Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sherlock Sunday:
Peter Cushing as Holmes, 2.0

In 1957, Peter Cushing starred as Sherlock Holmes in the first color film featuring the character. It was an adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" from Hammer Films, and it was sexed up as one would expect a Hammer film to be.

Ten years later, Cushing was tapped to play Holmes again, taking over the part from Douglas Wilmer in the BBC-produced television series "Sherlock Holmes." The third and fourth episodes he appeared in were an adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," bringing him face-to-face with the ghostly creature of the moores for a second time.

Although believed lost for nearly 20 years, a few episodes have been rediscovered in BBC archives and brought to Region 1 DVDs by American cable network A&E.

These surviving episodes are presented on three DVDs, along with a quirkly Holmes documentary produced by A&E. Peter Cushing once again makes a fine Holmes and these few surviving episodes show that his portrayal of the character got better and better as the show unfolds. He's great in the early shows, but in the last two episodes (on Disc Three of the set, adaptations of "The Sign of Four" and "The Blue Carbuncle") he is absolutely spectacular.

I'm going to be posting reviews in the order the episodes appear in the set.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 (1968)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Nigel Stock and Gary Raymond
Director: Graham Evens
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Sherlock Holmes (Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Stock) are called upon to solve the mystery of a spectral hound that seems to be visiting very real death upon the Baskerville family. Will they solve the mystery before Sir Henry Baskerville (Raymond) joins his forebearers in the most gruesome of fashions?

Although "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is the famous and most-often adapted Sherlock Holmes story, it seems odd choice to lead with in this DVD collection, as the earliest chronological episode included in the set is "A Study in Scarlet" and Cushing/Holmes is absent for the second half of the first episode and about 2/3rds to second part. Most consumers of this set will almost certainly be buying it for Cushing, and even if they weren't, his absense is felt. While Nigel Stock and the rest of the cast are talented and give admirable peformances, they don't have Cushing's presence.

As an adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," it's as faithful as can be expected and features production values on par with similar BBC productions from the 1960s. It is even better in many areas, as there are no pathetic attempts at day-for-night shots and most of the sets are well-constructed. On the downside, though, there seems to be a timidity against showing violence that goes beyond even typical television avoidance. For example, when Watson tustles with an escaped convict on the moor, all we get to see is the convict preparing to strike and then Watson stumbling backwards the next scene. The blow happened somewhere during the reversal of angles, but we didn't get to see any action. There are two or three instances like that in the film. The hound is also dissapointing. We don't really get to see anything as far as what it looks like.

However, despite not showing us the hound (and barely showing us the characters' reactions to it), the BBC director and editors did get the ending exactly right. It is suspenseful, with Holmes and Watson rushing through the fog along a nearly invisible path through deadly quicksand pits, the hound howling somewhere nearby, and Henry Baskerville walking blindly toward doom.

While the 1950s Hammer adaptation is more exciting and colorful, this version is more in keeping with Doyle's original story. I prefer the Hammer version, but this one is also well done, and Cushing is, once again, absolutely magnificent as Sherlock Holmes.

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