Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Die Hund von Baskerville (The Hound of the Baskervilles) (1936)

My notes on Die Hund von Baskerville (The Hound of the Baskervilles) (1936)

A German adaptation of the Conan Doyle novel – which had already inspired a whole series of German silent films and a 1929 feature. Given that it’s the most over-adapted work in the canon, there’s a tendency to rate Baskervilles movies by minute variations on the plot rather than anything else. It seems possible that the Hound itself is as big in Germany as Sherlock Holmes – there are Holmes-free Hund pictures, like Die Hund von Blackwood Castle – which might explain why a full third of this film unreels before Holmes and Watson are called into the case.

Conan Doyle’s flashback structure is reordered, so we open with a family chronicle and an unfamiliar take on the legend: instead of being a nasty cavalier, Sir Hugo (Artur Malkowsky) is a Tudor-era bastard baron and his crime isn’t hunting down a servant girl but skewering his wife (Hanna Waag) and her lover, whereupon her dog kills him. After that, we meet all the suspects – Dr Mortimer (Ernst Rotmund), butterfly-collecting Stapleton (Eric Ponto), butler Barrymore (Fritz Rasp, who had been Stapleton in 1929), unattached female Beryl Vandeleur (Alice Brandt) – and the first victim, Sir Charles (Friedrich Kaysser), in a gloomy, if cramped Baskerville Hall.

Then, we still have to go through a convict’s escape from Dartmoor Prison, Sir Charles’s death, the arrival of the heir Sir Henry (Peter Voss), his stolen boots and a seemingly-threatening letter before Dr Mortimer and Sir Henry pitch up at Baker Street. A hawklike Holmes (Bruno Guttner) and a moustacheless Watson (Fritz Odemar) conduct business in what seems like a busy melee, with Mrs Hudson (Gertrud Wolle) and a line-hogging pageboy nipping in and out, contributing bits of plot explanation and keeping everyone on the move.

This Holmes is very German – clipped and efficient and a bit high-handed, with a Watson who seems to be a dunderhead but isn’t much in the way of comic relief. Then, it’s off to Dartmoor for Watson, with Holmes covertly following to hide in a hole and spy as the familiar plot rapidly unfolds. The process of minimising the detective’s involvement in the case is carried through to the finale, in which Holmes and Watson stay safe and warm at the hall while Barrymore the butler (!) has the life-or-death struggle with the unmasked villain which ends with the baddie sucked into Grimpen Mire. As is often the case, the hound itself isn’t that impressive – even in the ‘legend’, it’s just a big angry dog rather than a supernatural creature, and the mutt got out to terrorise the Baskervilles seems like a friendly pet without even an attempt at spook make-up. Directed by Carl Lamac.


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