Thursday, January 28, 2016

Experiment #2 - "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1939)

In which Nick gets mad at a mummy, Holmes sings and dances, and Catharine points the finger of suspicion at a lasso.


Some unfinished business from last time:

Nick: So, I neglected to ask you: What did you think of Mrs. Hudson in The Hound of the Baskervilles? I mean, she had about 30 seconds of screentime, but...still. It’s Mrs. Hudson.

Cat: Mrs. Hudson is always amazing, in any way, shape, or form. For her 30 second scene and two lines of dialogue, I liked her!

Nick: When the series moved to Universal from 20th Century Fox in the ‘40s, there were only three actors who made the move: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson. Of all the actresses who have played Holmes and Watson’s landlady, I think that Mary Gordon, Rosalie Williams (who played Mrs. Hudson opposite Jeremy Brett), and Una Stubbs (in Sherlock) have played the part best. So, you can imagine my surprise when, as I was watching Universal’s The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), I was surprised to find Mary Gordon amongst the cast. And then...she gets killed! I was so upset. Stupid Lon Chaney Jr. Why’d he have to kill Mrs. Hudson?

Cat: I can’t help you there, Nick. I’m sure it was a senseless crime.

Nick: Maybe one of these days I’ll get over it. Or...maybe not.

Cat: Going to go out on a limb here and say probably not.

Time to move on...

Vital Statistics:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Major motion picture
Starring: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Ida Lupino (Ann Brandon), Alan Marshal (Jerold Hunter), George Zucco (Professor Moriarty)
82 minutes, black-and-white


Nick: So, let’s just make one thing very clear before we begin. Before we started this movie I told you that it was going to be a Holmes v. Moriarty movie and you...jumped for joy.

Cat: Yes. Yes I did. Mentally as well as physically. The look on your face was kind of priceless, honestly.

Nick: Well, I didn’t see that coming at all. I mean, I understand more than you can possibly understand. I guess that we ought to dive right in and, what with this being a Moriarty-centric film, why don’t we discuss the Napoleon of Crime? Now, when you first saw Moriarty standing on the dock of the Old Bailey courtroom, you said something like, “he looks like a funny old man.” And then, he starting threatening his butler who forgot to water his flowers.

Cat: Okay, that was legitimately chilling. The scene before with his conversation with Holmes in the cab, where they shared their cordially biting remarks about each other, did help to give an idea of what kind of a guy Moriarty was, but then this came along and I was more than a bit surprised. I honestly thought he was going to pull out a gun and kill this guy at any second—and clearly, so did the butler.

Nick: That scene between Holmes and Moriarty as they share a hansom cab is, honestly, one of my favorites in all Sherlockian film. I love Holmes’s line: “You have a magnificent brain Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.” Now, I suppose I’m going to ask you an unfair question but, how do you compare George Zucco’s Moriarty in this film to Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty?

Cat: That is an unfair question, why would you ask me this? You know just how much I love Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. Hmm. They were definitely different. George Zucco had a quieter approach (or at least, a more consistently quiet one) that I thought was really good. A bit scary, but good. Scott has this outbursts from time to time that give him an unpredictable quality. Zucco had that too, but it was in a different way. You never knew when he was going to make an unexpected move that you could miss if you blinked. I definitely enjoyed him, and the dynamic he had with Holmes though, to be sure.

Nick: As I mentioned, Moriarty turns up three times in the Basil Rathbone series and he’s played by three different actors giving three very different interpretations of the character.It’ll be interesting to see how the other two measure up to a pretty glowing review you gave to Zucco’s portrayal. As an aside, George Zucco was known in the ‘30s and ‘40s as one of the “maddest doctors in Hollywood” as he often played mad scientists...often with relish. It makes perfect sense then that Zucco would be cast as the evil math professor. (One of my favorite Zucco performances can be found in 20th Century Fox’s Dr. Renault's Secret where he plays the eponymous doctor who manages to transform a gorilla into a man...with disastrous results. Another great mad doctor turn can be found in Universal’s The Mad Ghoul where Zucco plays college professor who maliciously turns one of his students into a zombie so he can woo the guy’s girlfriend. It’s a nasty film, but really well done. In case you couldn’t tell, I love vintage horror movies.)

Cat: That is...wow. I’m really not surprised. He’s definitely got the creepy element down, that’s for sure.

Nick: And, if we’re talking about Moriarty, I guess we ought to talk about his plan...stealing the crown jewels. I suppose you really should mention your wonderful Sherlock reference which I fully admit was brilliant and totally unexpected.

Cat: Come to expect those, I’m sure I won’t be able to limit myself to just one or two. (The reference in question was “Honey, you should see me in a crown”.) To be honest, I thought of another one, but I didn’t mention it. In that very good cab scene, when Moriarty said to Holmes, “I’m going to break you Holmes,”, all I could think about was the scene in Sherlock when Moriarty says to Sherlock, “I’ll burn the heart out of you.” Then I got a little sad inside. But anyway, to get back on track, Moriarty is after the (somewhat poorly guarded…) crown jewels. Except this is only half of a master plan and this is, naturally, the half of the plan Holmes isn’t too focused on.

Nick: I think it is kind of fair to say that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has a fairly convoluted plot (with two separate plotlines running parallel to each other the whole time). And, as Cat mentioned, Holmes is more interested in one of those plots than the other and I think now would be as good a time as any to discuss the detective, his distressed client, her “slimey” fiance, and, of course, good old Watson. So, first and foremost, we got to see more of Basil this time around. Any more thoughts you had
about him now that he had more screentime?

Cat: The only additional thought I had about him when we reached the end of the movie was that it just solidified how awesome and, well, kick-ass he is.

Nick: Oh, I agree. That’s the main reason that I like this movie more than The Hound of the Baskervilles. Out of necessity, Holmes has disappear from the plot but here, those constraints are lifted and he gets to do his detective thing throughout the whole movie and, we get to see a few more facets to Holmes’ character added. He indulges in a bit of housebreaking, he adopts a wonderful disguise and (most badass of all), he drives a hansom cab across London when he has discovered that Moriarty is going to get away with his evil scheme. That scene is - honestly - one of the coolest in Sherlockian cinema. (Between Holmes taking the reins and his banter with Moriarty in a hansom, this movie has some awesome scenes on hansom cabs.)

Cat: I’m not entirely sure I would agree with you on calling that a “wonderful” disguise, but otherwise, you’re totally right. In this movie, the audience actually gets to SEE Holmes doing things, as opposed to him just kinda showing back up in the middle of things, having somehow solved the whole thing off on his own. So that is a definite plus for this movie.

Nick: Well, let’s talk a bit about that disguise because I think it’s great. Holmes’ disguise as a Cockney music hall singer is a highlight for me. Sherlock Holmes has adopted a lot of disguises on film (Rathbone especially - he cited it as one of the reasons he liked the playing the character), and I still think that the song-and-dance routine which he puts on here is great and I think it works on two levels: 1) It shows the audience just how fantastic Holmes is as a character as he’s able to pass himself off as a genuine singer and dancer and 2) It shows off Rathbone’s skills as an actor. As I mentioned to Catharine, that scene was the only time that Rathbone sang and danced in a movie and, knowing that that scene is something of an isolated incident, makes it a little more special. (Or maybe I just like Basil Rathbone too much which is a distinct possibility.)

Cat: That miiiight have something to do with it, Nick. We neglected to mention during our Hound reactions, but when Holmes reveals himself to Watson after being in another disguise, I may or may not have overreacted slightly. (Okay, I entirely overreacted. Nick was extremely amused.) So when this guy comes out, looking like Bert from Mary Poppins, I had my suspicions that this was another disguise, but didn’t want to think too much of it. When it was revealed that it was another disguise, I kicked myself for doubting my instincts. So that may be affecting my judgement of this particular disguise, but at the same time, I never thought I’d be able to say that I have seen Basil Rathbone, as Sherlock Holmes, singing and dancing while looking like Bert the Chimney Sweep.

Nick: Well, when the movies moved to Universal the disguises became a little less integral to the plot and a little easier to see through the charade. (Not that I doubt your ability to see past a thick mustache or beard on Basil.) Well onto the good doctor - Nigel Bruce. You were, of course, not a member of the Nigel Bruce fanclub after Hound (though you admitted to finding him humorous in a stupid kind of way). Was your opinion of Bruce’s good doctor changed at all?

Holmes and Watson...on the case

Cat: Not really, to be entirely honest. But I think that I’ve sort of resigned myself  to him at this point. There were a few moments in this film where, like with Hound, I could appreciate the stupid comic relief! For example, when Watson has to lie in the street for the sake of crime scene reconstruction/analysis and he’s having a conversation with this poor passerby who hasn’t a clue what’s going on, I was genuinely amused! However, I think my, “Murder me like one of your French girls, Sherlock,” comment significantly enhanced the scene.

Nick: Oh...yes...of course it did. (The less said about Titanic in any conversation the better for me.) This movie also showcased a pretty sassy Watson too and I loved the implications that there’s some rivalry between Watson and Billy the pageboy. The scene where Billy’s going on-and-on about chinchillas and Holmes asks Watson if he heard, Bruce’s deadpan response of “My hearing is in no way impaired” is one of my favorite parts of this film.

Cat: I also enjoyed Dr. John H. “Sassypants” Watson.

Nick: I honestly think that this should be a new goal for us: To come up with as many nicknames for the good doctor as possible. That’s two we’ve come up now.

Cat: That won’t exactly be a hard goal to meet, but I am more than on board with that idea. We should make a list at the very end that showcases at least the best ones.

Nick: I agree with that wholeheartedly. Now, we have skirted around a couple of issues here which are very important in any discussion of this film. The main plotline concerns a young woman, Ann Brandon (Ida Lupino) who comes to Holmes fearing for the life of her brother and later for herself. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of Lupino because, honestly, I think she is one of the best (sadly overlooked) actresses of her time. Her role in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was one of her earlier ones but, within a couple of years she was starring alongside movie stars the likes of Humphrey Bogart. (She’s brilliant in a movie called They Drive By Night where she kills her husband and has a hysterical breakdown in court and in a movie called High Sierra - also with Bogart - she plays the femme fatale, but with a bit more substance than you usually find in the traditional gangster movie female.)

Rathbone and Lupino

Cat: I liked her well enough! I think it was a bit more interesting to watch her as Ann than Wendy Barrie as Beryl in Hound because she was almost always in this state of anxiety, and that appealed to my personal tastes a bit more because it felt like she was actually doing something. The one scene I liked her in the most, I think, was the scene where she hears the flute music floating in through her window after her brother bites the dust (somewhat literally, actually). I thought this was a cool element to the movie in general, this flute player, because he plays the same tune over and over, but you forget that’s not just background music. That’s music actually being played by a character. It was really creepy and the scene where he’s playing it under her window was especially so because you don’t really realize he’s there (or, rather, that someone’s there) until you see this concerned look cross Ann’s face and she begins slowly walking to the window. It was really cool and Lupino really took the time to build up the tension in the scene as she approached the window, which I really liked. Although, as a footnote on Lupino’s performance...let’s say that she’s not the best screamer I’ve ever heard and leave it at that.

Nick: No one, I think, ever called Ida Lupino one of the “scream queens” of Old Hollywood so I cannot entirely blame her on that front. But, she really elevated that scene and makes it something of a set-piece in this movie. And, I love that music (Holmes calls it an ancient Incan funeral durge) because it permeates the entire film. And, it is just a strange little calling card for the murderer and, in that way, it feels very Canonical. The original stories are full of murderers leaving their calling cards behind them and the South American murderer who intimidates his victims with this music before strangling them with a pair of bolas feels like something out of Doyle. As an aside, Cat almost got the method of murder right saying that the killer used a lasso. I really underestimated her deductive abilities when this experiment began. I’m sure if you were afforded a few clients when you started your detective agency you would have done quite well.

Cat: Aw, shucks, Nick, you’re going to make me blush. Though I will say this, people are somewhat consistently surprised when they realize that I’m a somewhat decent observer, so you are not the first.

Nick: It’ll be my goal then to stump you. When we get to some of the genuine adaptations, hopefully some of Doyle’s works will test your abilities of observation and deduction.

It’s time for final thoughts

Nick: Well, I went first last time when I shared my thoughts on Hound so I think it’s only fair that Cat gives her formal opinion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes first.

Cat: Why thank you, Nick. I really liked this movie a lot. I think the combination of more Basil Rathbone (honestly, I could watch that man do nothing but talk, in character, for an hour and half and I’d be content), the addition of Moriarty, and this movie’s atmosphere were what really did it for me. It’s not that Hound didn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes movie, but this one definitely felt more so like one, with Holmes himself doing more than in Hound. It was fun all around. Basil Rathbone, Professor James Moriarty, and killer South American flute players, what more could you want out of a Sherlock Holmes movie? Nick, your thoughts?

Nick: Before we started this movie, I told Cat that I didn’t want to bias her judgment but this was probably my favorite Sherlock Holmes film of the 1930s and, I still stand by that sentiment. As we noted above, Basil Rathbone is given more to do this time around and that really elevates this movie in my opinion. He really gets to be the central figure and he never let’s you forget the fact. Throughout these
reactions, I have been noting my favorite parts (or set pieces) from this film and I think that’s why this movie works so well. The plot may be full of holes but it links together some fine set pieces (Holmes’ tense cab ride with Moriarty; the murder and subsequent investigation of Ann Brandon’s brother; the garden party with Holmes’ song-and-dance routine; and the final confrontation at the Tower of London) in a really entertaining way. Hound may be the more atmospheric more respected bit of cinema but if I’m looking for a Sherlock Holmes movie to sit down and enjoy, I think The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes fits the bill admirably.

One of Nick's favorite pictures of Basil 

Cat: Well said (and I’m glad you mentioned the Tower of London scene, because I forgot to, and it was amazing). Now, the ultimate question: How many deerstalkers would you award The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Nick?

Nick: Despite the plot holes (and I can blame no one other than 20th Century Fox for that), this movie is excellent. It’s just so much fun and it’s certainly in my Top 10 Sherlock Holmes movies. I don’t hesitate in giving it 4 and a-half deerstalkers out of 5. And you, Catharine?

Cat: I too give this a 4.5 out of 5! It was just really enjoyable all around, and I definitely see why it’s one of your Top 10.

Nick: I will now be really curious to see what you make of the rest of the Rathbone/Bruce series. As I mentioned, the series moved to Universal Studios and...well...almost everything changed.

Nick's Rating

Catharine's Rating

Next Time: Sherlock Holmes returns to fight his deadliest nemesis yet. No, not Professor Moriarty. Not Colonel Sebastian Moran. Not even Charles Augustus Milverton or Baron Greuner. He’s back to fight the Nazis! (Cue the patriotic music!)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Experiment #1 - "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1939)

In which Nick gives a history lesson. Catharine meets the original Basil of Baker Street and comes face-to-face with Nigel Bruce. Nick tries to convince her to stop calling the Hound “a puppy.” It doesn’t work.


Nick: So, let’s start with just a little bit of background. In 1893 Arthur Conan Doyle - having grown tired of Sherlock Holmes - decided to kill him off in the short story “The Final Problem” which introduced Professor Moriarty. The public outcry was incredible! Men started wearing black armbands in mourning and it’s estimated that 20,000 people canceled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine. In one novel I read, The Sherlockian (written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore) - which is partially set in the aftermath of the story’s publication - a woman actually attacks Doyle in the street with her purse! Well, for seven years Doyle stayed away from Holmes with a forty-foot pole until he started working on an idea for a horror novel about a demonic ghostly hound roaming the moors of Dartmoor in Devonshire. As he wrote this story though, he came to discover that he needed a central character to tie the whole story together and, eventually found no choice but to put Holmes in the story and set it four years before the detective’s deadly encounter with the Napoleon of Crime.

From there, discussion evolves into a history of Sherlock Holmes on film and the one-and-only Basil Rathbone.

Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes

Nick: You may be thinking why we’re starting where we are. Sherlock Holmes did indeed have a long and distinguished career on the silent screen (played 44 times by actor Ellie Norwood whose portrayal was approved by Doyle) including a turn by the great John Barrymore. The first sound Holmes movie was made in 1929 and was called The Return of Sherlock Holmes and starred Clive Brook as Holmes. However, probably the best Sherlock Holmes actor of the early ‘30s was Arthur Wontner who, despite being in his mid-50s when he played the part, gave an excellent performance. However, all of Wontner’s films have fallen into the public domain meaning that everyone can get their hands on those movies and every copy out there has both horrible sound and picture quality. The best-quality copy of one of his films, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (one of the few adaptations of the novel The Valley of Fear) that I have found has the picture and sound out-of-sync for at least ten minutes!
The other interesting thing about all of the Sherlock Holmes movies made before 1939 is that they were all set in the (then modern) 1930s to cut costs. So when 20th Century Fox decided to adapt The Hound of the Baskervilles and set it in the proper Victorian era, they were really doing something quite different. To play the great detective was Basil Rathbone who was a distinguished Shakespearean actor, but who was best known for playing villains. He had played Sir Guy in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood and had played a fantastic, over-the-top French pirate in Captain Blood (1935). The studio was really casting him against type when they persuaded Rathbone to take up the deerstalker and pipe and play the world’s greatest detective.

With that long-winded preamble at an end, it is time to actually start the film.

Vital Statistics:
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Major motion picture
Starring: Richard Greene (Henry Baskerville), Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Wendy Barrie (Beryl Stapleton), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson)

80 minutes, black-and-white


Nick: So Catharine, do you think that you’ve just witnessed greatness? (Way to start with a tough question.)

Cat: How is that close to tough? YES. It was really, really, reeeeaaally good. (I'd like to note that this marks a milestone for me: outside of RDJ and the Sherlock Special, this was my first  experience with Sherlock Holmes in his original time period.)

Nick: Well, I’m certainly glad that you enjoyed it. I’d have felt bad if the first time out you weren’t overly fond of the film. So, as the experimenter I suppose I am inclined to ask my test subject a few questions. So, let’s tackle a few topics. First and foremost, what did you think of Basil Rathbone?

Basil Rathbone - Personification of awesome

Cat: I think he was, to be entirely honest, pretty awesome. I wasn’t too pleased that he wasn’t in the movie much? That felt a bit unfair—I mean, you can’t give us greatness and not spoil us with him being on the screen every other minute. That’s just not cool.

Nick: That is, unfortunately, a complaint that you’d have to file with Arthur Conan Doyle as Holmes isn’t present for much of the story. (I think I read somewhere that Holmes is only in the story for about ⅓ of its total length.) He really does take a backseat to Watson and the other characters and I do have a bit of a theory why he’s gone for so long. Would you like to hear?

Cat: Of course I would. Theorize away.

Nick: Well, Holmes is a rational, logical guy. In one story, “The Sussex Vampire,” he is quoted as saying “The world is big enough...no ghosts need apply.” So, if Holmes had been present in the entire story the reader/viewer would be less inclined to believe that an actual demonic, ghostly hound is killing off the Baskervilles. Through Watson we are sort of led down this path of uncertainty: Could the hound be real? We don’t quite know until Holmes returns and says “Hey, there’s a person behind all of this. I have the proof.”

Cat: An interesting, and very logical, theory you’ve got there, Nick. Because I agree, while Sherlock Holmes does act as whatever “central element” that was apparently missing in other drafts, if he was there the whole time, it would sort of mess with the audience’s reaction to supernatural aspect of the story. Interestingly enough (from my little prior knowledge on what “makes” a Sherlock Holmes story), it still definitely feels like a Sherlock Holmes story the entire way through. He’s just...ya know...not really there.

Nick: That’s true and, when we get around to some later adaptations (the Jeremy Brett series or even Sherlock - or the original stories for that matter), it’s neat to see how seamlessly the story fits into the rest of a series’ established Canon. Well, now that we’ve discussed Basil a little bit, I suppose we’ve got to tackle the “elephant in the room” - Nigel Bruce.

Catharine is disappointed

Cat: Yeah, about him...I suppose I should start off with the blunt truth and then explain myself a bit: I’m not the hugest fan of him as Watson. Or, rather, his characterization of Watson. I completely recognize that the “bumbling, overgrown child” take on Watson’s character is not uncommon in the overall world of Sherlock Holmes adaptations—but I’ve been entirely spoiled by Martin Freeman and Jude Law (which I do recognize). I’m used to the totally badass John Watson who is just as capable as Holmes, though in different ways, and is just overall awesome. Here, it felt like Watson constantly looked, sounded, and acted like someone who was just startled awake from a nap and was trying to act like he hadn’t been sleeping. But, I have kinda skipped through the “rough drafts” that had to be gone through first to get to the Cool Watson. However, that doesn’t mean that most of my commentary during the movie wasn’t criticizing Watson’s...shall we say, ineptitude? (I’m determined to make “No s**t, Watson” a popular phrase because BOY, did I use it a couple of times, all in the course of one movie!) So I can totally respect Nigel Bruce’s performance and all, and he and Basil Rathbone do have good on-screen chemistry that makes both their relationship and Watson’s bumbling nature work just fine, but it isn’t exactly my cup of tea. (Though he did amuse me as much as irk me.)

Nick: Well, let me put a few things into perspective for you: Prior to Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson, the character was pretty forgettable. Most of the time, Watson was sidelined by other characters and had very little screentime. There’s one movie from the early ‘30s where Watson has less scenes than Billy the pageboy who Holmes actually takes to the scene of a crime! So, for all his bluster and bumbling, Bruce’s Watson did at least get something to do in the Rathbone movies. And, believe me, his comedy will grow on you. I mean, we did pause the movie to revel in the scene in which Watson interrupts Sir Henry and Beryl kissing out on the moor and, after eyeing the situation, asks them if they’d mind “pausing for a moment.” Absolutely incredible!

Cat: Ah yes, Dr. John  H. Watson: professional cockblocker. By the way, quick side note that bugged me the entire time: WHAT KIND OF A NAME IS BERYL?? It’s a mix of Berry and Sheryl. That’s not a real name. It’s just not. It’s like...some kind of a weird fruit pun. Anyway...I do admit, he got some laughs out of me too...though they were frequently at his expense and not always during parts where I was supposed to be laughing...but still!

Nick: According to a website called nameberry, Beryl is Greek in origin and means “sea-green jewel.” Also, according to the site, it’s a “dated British favorite which never caught on in [the United States] where Jade remains the green gem of choice.”

Cat: I formally apologize to all women named Beryl and all the Greek/British people in general.

Nick: As for the rest of the cast, we’ve got Richard Greene as Sir Henry Baskerville and Wendy Barrie as Beryl Stapleton. What’d you think of the film’s two lovebirds?

Thanks to Cat, Nick now knows the origin of the name "Beryl"

Cat: If you can call them that...I mean. They barely met and then they’re kissing and then they’re engaged. Pretty quick relationship if you ask me… However, I did greatly enjoy Sir Henry's character. He acts as the “supernatural disbeliever” in the movie, but (thankfully) never gets annoying with his lack of belief in the Hound/his family’s curse. He seemed like a nice enough guy and I was very glad that he was paired up with Watson for most of the movie. To be honest, if it was just Watson doing a lot of solo investigating without Sir Henry tagging along most of the way, I might have been a bit sad. Beryl (name aside) was a bit forgettable, in my opinion. She was just sort of there, filling in the typical “nice romantic leading lady” role. No disrespect to the actress though because she did give a solid performance in that role and, as Nick told me when the credits were rolling, she is related to Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie and any pal of J. M. is a pal of mine. (Yes, I’ve been a Peter Pan nerd since I was about 5. It should be expected that that made me happy.)

Nick: Yes, Wendy was J.M. Barrie’s goddaughter and, though her film career wasn’t what you’d call extensive, it appears as though she did do a good deal of TV work in the ‘50s. Now, seeing as Wendy Barrie played the good Stapleton sibling, we need to discuss the bad one - Jack Stapleton (Morton Lowry) who, I might add, was not in Cat’s good graces as soon as she saw that he collected butterflies. I was remaining pretty tight-lipped about plot details so I figured that the game was up at that point and that she had out Sherlocked Sherlock. I don’t think she actually figured it out until a bit later though. Any singular thoughts?

Cat: Yes, I would like to make it known to the Internet and the world that I TOTALLY CALLED IT! (This is a big deal for me, I’m typically way off base with these things.) To tell the truth, the butterflies were just icing on the cake for me. It took a little while, but I got a somewhat obnoxious vibe off of him once he started talking to Sir Henry and Watson on the moors. He was just too amiable and seemed to be a bit of a stuck-up know-it-all.

Nick: The last few supporting characters can be dealt with fairly quickly. First off is Dr. Mortimer (Lionel Atwill). Despite the fact that Mortimer is, in the book, a nerdy, young doctor, he was made a full-on suspect who “dabbles in the occult” and his married to a medium. Though it was a total invention of the screenwriter, I am actually quite fond of the seance scene (definitely, I think a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle’s actual obsession with spiritualism late in his life), and it’s cool to see how a later adaptation of Hound took that scene and topped it with a brilliant, terrifying payoff. There are also the butlers - the Barrymans. There names are Barrymore in the book but it’s been speculated that the names were changed in the movie as to avoid confusion with the famous Barrymore acting family. John Carradine, who plays Barryman with a perpetual leer, is fantastic. He’s the reddest of red herrings.

Cat: Which I did fall for, admittedly. The guy was a monotone, suspicious creep! Also, I would like to mention that Nick and I had a very good laugh over how casually the fact that Dr. Mortimer “dabbles in the occult” was tossed out.

Nick: Very true. He might as well have said, “That’s interesting, Sir Henry...by the way my wife talks to dead people.” Not so subtle.

Cat: No, not so much.

Nick: Now, you mentioned something which I think is quite worth pointing out. You were drawn to Holmes’s dialogue concerning the imagination: “That’s where crimes are conceived and where they’re solved. In the imagination...That’s why so many murders remain unsolved, Watson. People will stick to facts, even if they prove nothing. Now, if we go beyond facts, use our imagination - as the criminal does - imagine what might happen, act on it, as I’ve been trying to do in this case, we usually find ourselves justified.” What made you so interested in those particular lines?

Cat: Oh my god, I loved those lines so much. I’m going to sound like a total geek here, but during that moment in the movie, I was just totally drawn into Holmes’s character and what was going on in the story and everything. I really liked it for one main reason: I felt it was very true to the character. It feels like the people who aren’t super well-versed in Holmes tend to view him as the almost irritatingly smart crime solving machine who knows literally everything and can do literally anything, when that’s not true. While pure logic and reasons and facts are important to how he solves crimes, he’s not literally a robot who operates on that alone. That’s one of the reasons why he frequently (if not always) is better at solving crimes than Scotland Yard, he can see the out of the box solutions. And, going off of that, I like how he places the solving and the creation of crimes in the same mental category. I’m sure I’ll go into this loads of times later (and will probably get annoyingly meta), but I feel like that idea is also somewhat reminiscent of the duality between Holmes and Moriarty—which is a topic/plot point/theme that I think is really, really, really cool. Saving all my thoughts on that for now, but it was a cool and unexpected moment where you got to almost see and understand what goes on in Sherlock’s head.

Nick: Very true and very interesting ideas about Holmes and Moriarty (which you may get to explore more in the very near future). So, I think our final point of discussion: the Hound. I for one have never really been a dog person so I have always thought that the prospect of Sir Henry Baskerville getting mauled by a dog to be a horrifying thought. And, it’s especially creepy in this movie. The Hound is savage. It’s big, and bad, and scary and it’s always snarling as it attacks Henry. And, surprisingly, Sir Henry walks away with some pretty extensive damage done to his person. (Granted, later versions will make his injuries even more unpleasant, but for 1939 Richard Greene’s bloodied head was something of a sight.)

That is not a puppy

Cat: Aaaand despite that all, just about every time this horrifying creature was on screen, all I could do was say “Puppy!!!!”. (Much to Nick’s displeasure.) To be fair, I think this is because I could only ever see it as a dog. Unlike if it were some CGI monstrosity...it only ever felt and looked like a puppy snarling on command, and I was very sad when Sherlock shot the poor thing and the audience got to see where he had been kept the whole time. However, all the times the Hound was around, but not actually on screen, I loved that! The atmosphere that created was awesome! So, morbid as it sounds, I actually look forward to the more horrific, violent, and terrifying versions. I want to be scared by this thing! But for now, I suppose I’ll just have to be content with the Evil Puppy and wait and see.

It’s time for final thoughts.

Nick: I have always been pretty partial to this film. It’s not my favorite version of Hound, but it is one of the few which really nails the atmosphere. The amount of fog which is used extensively in this movie is incredible and, with a distinct lack of music, there’s this uncomfortable, foreboding feeling which permeates the film. Of course, Basil Rathbone is brilliant giving, I think, one of his best performance as the detective. Down the road it was obvious that he’d lost interest in the character but in this movie everything was still fresh and new and exciting. Yeah, Nigel Bruce is nothing like his Canonical counterpart but he is really entertaining and, after a while, you really do get accustomed to his brand of humor. The rest of the cast really compliment the stars and the production values - oh, the production values are gorgeous! Victorian London is stunningly realized on film and the moor - an indoor set - is spectacular. Until the 2000s, I think it’s safe to say that this version is the most rich-looking version of Hound. It may not be perfect - the ending feels really rushed to me and Holmes doesn’t get a chance to explain everything away. What’s more, the film’s streamlining of the novel’s plot does leave some plot holes, but for the most part, the whole thing is really, really well done. And what do you think Catharine?

Cat: This was definitely a fun introduction to the classic Sherlock Holmes for me. As much as I poked fun at it (and boy did I—we didn’t even go into the multitude of snide remarks I made in response to something a character said), I did really enjoy the film. Basil Rathbone was utterly amazing and I felt that he more than did the part justice. Though I mercilessly teased his bumbling nature, Nigel Bruce wasn’t even that bad either. He was enjoyably frustrating. This was also my first introduction with the actual story for Hound (because the Sherlock version is hardly in-line with the original story), and I enjoyed that too. I liked the ghost story quality of the whole thing; it never felt overdone or implausible. It was almost like Scooby Doo: yes, we’re pretty sure it’s not actually some supernatural being, but SOMETHING’S behind all this, though we have no idea what/who. I think that the movie managed to capture that essence really well, especially in the creepy atmosphere, which, like Nick said, was really stellar. (Though I do wonder how many fog machines were used in this production?) Overall, this was just fun. Which sounds odd, as this was supposed to be a frightening and horrific case and not some kind of a good-old-fashioned romp, but I found it fun because it just felt very Sherlock Holmes-y in nature. Admittedly, there were some plot holes (and they really felt more like plot omissions than gaping holes) or odd character moments that left me scratching my head, but they didn’t take away from the overall experience. And, most importantly, Nick has officially gotten me hooked on the drug that is Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. (It’s a blessing and a curse.)

Nick: You don’t know how glad I am to hear that. Now, we have a special rating system on this blog - five possible deerstalker hats. How many deerstalkers do you give The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Cat: I give it a solid four out of five deerstalkers. Not perfect, but definitely awesome and deserving of rewatches for a good handful of elements that are really amazing. How many deerstalkers from you, Nick? What’s the judge’s ruling?

Nick: I too give this movie four out of five deerstalker hats. It’s a well-done movie and a great adaptation of the book. To paraphrase Alan Barnes, author of the invaluable book Sherlock Holmes on Screen, this film is one of the few Sherlock Holmes movies which can truly stand on its own alongside the genuine classic films of the era.

Nick's Rating

Catharine's Rating

Next Time: Holmes matches wits with the Napoleon of Crime and Cat wonders how a man can make flowers so terrifying.