Watching 1939: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Release date:  March 24, 1939

Cast:  Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, Barlowe Borland, Barlowe Borland, Morton Lowry, Ralph Forbes, E. E. Clive, Mary Gordon, Eily Malyon

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Director:  Sidney Lanfield

Plot:
Legend has it that most heirs of the Baskerville estate die as a result of a demon hound. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the moor potentially due to a hound, his friend Dr. Mortimer (Atwill) seeks out the help of Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) to get to the bottom of Sir Charles’s death. Holmes also is protecting Sir Charles’s nephew, Sir Henry Baskerville (Greene), who is arriving from Canada to claim the estate and may be in danger.

1939 Notes:
• This was the first film that Basil Rathbone starred in as Sherlock Holmes. He starred as Holmes twice in 1939 with “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” following this film. Basil Rathbone was in six films released in 1939
• Nigel Bruce starred in three films in 1939; two of them were Sherlock Holmes films and the third was “The Rains Came.”
• Lionel Atwill co-starred in nine films in 1939.
• John Carradine was in eight films released in 1939.

Basil Rathbone, Morton Lowry and Richard Greene in “The Hound of Baskerville”

Other trivia: 
• One of 14 Sherlock Holmes movies made with Basil Rathbone from 1939 to 1946.
• Anita Louise was originally set to star in the film, according to a Dec. 4, 1938 article. A Jan. 17, 1939, article said Louise was replaced by Wendy Barrie. Darryl F. Zanuck said he didn’t want Louise and Richard Greene co-starring twice, the other in “The Little Princess” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Actor Basil Rathbone is known for a few things: his excellent sword fighting, playing an excellent villain, and his role of Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

The latter fits in today’s review. While not the top film of 1939, “The Hound of Baskerville” is an important footnote of the year. This film Rathbone’s debut in a role he is known for: the fictional English detective, Sherlock Holmes. It is also the first time we see his sidekick, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

In total, Rathbone and Bruce reprised their roles 14 times as Holmes and Watson from 1939 to 1946. I would say that makes them a screen team, if you ask me.

“The Hound of Baskerville” is an intriguing mystery and also lots of fun. We get to see a lighter side of Rathbone, when he dresses in an elderly disguise to sneak across the moors.

Bruce’s Watson is a little bumbling, but does generally help out his friend Holmes.

Outside of Rathbone and Bruce, Richard Greene is also our hero in this film. Greene plays the young heir to the Baskerville estate who is unknowingly in danger. Greene, who gained stardom in 1938, was still a rising star at 20th Century Fox in 1939 and is a pleasant leading man.

The film also includes a host of other familiar character actors, including Lionel Atwill as a doctor and John Carradine as a butler.

I do feel sad for the hound in the movie, but that’s just my dog lover coming out. The pup isn’t the true villain here.

I rented this movie from DVD Netflix to revisit and had a great time doing so. It’s a brief watch, at 80 minutes, and the mystery is wrapped up neatly for the viewer. Though I had my suspicions, I wouldn’t say that the “who-done-it” is too easy to figure out.

“The Hound of Baskerville” and all of the other Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone are great fun. I would argue that he provided one of the best characterizations of the detective.

Disclaimer: I subscribe to DVD Netflix and earn rewards from DVD Nation.

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