It is undoubtedly the most popular of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and by far, the best of the 4 novels. It has been dramatized countless times starring many of the great actors of history including Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Ian Richardson, Peter O’Toole, Max Headroom himself Matt Frewer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller and best of all, the Doctor, Tom Baker. There may not be a definitive version of the story, but there is only one true Sherlock Holmes as Conan Doyle intended: Jeremy Brett.
As I’ve said before, the problem with the 4 novels is that in each, Holmes goes missing for an uncomfortable amount of time. At least in this, he’s still a part of the story, and there’s a supernatural mystery to keep us guessing, so his absence, while felt, is never such a sore point that the viewer is taken out of the story. But at an hour forty, can it possibly hold our attention? The answer is yes!
Sir Charles Baskerville is killed by a mysterious hound. His distant American cousin, Sir Henry Baskerville, comes to take over the estate. As soon as he arrives in England, one of his boots go missing from his hotel. Then another from a different pair vanishes. On top of that, someone is following him. And he gets a mysterious letter warning him not to come to the ancestral home in Dartmore near the ominous Grimpen Mire. “It’s a worthy setting if the devil did decide to interfere with the affairs of man!”
Someone wants to inherit the family fortune. Sir Charles stood in the way of it, and he was dispatched with the spectral dog. But when the American steps in, there’s a new layer of complication and another murder has to be planned. A dog can pick up a scent well and is given garments of Sir Henry’s to smell so he can attack the man. Alas, things don’t go to plan. In fact, convicted murdered Selden is on the loose. When Watson and Sir Henry learn that it is the brother of the housekeeper, Henry altruistically gives them some of his clothes to wear, but inadvertently signs the mans death warrant. The hound finds Selden and kills him.
The chief baddie is one of the neighbors. The Stapleton’s claim to be brother and sister, but when Sir Henry makes a pass at Beryl Stapleton, her brother goes off the deep end. That’s what one should expect when one has ones wife pose as ones sister, I say! The jerk had it coming and Beryl didn’t seem to mind. But that’s not the only mistake – Holmes notices the portraits in Baskerville Hall and deduces that Mr. Stapleton is actually a Baskerville, trying to claim what he feels is his, using an ancient legend and starved dog painted with phosphorus.
Stapleton, once found out, makes the ultimate mistake and tries to escape across the great Grimpen Mire where he loses his footing and drowns a particularly horrible death!
Holmes: “It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.” (This is what is commonly referred to in modern parlance as a backhanded compliment!)
Holmes sends Watson out on his own and give him a chance to shine. Watson does so admirably. He even follows Sir Henry discretely and observes the harsh treatment at the work of Stapleton, but he doesn’t try to hide! He tells Sir Henry that “my duty to Holmes overrode my tact!”
Meanwhile Holmes is as much fun as ever to watch as he surprises Watson and Dr. Mortimer while they lie in wait for who they believe to be the murderer.
The one surprise guest for me was seeing the Time Lord of the Knowing Nod, Bernard Horsfall as Frankland.
The powers of evil were indeed exalted on the Grimpen Mire and it’s almost criminal to break this episode down so simply. It has to be seen and digested. There’s even a bit of humor when Holmes offers Watson some stew. There are twists and turns that need to be seen to be truly enjoyed. Do I feel bad about spoilers? Under normal circumstances, absolutely, but I tend to draw a line in a story that’s over 100 years old! Still, there’s a good reason this story gets retold so many times. In fact, next week, we’ll take a break to find another retelling of it in a whole different medium… ML