Fisher and co. wanted everyone to know that they could easily have gone for broke... if they hadn’t been hamstrung by the Hyman/United Artists deal.

    “This is, I think, a two-pipe problem.”

    Peter Bryan’s screenplay takes a couple of detours from Doyle’s original novel. That intense prologue, of course, is a dynamic new method of hitting home the legacy of the Baskerville family and the trouble in store for it. But the film is surprisingly faithful in tone and character across the board. Plus, its eventual denouement is actually quite a rewarding slice of poetic license that must have wrong-footed many a Holmesian purist with its rather inspired deviation from the established lore. Not enough to rankle, but enough to elicit a Spock-like rising of the eyebrow in bemused appreciation.

    Cushing’s Holmes does say some rather uncharacteristic things about battling evil and preventing the “powers of Darkness” that would be altogether more comfortably uttered from Van Helsing’s lips, but, essentially, all of the main ingredients are present and correct. The great Baker Street detective Sherlock Holmes and his reliable man-at-arms, Dr. Watson, are tasked with protecting Sir Henry Baskerville after it appears there is a death-threat to him upon his taking up residency at the ancestral estate and claiming his title and fortune after the sinister death of his uncle. When Holmes makes it clear that he cannot journey to Baskerville Hall, out on windswept Dartmoor, just yet, the redoubtable Watson goes in his place, to act as a bodyguard to Sir Henry and to keep a watchful eye on events around the lonely enclave.

    That curmudgeonly old family curse is brought to bear when many mysterious circumstances plague the new arrivals. An escaped convict from a prison for the criminally insane is lurking out there. Strange lights can be seen across the moors at night. Someone is crying in the Hall’s shadows. And there is an unsettling howling carried across the bog. These elements have justifiably all become cliché, but they are the cornerstones of one the greatest and most beloved of gothic tales.

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    That Hammer should give it the treatment is no surprise. That it is the only Holmes story they would bring to the screen is something of a shame, since they accomplished it so well. Twenty years previously, the awesome pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce exposed the Hound of the Baskervilles for Universal in a terrific adaptation that remains powerful and quintessential Holmes even today. Some would even argue, definitive. The Hammer version, which fits right in with their series of Universal classic monster baton-changes, by contrast, is lurid, fast-paced and rife with the anti-aristocracy fervour that would spice up many of their films, especially The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile and the aforementioned Curse of the Werewolf (all reviewed separately).

    Although Lee’s Sir Henry is a very warm and charitable sort, the entire crux of his dilemma is born from his blue-blooded breeding and well-heeled heritage. The landowning gentry in Hammer films are never to be trusted and often turn out to be dominated and driven by purely evil and wicked intent... and usually at the expense of the lowest class. But whilst Sir Henry is not that kind of chap, he still represents all that was wrong with English society and the ceaseless class struggle.

    When the unashamedly vicious Sir Hugo sets the dogs loose upon the hapless servant girl (something seen again in Moonraker and Game of Thrones), it is perfectly fitting that the curse should see to it that he, and his bloodline, are haunted and hunted by a satanic hound. In Hammer’s and Terence Fisher’s hands, this is a far bolder and more aggressive symmetry than in Doyle’s work, or any other adaptation, for that matter. And this makes their take important and vital in the history of the oft-told saga, as well as when viewed within their own rulebook-rewriting canon.

    “There is more evil around us here than I have ever encountered before.”

    As the super-sleuth, Cushing utilises all of his actorly nuances to the full. His skittish and impulsive energy keeps us forever wired. We never know when he will suddenly erupt into action. That immaculate use of props adds so many convincing dimensions – used here both to keep audiences mesmerised by activity during even the most mundane of exposition, and to distract the characters around ever-aware Holmes. The trademark pointed finger of pure authority is in full effect and, debatably, at its most crucially potent. Unleashed by any other actor, this sharpened finger would be overly theatrical and silly. But from Cushing, it demands subservience.

    The wonderful diction makes every syllable exciting to savour. Watch how he, alone, does not succumb to the scene-stealing antics of Miles Malleson, whose whimsical humour and sherry-sipping eccentricity as the insect-loving Bishop so easily derail Lee and Morell at every juncture. Even though they stay in-character, you can see them twitching with the effort not to giggle. But Cushing, during that terrific little side-note business with Bishop Frankland’s telescope, does nothing but scrutinise the dotty old entomologist when he smashes it, absent-mindedly, through a glass pane in his window. Although we can see that this isn’t the first take (the pane has clearly been stuck back together), it must have taken monumental will not to at least smirk... but Cushing knows that Holmes would find the whole thing redundant, and any merriment unimportant and unhelpful.

    This isn’t to imply that Cushing plays the detective as a humourless misery. Far from it. But Holmes’ wit is glued to the ”game” that is afoot. His undaunted arrogance assures us that he finds amusement in his own anecdotes, ulterior-motivated word-play, inspired ruses and ability to continually astound all those around him with his deductions. The joy of simple banter is beneath him, yet the love of language and all that it may reveal, or conceal is apparent in his speech and within those hauntingly thoughtful eyes, as each verbal exchange is inwardly processed for hidden meaning.

    Lightening his hair, raising his “top quiff” and puffing for real on a pipe, Cushing is thoroughly and resolutely Sherlock Holmes at a time when the character truly needed a visual and cinematic emissary that was set in the correct Victorian milieu. Rathbone and Bruce had somehow segued from the right time-period to fighting the Hun in World War II!

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    “It's elementary, my dear Watson, elementary. Muffin?”

    And further going against what had become the established regime of the Universal run, but in-so-doing clinging devotedly to Doyle, Morell’s Dr. Watson is not at all the bumbling buffoon of Bruce’s comical sidekick. Already a renowned stage and television actor, Andre Morell brought authority and common sense to Watson. Now a true man of action and bestowed a practical mind and stoic sense of duty, you get the impression that even if Holmes didn’t eventually turn up from his, ahem, hilltop subterfuge, then Watson would probably have unearthed the culprits in his own more forceful manner, himself. Morell plays him with a loyal, though ever-so-slightly weary grace. You understand immediately that these two have worked together and trusted one-another for a long time. And that both have picked up attributes from their comrade in order to build up an even stronger personal arsenal. Watson is the earthier of the two and, as such, the man that keeps Holmes grounded when they are faced with true danger. But you can tell that he has to keep his naturally guarded cynicism towards these investigations in-check because time has proved that Holmes, of course, is always right. The good military doctor may have sold his soul to Sherlock, but you can see that this partnership has taken its toll on him, no matter how well he masquerades otherwise.This is certainly one of the more intelligent pairings that has been depicted of the duo ... even if Watson does allow himself to be coerced into the swamp at one point. Shades of old Brucie there!

    Christopher Lee may have been elated to having actual dialogue to speak and not just mumblings, hisses and feral snarls this time out, but critics were a little unkind to his playing of a good guy, citing his performance as wooden and stilted. This is just plain wrong. As tall as he is, and as unmistakably noble, Lee delivers a portrayal of Sir Henry that is warm, urbane and human. There is a twinkle in his eye that suggests Lee is enjoying himself immensely, and this comes across in a genuinely likeable and sympathetic performance. This said, of course, it is, even now with the enormous number of roles that the actor has played, quite difficult to divorce his aristocratic eyes and somewhat exotic features from that of Dracula, so I suppose it must have been nigh-on impossible back in 1959 when Hound was released so soon after the Count’s first outing. I have always said in copious reviews for Hammer Films that Cushing is, by far, the better and more versatile of the two actors and, in many ways, Hound proves this. Lee is extremely comfortable in the role of the wealthy nobleman, and whether they are good or bad – Duc De Richelieu in The Devil Rides Out, or Rochefort in The Three and Four Musketeers – he seems incapable of dressing-down and slumming it. And, if he did, I doubt it would be all that convincing. Here, we have to believe that Sir Henry can fall so quickly in love with a peasant girl upon their second meeting, no less, that he can jettison thoughts of self-preservation. Well, that may be a touch outlandish in the story ... but it is made all the more unlikely given Lee’s semi-smouldering romanticism. Sadly, this doesn’t come across too well. And it is hard to imagine that the actor could ever smooch with any degree of believability, no matter how dangerously sensual and magnetic his vampiric counterpart may be.

    Cushing , on the other hand, as I have discussed so often, could turn his hand to anything, dashing hero to comedy cameo, passionate leading man to heartbroken old grandpa. Even his noble swine – Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, and the ever-more treacherous Baron Frankenstein – had dimensions that made them both charismatic and believable. They were never merely villains for the sake being nasty. Cushing could play an eccentric (Doctor Who), a vagrant, a psychotic – just check out his deviant in 1968’s sleazy rampage Corruption – a scientist, a political prisoner (Nineteen Eighty-Four), a swashbuckler, a king or a Nazi. All would be totally imbued with personality and conviction. His run for the Beeb as Sherlock Holmes was excellent, and yet I think I prefer this incarnation for its verve and sense of unstoppable investigation. Look at how he impales a cluster of notes to a mantelpiece with a knife, and then later throws a blade to emphasise his point and to rattle Dr. Mortimer, who may be hiding information. Considering that this second example comes after he has been positively fawning over the potential suspect in a bid to soften him up, the deed marks a tremendously effective volte-face. This acute attention to detail and ability to turn on a dime reveals the depth of integrity and life with which Cushing would his performances.

    “I must insist upon one thing. Under no circumstances are you to go out onto the moors at night.”

    Assuming the sort of part that the great Michael Ripper would make his own throughout a slew of Hammer films is the wonderful Sam Kydd as coachman and labouring lackey, Perkins. With his terrifically lean and weathered face, almost competing with Cushing for the least skin on the cheeks, he totally encapsulates the harried man who has lived several lives ... and all burdened with hardship. He reminds me of Reg Evans, who plays the station master in the original 1979 Mad Maxand made a career out of portraying the working stiff in both TV and cinema. Francis De Wolff, a giant of a man, is terrific as the slightly suspicious Dr. Mortimer. Overbearing, yet refined, De Wolff brings a wealth of pride to the yokel practitioner, though it is a joy to witness this sense of the grandiose being forever undermined by Cushing’s Holmes. The detective’s fantastic introduction comes just after we have seen the opening with Sir Hugo’s despotic fury, as recited by De Wolff’s smugly self-satisfied Mortimer. Holmes reacts with a noisy flourish as though having come to some conclusion about the legend, but then swiftly makes a winning move in a game of chess he has been playing with Watson that we had not been aware of. Dr. Mortimer can barely hide his consternation at believing he once held court in 221b Baker Street. It is a priceless moment that totally reveals the characters and ethics of the two men, both of whom have been acting out roles. Holmes, you see, has been listening intently all along, yet will not reveal his hand just yet.

    Of particular interest are the Stapletons, who live in poverty out on the moors.

    Ewen Solon plays the game-keeping father with curiously webbed fingers on one hand, whilst Marla Landi breathes tempestuous life into his daughter, the oddly Spanish (Landi was actually Italian) Cecile. Now whilst the plot does its utmost to bring into the frame outside felons and other suspects, it would hardly take a great detective to work out just where the real threat to Sir Henry comes from. Stapleton can hardly conceal his disdain for the man whose land he lives on, and Cecile is nothing if not outwardly schizophrenic. When we first encounter her, she lures Watson into quicksand. Shortly afterwards she insults and runs from Sir Henry ... only to kiss him furiously once he has caught up with her – in what is actually a perverse reworking of the opening chapter. Her sudden infatuation with the last Baskerville is certainly questionable and would sound warning bells for sure. Landi, sexualised and shot through with hypnotic venom, is a delight in a film that strenuously seeks to avoid bulging breasts and heavy pouting. Our first sighting of her, and the one that causes Dr. Watson to become so flustered that he steps into a quagmire, has her seated, open-legged upon a high outcrop. Again, this is Fisher pushing the limits of the A certificate. It may seem positively tame nowadays, but you cannot deny the sexual clout this image has. Cecile is empowered, her sense of self-worth corrupted by years of envy and resentment until it has become weaponised. You can see the seed planted here that would germinate in Ingrid Pitt and Yutte Stensgard as they, in turn, took on the role of the seductive vampire princess, Carmilla.
    The censor wasn’t completely oblivious to all this, getting Fisher to remove a shot here and a line there, but Hammer definitely slipped a mischief or two under his nose. It is fun to imagine what a full-on Hammer rendition of the tale would have been like.
    And Landi, who would appear with Christopher Lee again in Hammer’s Pirates of Blood River, comes into her own during the helter-skelter climax and delivers a spite-filled, hate-driven mantra of vitriolic demonising that, with her undubbed Spanish accent becomes a terrifically exotic dressing-down!

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    “There is nothing remarkable about using one's eyes.”

    If director Fisher drops the ball anywhere, it is when Holmes is investigating the disused mines up on the isolated tor, and an errant mine-cart suddenly rams into the pit-props and brings the roof down, trapping and injuring the sleuth. Dr Mortimer and Stapleton have been holding the cart back in case such an accident should occur, yet an instant before the crash, Holmes has seen that neither of them is there in position. A moment earlier, when a ghastly howling is heard through the tunnels, Holmes discovers the pair simply staring at him with what can only be described as unhidden hostility. Obviously this is all supposed to raise our suspicions that the two are in cahoots, but the matter is pretty much swept under the carpet soon after. This sequence could have been less obviously and overtly orchestrated and shot with more subtlety and still have gotten the point across. It is a small caveat, however, in a film that is rich with observation, snappy with dialogue and darkly flavoured with insidious misdemeanour.

    After writing immortal scores for Curse of Frankenstein and then Dracula, creating what would become the iconic and instantly recognisable sound of Hammer, composer James Bernard performs similar duty here for Hound. Although the famous chase material from the previous Dracula has been re-used during the initial hunting of the servant girl – and much to Bernard’s dismay because he had actually written original music for this sequence that was inexplicably omitted – he delivers typically bombastic and crescendo-stippled tumult and plentiful eerie mysterioso, perfectly evoking the myth and melancholy of the setting and the story. With both Cushing and Lee in attendance, audiences could expect some action. Their skirmishing in Dracula was aided considerably by Bernard’s shrieking strings and brass, and their adventures on the moors would be similarly complemented. Here, though, he would develop a galloping sense of fun, too. There is a continual emphasis on the hunt – whether it be the metaphorical race to catch the villain, or the genuine moments when the hound is on the loose.
    Along with this distinctive musical style, the look of the film is entirely Hammer.

    Hound of the Baskervilles is, actually, one of the studio’s most beautiful productions all round. The photography from Jack Asher is sublime and painterly. Just look at some of the compositions. Such as when we have almost the entire cast either seated within or entering the main hall of the mansion, the camera gently moving closer to warp any sense of the stage-bound. Or how about Sir Henry calling at the Stapleton cottage, Lee poised at the door, his back to us, a cat to the left of the frame, ivy diagonally bisecting the image – it all creates a fabulous rustic tableau. This image is then expanded upon as Lee enters the abode and saunters around in the mid-ground as Landi’s Cecile appears behind him at the kitchen doorway in the far background, Asher’s camera, once more, gliding slowly towards them. There are a couple of clumsy day-for-night shots, but this is the sort of thing that now adds charm to the vintage Hammer aesthetic. The production was plagued with bad weather from start to finish, so glowering skies are pretty much across the board. This means that exteriors actually have something of a weirdly supernatural look to them even at the best of times, so these shots don’t stick out half as obviously as they would in other films. The transitions from real locations to sets – the abbey ruins, for example, or the quicksand – are curiously reminiscent of the old Universal Horrors, and add a nostalgic glamour, I feel. Particularly as we are treading down such similar paths.

    You don’t need keen eyes and a sharp memory to realise that Hammer’s usual trick of re-using the standing sets of Bray Studios has been in effect here too. Yes, Baskerville Hall’s interiors and exteriors were once the province of Castle Dracula, and would soon be again. Yes, the entrance to the mine up on the tor was where poor vampirised Mina was cornered and staked in Dracula. (This, too, follows the exact same template as the main hall, in actual fact, just bedecked with haphazard rocks and shrubbery and a painted backdrop.)That main hall would see a lot of service in the years to come, and no amount of switching staircases or doorways and repositioning of trestle tables and paintings could ever hide that. And, yes, many of the props and furnishings have been seen before, and would be many more times over. But none of this repetition detracts from the glorious production design and ambience created by Bernard Robinson. Why destroy such artefacts when they could so easily be used again and again? And considering that productions were shot so swiftly after one another – or even back to back in the case of Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile, and Rasputin and Dracula Prince of Darkness – this endless recycling makes perfect sense.
    And the second area that has come in for a lot of flack is the titular creature, itself.

    “The Curse of the Hound is on you!”

    It is, of course, easy to ridicule the Hound once it has finally been revealed. Our first proper glimpse of the beast shows us a large, but rather spindly dog with a Margaret Robinson made mask enhancing its head to enormous proportions, and audiences and critics were quick to snipe that this was not the hellish monster that had emblazoned the posters ... and that it bore little resemblance to the loathsome creature from Doyle’s nightmarish prose. Then again, as has been proved by the numerous versions of the tale filmed so far, the beast has never yet really delivered the goods. My own personal favourite is the huge animatronic seen in David Attwood’s 2002 TV version, starring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Dr. Watson, and that huge and vicious depiction is the closest to Doyle’s description by a moorland mile. I like the more realistic approach of the Rathbone account too, in which a large black German Shepherd really does chase down its intended victim during the pell-mell finale.

    This time around, two Great Danes (Scooby, again!) were enlisted to play the Hound, though only one would make the final onscreen attack in the stage-bound set of the old abbey-cum-mine entrance. This dog, called Colonel and actually trained by TV’s Barbara Woodhouse, was to all intents and purposes, a great big softy. Judicious editing and some impressive snarling and growling give the impression of a savage beast ripping at vulnerable flesh. Indeed, the sight of a mauled victim bleeding all over the queer sacrificial alter is actually quite a strong image. The body does look ravaged and is somehow all the more unpleasant since we cannot see what has been left of the face, just ripped-up clothing and bloody smears all over the show. This is more powerful than if we had been shown clawed flesh. At this stage in the game, makeup man Roy Ashton, who had taken over from Phil Leakey (who had devised the stitched-up face of Lee’s monster in Curse and the elegant blood-spurt from his noggin when hit with a bullet), wasn’t really up to giving us an effective throat torn out. That would come later when Oliver Reed lupine other half got the moonlit munchies. But, ultimately, we do get something of a nasty end result ... even in this allegedly tepid interpretation.

    But even though the graphic depiction of the Hound seems like it should be the culmination of all the mystery, chills and eerie mood, it really isn’t. The point is surely that the monster is nothing more than a normal dog that has been starved and abused and trained to become a killer. This was the spellbinding conceit of Christophe Gans’ outstanding 17th Century horror/action/whodunit Les Pacte Des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf), and a device that cannot fail to raise as much sympathy for the beast as it does terror. Thus, the conclusive explanation is deliberately anti-climactic in a way. But, then, explanations always are. Just look at Scooby-Doo ... it’s all great fun until the mask comes off!

    Plus, it is worth adding that I do not personally believe this reveal undermines the rest of the film at all, as so many have claimed.
    Surely, the essence of the story is the mystery and the detective work that goes into the unmasking, and the twist about who the real villains are, rather than the eventual pay-off, itself. In this respect, Fisher’s film is exemplary evidence of a tightly written screenplay, wholly assured performances and wonderfully measured direction. I mean there surely cannot be anybody out there who will come to this adaptation not knowing that there is no werewolf or genuine, curse-fuelled hell-hound out there on the moor? Therefore, the fun is in the build-up and the witty character-play, and the sideline mystery of the escaped murderer. This isn’t so much about red herrings or cunning misdirection. The plot is succinct in its threat to Sir Henry and what form it will take, so having Michael Mulcaster’s Selden loose on the moor is nothing more than colourful decoration and a simple delight of mistaken identity, when the poor halfwit wears Baskerville’s jacket and draws the hound after him with its targeted scent. Interestingly, the notorious Selden is described as having killed several “street women”. Is this a little hint at a potential Jack the Ripper? Hammer would go on to tackle Saucy Jack with some surprising and shocking results, of course, in the superb and controversial gender-spiking couplet of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and The Hands of the Ripper during their more explicit seventies final flurry.

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    “Let the hounds of Hell take me if I can't track her down!”

    Terence Fisher would prove to be Hammer’s most consistent director, with many of the studio’s most highly acclaimed classics to his credit. His high and exacting standards were certainly met with Hound, and his well documented penchant for speed and economy is in great evidence. When Jack Asher thought he hadn’t properly caught the stuntman crashing through the stained-glass window at the start of the film and asked for a re-shoot, Fisher only reluctantly agreed, insisting that there would be nothing wrong with the first take. And Fisher was right. They used the first run, and his word was then taken as gospel on pretty much everything after that. Cushing and Lee both enjoyed their frequent collaborations with him, maintaining that when they arrived on-set, Fisher had everything already mapped-out, clearly visualised in his mind and was ready to go immediately. Swift, workmanlike and always prepared. Just like they were, in fact. Naturally, this level of teamwork was aided by the fact that the Hammer stalwarts were, by now, a family unit. Having worked so closely together on many projects they had a form of telepathy, and this existed not only between the cast and the director, but right down to the props-people and the assistants.Which is precisely why Hammer was able to remain at the top of their game for so many years, producing classic after classic. Not many studios can say the same.

    Fisher would direct Anton Diffring and Christopher Lee in The Man Who Could Cheat Death straight after this, and he would be back with both Cushing and Lee for The Mummy, in which Lee would revert back to playing the monster ... although he would inject enormous pathos and emotion into his revived and vengeful high priest with just his eyes peering out of a swathe of bandages.

    Peter Bryan would provide three more screenplays for Hammer, with the delightfully miss-titled Brides of Dracula (1960), the simply awesome Plague of the Zombies (1966) and the swashbuckling A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967). He would peak, however, with this and Plague, both of which would be unveiled accusations against the bastions of the upper class, the very essence of Hammer’s subversive clarion-call.

    There are many adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and there are sure to be many more. But Hammer’s 1959 version is one of the handsomest and most exciting of this fascinating and enduring shaggy dog story.

    The Rundown

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