The Hound of the Baskervilles
There are many tragedies in the history of cinema, films that didn’t get made that might have been, that sort of thing, but then there are movies that should have been made but never were for reasons passing understanding. Like, why on earth didn’t Hammer churn out a whole load of Sherlock Holmes movies after The Hound of the Baskervilles?
First up, what makes Sherlock Holmes stories so good is what Hammer does best. It’s not the mysteries, which are never all that great, it’s the atmosphere of Victorian London. It’s the fog, the sooty buildings, the ships in the docks, and the feeling that this grimy, murderous, and cutthroat city is the headquarters of the world. Well, Hammer knows how to bring that world to life. It knows how to film knocking on a door in the middle of the night, it knows how to drape menace and fear over every street and doorway, it knows how to create a blood-curdling scream, it knows how to get people to really wear top hats.
Secondly, Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes! Peter bloody Cushing! He is a bloody brilliant Holmes. The BBC knew it, that’s why they made a whole load of episodes with him as Holmes, and they’re not bad, except they had no money and no time. But Hammer got him at his best and he does a cracking job not just because he looks like Holmes should look, but also because he has the feverish enthusiasm of Van Helsing and the cold calculation of Frankenstein all wrapped up in one iconic character.
Lastly, you already have Holmes defeating a hound from hell, so why wouldn’t you throw him up against every monster you can think of? All you have to do is stick the word ‘versus’ after ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and after it, well, put whatever you can bloody think of! Who wouldn’t want to see Sherlock Holmes versus The Wolfman, or Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula? All your horror films are sort of taking place at this time anyway, and if the answer to some of Holmes’ mysteries can be ‘a homicidal pigmy monster done it’, then I don’t see why some of Hammer’s greatest monsters can’t be the answer too. I mean, what’s the harm in asking the age old question ‘whodunnit’ and have Hammer reply ‘Dracula!’ I know I would have thrown money at them if they’d done that. I dunno, maybe it’s just me.
It’s not like The Hound of the Baskervilles is a perfect movie or anything, in fact the things that let it down would be easily solved by having it set in London and have more Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles is actually pretty unique for not having much Holmes in it, although wisely Hammer actually cut down the non-Holmes bits, but they do suffer from having to film outdoors at night which is a lot harder to do than in a city so you have people getting lost on the moors when it’s pretty clearly broad daylight. It’s a bloody tricky thing to film altogether, because it’s not a hound from hell in the story, it’s just a big painted dog. And sooner or later everybody has to tremble on-screen from what is pretty obviously just a dog, trying really hard and ultimately failing, to be something other than just a dog. But that’s the story’s fault, not Hammer’s. They got all the important bits right. They have a great Holmes, Andre Morell is an excellent Watson and is another Hammer leading man so you get more of a puzzled gravitas, which is infinitely preferable to the moustache blowing antics of the ‘I say!’ sort of Watson that can be pretty irritating. In fact a lot of Hammer’s instincts to change the story work out pretty well. Stapleton’s sister is now his daughter and instead of being a meek, forced accomplice, now she’s a tempestuous hell-cat more thirsty for revenge for her family than her father is. And the mine collapsing on Holmes works too because Holmes should be in peril every now and then, it shouldn’t always be pipes and "I see you’ve just returned from the Indies". Even the sacrificial dagger and the booby trapped tarantula boot are the sort of pleasingly ridiculous touches that serve to keep Holmes busy and on his toes.
I just don’t get why they stopped! They made a hundred and thirty seven Dracula movies, and four hundred and twenty one Frankenstein movies, but only one Sherlock Holmes movie? When they had one of the all-time greatest Sherlock Holmes to call on, two warehouses full of Victorian London sets, and enough imagination to muck about with the source material to make it more of a Hammer film? Just throw him up against the classics! Who wouldn’t want to see Cushing’s Holmes go up against whatever devilry and goblinry the Hammer lads could think of?
It’s a great shame, that’s for sure. I suppose sometimes there are just wasted opportunities and we’ll have to learn to live with that. It just makes you doubly determined to never waste an opportunity yourself. Speaking of which…