THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) — Twilight Time Blu-ray Review with DVD Comparisons

Release Details

Hammer Films’ The Hound of The Baskervilles is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in a Limited Edition of 3,000 units.

This article contains several comparisons which contrast the older MGM DVD transfer (“before”, left) with the new Twilight Time Blu-ray edition (“after”, right). The frames aren’t necessarily exact matches, but should give a solid indication of the visual differences. The DVD frames, which were oddly matted, have been cropped to provide a more accurate comparison, and should be considered representative of color and clarity only, not aspect ratio. (The “pop-out” DVD captures, on the other hand, are the actual frames with no adjustments made).

What do you get when Britain’s most venerated horror studio tackles Britain’s most famous fictional hero? I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, having read his entire canon, and I love Hammer Films as well. It’s unsurprising that their pairing is a great one, especially with the studio’s two most beloved stars involved.

Unlike most Sherlock Holmes tales, The Hound Of The Baskervilles is a novel rather than a short story. Its meatier narrative, combined with its Gothic and adventurous tone, have long made it a favorite not only for readers but film and TV adaptations as well. There have been many filmed versions of the murder mystery on the moor, many of which are excellent, but Hammer’s version, starring Peter Cushing as the renowned detective, is probably my favorite.

Holmes and his trusty companion Dr. John Watson (André Morell) are invited to investigate the rural murder of Sir Charles Baskerville, and to help his heir — and the inheritor of the wealthy estate — Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) to avoid the same fate. A family legend says that generations of Baskervilles have been haunted and killed by a demon hound as restitution for a wicked ancestor, and the mysterious circumstances of Sir Charles’ death point to just such an occurrence.

Peter Cushing does incredible work as Sherlock Holmes, his performance is a wonderful re-creation of the literary character as written, accurately embodying the pragmatic, ingenious, and sometimes surly detective. Similarly, Morell’s Watson is a competent and valuable partner, believable as a former military surgeon, and not a doofus sidekick as the character is sometimes unfairly misinterpreted. This is important, for Baskervilles, more than perhaps any other Holmes story, puts Watson in the lead and largely sidelines Holmes until the middle act for reasons later revealed. Christopher Lee’s supporting role in the film as Holmes’ client doesn’t offer him much to do, but he’s great and welcome as always.

Directed by the legendary Terence Fisher, Hammer’s take on the tale makes wonderful use of the house style, delivering a film that’s eerie but colorful, effectively mixing studio and location exteriors and giving the tale a bit of that old Hammer spice with some romance, murder, and even the jarring utterance of a profanity.

It’s really a shame that Hammer didn’t make 20 more of these Holmes films, but the rest of the character’s canon, lacking the more sinister and supernatural aspects of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, doesn’t lend itself as well to their style. Still, the mind boggles at the possibilities. Alas, dear friends, we must content ourselves with one of the greatest film treatments of world’s greatest detective.

The Package

The Hound Of The Baskervilles arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in their usual attractive Limited Edition format, with a clear transparent Blu-ray case, and an 8-page booklet.

Previously available on a rather poor quality interlaced, oddly matted widescreen DVD, The Hound Of The Baskervilles soars on Blu-ray with a great presentation and a slew of bonus features, starting with the DVD’s Christopher Lee interview and adding several new items, most notably two commentaries and a new interview with a prop-maker from the film’s production. As a side note, while both the old MGM DVD and Twilight Time Blu-ray each include a trailer, the DVD’s was in 4:3 black and white while the Blu-ray’s is in widescreen HD and color.

The new high definition transfer is a welcome one. It’s possible I’m overly generous because the DVD was so poor, but this is clearly a superior release to what we’ve seen before with greater sharpness and detail. The image is quite soft at times, but this seems appropriate to its vintage. The color timing has bit toned down considerably. I don’t know if this is more or less accurate to the original presentation, but I do like the look more than the high-saturation aesthetic on the DVD. Overall, this is a very worthy upgrade for any fan of the film stuck with the DVD release.

A few more screenshots with the DVD for comparison:

Special Features and Extras

Margaret Robinson Interview (14:52)
 Robinson created the mask for the Hound which shows up for only a few seconds in the film, but as she explains the dogs took a liking to her and she ended up staying on the set for awhile to help with them on the shoot.

Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee (13:00)
 A carryover from the DVD; an interview with the legend himself, Christopher Lee.

Novel Excerpts read by Christopher Lee
 Christopher Lee reads the opening and closing passages of the novel, referred to in the menu as “Mr. Sherlock Holmes” (14:35) and “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” (6:22).

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:07)

Audio Commentary with Film Historians David Del Calle and Steven Peros

Audio Commentary with Film Historians Paul Scrabo, Lee Pfeiffer, and Hank Reineke

Isolated Music and Efffects Track

With new features and a better-than-ever presentation, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of The Hound Of The Baskervilles is a satisfying release of a beloved film.

A/V Out.

Available now directly from Twilight Time.

Get it at Amazon:
 The Hound Of The Baskervilles — [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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