on May 17, 2003
With the exception of the cheesy merry-go-round dog attack at the beginning of this TV movie, this version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is superb. Ian Richardson plays Holmes with a flair that matches the great Jeremy Brett. It's a shame that Richardson's Holmes is only captured in one other occasion on film. ("The Sign of Four")
In contrast, it's also a shame that "Hound" is probably the most screen adapted literary work ever (there are at least 10 films) but there is no perfect definitive version. This is probably as close as we're going to get. This film, made in 1983, far outshines the 2000 BBC version with its horrid CGI dog and a Watson who is likely computer generated as well. Fans of the Jeremy Brett film may be surprised at the stellar cast of this one, featuring Denholm Elliott ("Raiders of the Lost Ark"), Eleanor Bron ("The House of Mirth"), Connie Booth ("Monty Python"), and noted actor Brian Blessed (you'll know him when you see him if you don't already). The film also features Ronald Lacey as probably the best Inspector Lestrade ever. (Lacey was also in "Raiders" and the Jeremy Brett version of "The Sign of Four".) Martin Shaw's spin as the Texan Sir Henry Baskerville surprisingly turns out to be more pleasant than not.
At times the film is on the gritty side. The scene with Sir Hugo chasing his servant's daughter for that evening's recreational rape is darker than one would expect, but precisely where it needs to be cinematically. When you consider realism, this "Hound" is unequalled.
Fans of Ian Richardson should also check him out in "Murder Rooms", a BBC series where he plays Dr. Joseph Bell - a real Victorian doctor universally recognized as Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character.
on July 6, 2002
This 1983 version of the Hound, with Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes, has rarely received the accolades it so richly deserves. While not the most faithful adaptation of the Conan Doyle classic, it is nevertheless sumptuously atmospheric. It features a truly menacing hound that more closely approximates the horror elicited by the novel's original than the veritable slew of disappointing hounds from several other film versions, the obvious exception being the equally terrifying Basil Rathbone hound. This TV movie's strengths stem from a variety of sources. First of all, Michael Lewis's engaging, memorable film score is exquisitely dynamic and resonates with excitement. Secondly, the production's choice of authentic Devonshire locales for outdoor filming, and effective use of sound stages to evoke the melancholy and dreary mystique of the moors at nighttime,imbues this stylish version with an appropriately gothic flavor. It stunningly depicts the eerie essence of the Grimpen Mire, replete with its miasma of swirling, amorphous ground mist, and compellingly involves the viewer in the visual ambience of its surroundings. The film's denouement, as Holmes pursues his villainous quarry through the mire's impenetrable sea of fog, is masterfully photographed and provides a highly dramatic and satisfying catharsis to an enjoyable film.
This is not to discount the film's few shortcomings. Certainly Richardson's Holmes, invariably prone to overtly amiable behavior, deviates from the disconcerting arrogance and brooding demeanor so brilliantly and faithfully rendered by Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett. This is not to negate Richardson's charismatic and magnetic presence, however, and he is a pleasure to watch. (Recently, he compellingly played Dr. Joseph Bell, the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, in an equally atmospheric mystery series broadcast on Public Television). However, his Holmes portrayal remains somewhat revisionist. Furthermore, Donald Churchill's slightly bumbling rendition of Dr. Watson is too much of a frustrating throwback to Nigel Bruce's comedic and dim-witted depiction of the much maligned-doctor in the classic Basil Rathbone films of the 1940s. As Watson's character, for once, takes center stage in the Hound, casting for this role is more imperatively crucial than for Holmes. Among the most convincing and enjoyable Watsons from productions past included the more cerebral Andre Morell from the 1959 Hammer film and the equally astute and somber Edward Hardwicke from the 1987 Jeremy Brett version. However, that said, this stylish production deserves unstinting praise for the masterful way in which it skillfully reproduces the macabre spirit of the classic novel.
on February 12, 2012
First, of the 6 'hounds' I have on DVD, this is the only one that seriously attempts to remain true to the novel. Yes, Hickok brings in the character of Lyons (Brian Blessed), the husband, who appears only by reference in the novel. But that character is not only interesting, but consistent with Conan Doyle's intent. Churchill is not the most interesting Watson (there are Burke and Hardwicke, of course) but he had played Watson on BBC in many of the short stories, and he is consistent and believable. In particular, his reaction to being tricked by Holmes is very believable. Richardson, who many might think too acidulous for the role, turns in a stellar performance, unfortunately limited by the nature of the novel (as all Holmes' fans know, this story was not intended originally for Sherlock Holmes; that is why he appears so little). Of the two Holmes films Richardson made, this is the one to have. Martin Shaw as Sir Henry is brilliant, not so much in himself, as by reference to all the nincompoops who have been cast in the role (including the BBC Jeremy Brett film). The minor roles (Denholm Elliott, Connie Booth, Nicholas Clay--known to most Holmes' fanciers as the doctor in 'resident patient', and, above all, Ronald Lacey as Lestrade) are very, very well-taken. So it is all great? Does it really deserve 5 stars?
There are two 'semi-obligatory musical interludes' (as Ebert used to say), not long, and not in slow-mo but still oppressive (the first meeting of Stapleton's wife-sister and Sir Henry, the second with Sir Henry, Beryl, and the 'Gypsy'). Perhaps one or two other times, the music becomes pre-adolescent. Color photography does not do Conan Doyle any favors, but I become use to it as I watch. And, actually, the color is handled very well (this is not a Hammer production). The budget is not huge, but the art direction succeeds very well.
Not perfect then? Did you expect it to be? No, it does not resolve the problems raised by the novel (Beryl Stapleton--villain, accomplice, victim?, Dr Mortimer--dupe or accomplice?). Is it better than any other 'hound' on DVD? Yes, indeed. And, no, it does not quite deserve 5 stars, but when I am confronted with critics who disparage without regard for art or reality, I must try to balance the books.
on February 1, 2001
This version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic story featuring Sherlock Holmes offers a fun and solid take on the tale of the Great Detective and his investigation of a deadly family curse. Wonderfully photographed, the film makes great use of the dark settings of the moor. Ian Richardson leads the pack with a sly, puckish take on Sherlock Holmes. It is a wonderful performance that makes one wish that he had filmed more Holmes stories then he did. Denholm Elliott has his amusing moments as the local doctor with a case of absent-mindedness. Unfortunately, the actor playing the faithful Dr. Watson, seems to be too much the Cockney with his gravelly voice. It's frustrating since his character spends much of the time onscreen, while Holmes is offscreen thoughout the middle part of the film. Brian Blessed and Connie Booth (formerly married to John Cleese, and a sometime performer with Monty Python), do well in smaller roles. A decent film, but not the definitive version.
Yes, this is clearly the finest 'Hound' available -- I've seen them all many times. I first viewed this movie on either HBO or Cinemax back in the early 80s and had searched for a copy ever since. I finally got my hands on the DVD last year and now I watch it over and over. Even my brother, a certified Rathbone purist who won't watch the late, great Jeremy Brett for a moment, loves this one.
For the uninitiated, the story is about an old family curse, originally perpetuated upon one very evil Sir Hugo Baskerville, who was ultimately slaughtered on the moor by a gigantic hound with glowing eyes. Subsequent to that day, the Baskervilles had always feared the moor where the legendary hound roamed at will, lusting for more Baskerville blood. When Sir Charles Baskerville, the most recent Laird of the Manor, appears to have died as a result of an encounter with the hound, Sherlock Holmes is called in by a family friend (Dr. Mortimer), in an effort to protect the young American heir to the estate, Sir Henry Baskerville.
After being shot at in London (saved by Holmes' quick action!) and otherwise warned to stay clear of the estate, Sir Henry boldly takes on the implied challenge and heads for the moor, but only Watson can go along to protect him because Holmes is otherwise occupied with another important case.
Watson and Sir Henry have some close calls and there is the secondary danger of an escaped heinous convict loosed upon the moor. A nasty, vengeful artist, a dour pair of domestic servants, and a decrepit old gypsy all serve to add to the the film's more suspenseful moments.
Holmes has to depend on Watson to keep him abreast of the situation with daily letters in order to solve the case of the elusive and dangerous hound. Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is also on the scene, but his job is mainly to capture the convict and he's loath to have run across Watson, (a competitor for crime-solving glory), and potentially also into The Great Detective himself, in this isolated spot of moor-country.
There is additionally the love-at-first-sight sub-plot between Sir Henry and the reticent, but beautiful, sister of the local naturalist, the latter being an enigmatic character who collects butterflies and who lords over his adult sister, all with equal zeal.
Now, for a critique of the film, Holmes and Watson are spot-on, very convincing. This is about the only Sherlock Holmes flick where the great detective is not portrayed as a borderline nutcase. Earlier and subsequent producers-directors have seemed to focus heavily upon Holmes' eccentricities and anti-social tendencies, but not here. He's very straightforward and we're even surprised by his moments of genius, (that we somehow knew was there all the time), a nice caveat. The cast of principals is all British, of course, (young Sir Henry appears to be an American, but this is simply more superb acting), so there are no gaffs in that realm. All the suspect-characters are as notably ominous as is this great version of the Grimpen Mire itself.
That leads me into the issue of the cinematography which is the very best feature of this film -- it will knock you out. It's superb! The color saturation is outstanding and the camera angles are just incredible. The sets are joyfully reminiscent of the great 60s color Cushing-Lee Hammer Films, only much better.
The atmosphere generated in this movie cannot be matched elsewhere and is effectively boosted by a subtle but appropriate filmscore, which is very nice but does not at all distract the viewer from the film itself. The character action keeps one on his or her toes and there's no drag to this film, a fact which cannot be stated in regard to certain other 'Hound' versions.
Yes, the story-line deviates slightly from Doyle's original manuscript but what movie director does not utilize this artistic license? Certainly, other 'Hound' versions have done so, many much moreso than this one. I feel certain that Doyle himself would have highly approved of this brilliant manifestation of his classic tale.
Some concern has been expressed about the brief rape scene (Sir Hugo catches up with his wench on the moor but, there, encounters The Hound which promptly squares the evil deed), but I feel that it was as tastefully conveyed as a rape scene can be portrayed. After all, Sir Hugo's evil has to be nailed down in a hurry so that The Curse can be legitimized to the viewers. In the end, this scene contributes notably to the credibility of the film but does, in fact, limit the viewing audience, at least for that brief segment.
In summary, if you could only afford one copy of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', this would clearly be the version to acquire.
See my Listmania lists for other recommendations.
on April 26, 1999
This is certainly the best version of this classic tale that I've seen. Ian Richardson is superb as Holmes and the other characters are well-acted and believable. There is also some hauntingly good dialogue and an unforgettable soundtrack which adds to the wonderful atmosphere.
on November 12, 2011
A white-haired older man stands smoking a cigar by the wicket gate, checking his pocket watch. His nervous agitation is apparent with the passing of time, and his concern is not unwarranted. From the darkness there suddenly erupts a violent, snarling black hound. Sir Charles Baskerville flees into the garden-house and there his housekeeper and her husband find him sprawled on the ground, dead of a heart attack. The matter is brought to the attention of Sherlock Holmes in his London flat. Ordinarily a case which most investigators would overlook, its interest lies mainly in the story behind that night, and a legend of a mysterious hell-hound who has haunted the Baskerville family for centuries. It began several hundred years prior, when Sir Hugo Baskerville kidnapped a local girl from the parish. She escaped through an upper window and fled into the darkness. In a drunken rage, Hugo went after her, pledging that he would sell his soul to the devil to find her.
The only surviving heir to the Baskerville estate is newly arrived from America. Sir Henry believes that the traditions of the estate are nonsense, and there is no such hound. Dr. Mortimer believes that Henry is placing his life in danger, and requests that Holmes intervene. Intrigued by the case but finding it not pressing enough to warrant his immediate attention, Holmes sends his accomplice Dr. Watson to Baskerville Hall. The manor has its fair share of secrets, from the strange comings and goings of the staff to the eccentricities of local neighbors. An escaped convict is loose on the moors. Gypsies are encamped nearby. Watson has become very suspicious, but his investigations only turn up further questions. Sinister characters, a dark and cold manor house, a supernatural foe, and a master detective. All the workings of the classic tale by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle weave together to produce a chilling premise and a haunting climax.
Like all adaptations, the story strays in some respects to make a more interesting turn. It does have its shortcomings in being dated and melodramatic but it also has some wonderful high points, not the least of which being a haunting musical score and a truly magnificent climax on the moors. The shot of Richardson's Holmes following the murderer into the fog with a lantern held aloft is one of my favorite single frames in film. The plot deviates from the source material in sometimes absurd and other times quite clever ways, but in doing so it also permits more material for Richardson to work with -- and he does it magnificently, transforming his Holmes into a far more likable figure than many of his predecessors. It is the smaller moments I most appreciate, the subtleties of Holmes and his no-nonsense approach to life -- the cheekiness of him lifting Watson's pocket watch and the quiet menace as he untwists a poker that has been thrown at him in front of an enraged husband and places it calmly back in its proper place on the hearth. True, there are aspects I do not care for -- the film at times drips with too much gruesome imagery and I always fast-forward my way through an early rape scene on the moors, but somehow by the end I find myself quite content, appreciative of Richardson's performance, and longing to crack open Doyle once more.
on March 6, 2013
Shot on location in Devon, the cinematography of this film is absolutely stunning, capturing perfectly the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere conveyed so brilliantly in what is undoubtedly Sir Arthur's masterpiece. The moor was everything I imagined it to be, replete with fog and some unidentifiable aura of mystery, a place which becomes the perfect setup for the gothic horror tale about to unfold. We can imagine, no matter how many times we have read the book and know perfectly well what occurs, that some dark, evil purposes are afoot, and as Holmes mentions in HOUN, if the devil were to meddle in the affairs of men, this is precisely where it would occur. Even the London scenes were richly atmospheric, the detail paid to historical accuracy and the brilliant colours of autumn one of this film's most striking features.
Then there is the actual case, which on many instances followed the plot faithfully, leaving in scenes omitted from most other adaptations - only to deviate from the story or move events forward too soon, so that the pacing did at times seem a bit awkward. That being said, this surpasses most others and makes the attempt throughout to never stray too far from the source material. In fact, many of the tweaks were not so much an attempt at surpassing Doyle, but to flesh out vital side characters such as Laura Lyons and her husband, the latter of which is merely mentioned in the book. We are also - for once - given a Sir Henry who is not portrayed as the complete imbecile he appears as in far too many adaptations to name, but a confident, adventure seeker intent on fulfilling his position as heir to Baskerville Hall. The other supporting cast are equally strong, and I particularly loved the absent minded Dr Mortimer (who most will recognize as Marcus from Indiana Jones). Truly, the casting delights just as much as every other element here.
From the opening scene, the story moves quickly. Holmes' initial investigation in London underwent some minor changes to further speed the pacing and add an element of action. One gripe I did have was with the treatment of Watson here - this is a case that pivots around the doctor, so it was somewhat disappointing that once in Dartmoor, he tends to be something of a bumbler; though by no means is he the buffoon that was Nigel Bruce. This is also a different actor who played Holmes' Boswell in Sign of Four, and the difference is palpable, unfortunately. I regret to say that this was the one issue I had, as the movie would have benefited tremendously from a more capable Watson.
Ian Richardson, however, is an absolute pleasure to watch. The best portrayals of the Great Detective tend to play up a dark, brooding nature, neurosis, or brashness never really present to any great degree in Canon, though this is not the case with Richardson. He plays Holmes as the eccentric genius he was - unconventional, yet in every respect the Victorian gentleman. He exudes some intangible Holmesian quality that gives credibility to his deductions without resorting to the overused trope of troubled genius. Even his dumbed down Watson shines in his presence. Sacrilege, I know, but the more I watch of Richardson in the role, the more I prefer him to Brett in many regards.
In short (possibly too late for that), I was never too overly fond of HOUN film adaptations, but this one has ruined me for all others. It is, in the opinion of this humble Sherlockian, quite possibly the definitive adaptation.
on December 14, 2013
Of course, a classic story. And, Ian Richardson!! What a wandering gypsy he makes!! There's a classic scene on the moors where he, as the gypsy, taunts Watson because he doesn't recognize Holmes in his getup. Classic!! There's a moment walking around a pole, when he looks quickly into the camera to bring us in on his "joke". You could tell he enjoyed acting the part of the gypsy! A wonderful actor! A very good show, though dated somewhat by that "eighties" style; acting, sets, cinematography, etc. All very of the period. But still, not bad. Worth it just for Richardson!! I wish they'd done more of the Sherlock stories with him!!
on April 15, 2003
Without doubt, this is by far the finest screen version of Conan Doyle's famous story I have (so far) seen. Ian Richardson (who will no doubt be familiar to fans of House of Cards and To Play the King) is perfect as Holmes. The film boasts just the right cast (whether central characters or bit parts, they all give strong performances), the moor's thin line between beauty and deadly is just right, the soundtrack is unforgettable, there is myriad memorable dialogue and the whole thing flows very well. There is not a dull moment. Recommended to fans of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle or just horror in general.