The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

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*. Here’s David Thomson on Basil Rathbone playing Holmes: “Too familiar as the maestro detective, he was cut off from the Moriarties he was made for.” A nice insight, noting a quality that should have helped Rathbone in playing a character with a pronounced dark side. Sadly, that angle was never explored in these films. Only a hint remains in the final line here (which was even censored out in some versions).
*. The running time, which struggles to make 80 minutes, keeps it light on its feet. This helps when dealing with “classic” material.
*. I like the script, even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense and is  a very free adaptation of the book. There are new characters, invented scenes, and a very un-Holmesian speech by Holmes about the importance of “imagination” in solving mysteries.

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*. The eponymous beast was a 140 lb. Great Dane credited as “Chief” (real name Blitzen, but Hollywood at the time didn’t like the “Teutonic taint” of a German name). That’s not so impressive today. Dog breeds just keep getting bigger. I think 140 lbs. would be considered a small Great Dane by twenty-first century standards. As I write these words I have a Newfoundland dog weighing just under 200 lbs. lying next to me.

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*. I love the studio set of the moor, all canvas skies and drifting fog, with boulders and blasted trees as furniture for the foreground. There are anecdotes of the actors even getting lost in it.
*. Could Fox have found any actors with longer, narrower faces than Basil Rathbone, John Carradine and Eily Malyon? With so much angularity on display, they needed Nigel Bruce as Watson to round things out a bit.

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