Having reinvented British horror in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer Films swiftly had house director Terence Fisher and new-minted stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee knock out versions of Dracula, The Mummy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spookiest Sherlock Holmes tale.
Like other early Hammer horrors, Hound is a splendidly full-blooded period melodrama, richly-produced (it was the first Holmes movie in colour), gorgeously-costumed and incisively acted by a top-flight British cast. Peter Cushing’s brisk, twinkling Holmes (less fussy than in his later television takes on the role) and Andre Morell’s non-befuddled, resourceful Watson broke from the readings of the roles Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce had established twenty years earlier, opening the way for later revisions and reimaginings of the great detective and his sidekick.
Lee would seem to be stuck with the stooge role as the imperilled Sir Henry, paralysed with fear as a tarantula crawls up his arm, but actually gets more screen time and more emotional range than in his higher-profile monster roles. Hammer litter the supporting cast with wonderful British eccentrics like Miles Malleson as a dotty Bishop, John le Mesurier as the sinister butler of Baskerville Hall and Francis de Wolfe as a glowering suspect, while finding room for the studio’s traditional smouldering continental cleavage in the person of barefoot Dartmoor girl Marla Landi.
Purists might object to the script’s deviation from the novel – Hammer even dare to change the identity of the ultimate villain – but Hound has been done so many times that this version has an intriguing capacity to surprise.