Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Hound of the Baskervilles

Go To

Sherlock Holmes: There are still some gaps to be filled, but all in all, things are becoming a little clearer.
Dr. Watson: Not to me, I assure you. It's still a hopeless jumble. Mr. Franklin, Dr Mortimer, the Barrymans; put it all together and what have you got?
Sherlock Holmes: Murder, my dear Watson. Refined, cold-blooded murder.

A 1939 film from 20th Century Fox based on the classic mystery novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was the first time that Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The film proved so popular that a sequel The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was released the same year, followed by a long running radio series.

The plot remains fairly faithful to the book: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are asked to consult for Sir Henry Baskerville, heir to the Baskerville estate and the last in a line supposedly haunted by a family curse. Apparently, the family is trailed by the Hound of the Baskervilles, a demonic dog that is responsible for all the deaths of the Baskervilles in the region.

Holmes dismisses it as a fairy tale at first but, at the explanation of the recent death of Sir Henry's uncle in mysterious circumstances (unharmed but with only the prints of an enormous dog nearby and his face fixed in an expression of terror), he concedes to send Watson to Baskerville Hall to investigate, saying that he's too busy to go himself.

From there the game, as they say, is afoot.

Tropes found in this film include:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Beryl is not Stapleton's wife and unwilling accomplice... she really is his stepsister and she doesn't know anything about her stepbrother's criminal plans.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: The film's version of Mortimer has a more sinister appearance with his pebble glasses and goatee, to make him into another Red Herring.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film removes Franklin's daughter, and simplifies the Selden subplot and the story in general.
  • Adaptation Expansion: This film adds a new scene a seance hosted by Mrs. Mortimer (that was later copied in the 2002 BBC version). Holmes shows up on the Moor disguised as a peddler and has a bit of fun at Watson's expense (that was later copied in the 1983 Mapleton Films version).
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The mysterious letter is still given Sir Henry to warn him against going to the moor, but as Beryl is no longer aware of Stapleton's scheme the identity of who sent the letter is left unresolved.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Barrymore the butler, becomes Barryman to avoid confusion with the famous Barrymore brothers, Lionel and John.
  • Agent Mulder: Dr. Mortimer, who believes in the occult, hosts seances in his house with his wife, and fully believes in the Baskerville Hound.
  • Agent Scully: Sir Henry, in contrast to Dr. Mortimer's Agent Mulder, finds the entire idea of a supernatural hound laughable.
  • Always Murder: Even believed by some of the characters in-universe.
    Coroner: Sit down, Mr. Franklin! You have already testified: you were not there, and know nothing whatsoever about what occurred!
    Franklin: Nevertheless, I can tell you that Sir Charles was murdered! Murdered, I tell you!
  • Big Fancy House: Baskerville Hall, naturally. But Stapleton's house is also quite palatial with an enormous staircase.
  • The Butler Did It: Barryman the butler immediately sets himself up as suspicious, and doesn't exactly help his case by being caught sending covert signals to someone out on the moor. Eventually subverted; he's guilty of a different crime (helping an escaped murderer) but had nothing to do with Sir Charles' murder and meant no harm to Sir Henry. And even then, he was just helping his wife, and in fact wanted to turn the convict into the police until she begged him to help.
  • Campbell Country: Much attention is paid to how eerie and ancient the empty Dartmoor countryside is.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: Watson, irritated by a persistent peddler asking who he is and why he's there, tells him he's the great detective Sherlock Holmes and that he will not be treated that way... only for the peddler say that if Watson is Sherlock, then he himself must be Dr. John Watson, and removes his disguise to reveal himself as Sherlock.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Unusually, it's the coroner (or at least one of the doctors who testified at the coroner's court) who brings it up for investigation.
    Sherlock: But as I recall, didn't Sir Charles die of naturals causes- heart failure?
    Mortimer: Apparently, and that was the verdict of the coroner, in which I, Sir Charles' physician, concurred. But was one point, which I kept back from the police. From everybody.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: Someone throws one wrapped around a rock through the window of Sir Henry's carriage: "AS YOU VALUE YOUR LIFE OR YOUR REASON KEEP AWAY FROM THE MOOR". Sherlock notes, however, that "MOOR" is written in ink, and that whoever wrote it must not have been able to find it used in any headlines to cut it out off.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sherlock Holmes; Watson sometimes gets a few barbs in, but mostly it's Sherlock.
    Watson: Does anything escape me?
    Sherlock: Almost everything, my dear fellow.
  • Death by Adaptation: Dr. Mortimer's spaniel, it died before the good doctor visits Baker Street.
  • Dramatic Chase Opening: The movie starts with Sir Charles Baskerville running desperately from the sounds of a howling dog through the night, before suddenly clutching his chest and dying right as he neared his home.
  • Dreadful Musician: Sherlock repeatedly sounds like he's murdering a cat with his violin...and then subverted when Watson leaves and Sherlock grins, the horrible sounds immediately shifting to a beautiful song, revealing that he can play perfectly well and just chooses to annoy Watson anyway.
  • Even Evil Can Be Loved: Seldon, the escaped serial killer, is still loved by his sister Elisa Barryman, who admits that he was never any good but that he was still her family.
  • Exact Words: The peddler tells Watson to come meet him on the moor if he wants to "hear something interesting"... and when he does, shows him more musical instruments that he wants to sell him.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: 221B Baker Street goes from being a humble terrace flat to quite posh.
  • Fright Deathtrap: How Sir Charles died of a heart attack after being chased by the Hound, though it's stated that he'd been made into something of a nervous wreck for the past few weeks by Hound and this was the final straw. (The fact that he was rather old couldn't have helped either.)
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Mr. Frankland; it's gotten to be a hobby of his, with him mentioning that he's going to sue Stapleton for body snatching.. for taking the 10,000 year-old skull of a Neolithic man from the ruins.
  • Got Volunteered: Sherlock announcing that even though he'll be too busy to help Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer, Watson certainly can.
    Watson: ...Of course. I'd be delighted.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Sir Charles and Dr. Mortimer, which is why the latter is so determined to protect the former's nephew after his death.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Especially apparent when Selden flings a rock to extinguish the only candle on the rocks... and Watson, Sir Henry, and everything else look just as well-lit as they were when the candle was burning.
  • Idiot Ball: Sherlock, investigating alone at night after Sir Henry was almost killed, finds the hidden cellar where the villain has been keeping the Hound for the past few months... and then jumps down into it to look around. Naturally, the killer shuts and locks the cellar door on him.
  • Inheritance Murder: The villain's motivation for killing off Sir Charles and Sir Henry: as the descendant of Hugo Baskerville, he would inherit if they died.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Sir Hugo insisting in the flashback that there really was a girl, she just escaped somehow.
  • Karmic Death: Hugo Baskerville, kidnapper, implied-rapist, and all around jerkass, completely deserved his death at the teeth of the Hound.
  • Legacy of Service: Barryman's family, who've served three generations of Baskervilles.
  • Moment Killer: Watson, then the peddler to Sir Henry and Beryl.
    Sir Henry: Apparently we didn't choose a very deserted spot.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Sherlock Holmes.
    Watson: I'm blasted if I know why on earth you want all these newspaper clippings about this Baskerville fellow.
    Sherlock: I have an idea, Watson, that young Sir Henry isn't destined for a very long existence in this world.
    Watson: What?
    Sherlock: My conjuncture is that he'll be murdered.
    Watson: Murdered?
    Sherlock: [smiling slightly] It would be very interesting to see if my deductions are accurate.
    • Sir Henry also sounds unduly excited at being told about the supernatural hound that has apparently been haunting his family for hundreds of years. "That sounds grand! A family ghost, aye?"
    • Stapleton enjoys digging around the ruins on the moor for skulls, and proudly shows off his collection to visitors.
  • Opening Scroll: To set the scene (and time period) of the beginning of the movie.
    ''In all England there is no district more dismal
    than that vast expanse of primitive wasteland, the moors
    of Dartmoor in Devonshire.''
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: A common criticism of Nigel Bruce's Watson is that he's a bumbling fool. But in this film Watson is quite intelligent and competent....whenever Holmes isn't around.
  • Photo Doodle Recognition: When Sherlock covers Hugo Baskerville's portrait so that only the eyes are visible, the resemblance to Jack Stapleton suddenly becomes apparent to everyone there, giving away why he was behind it: as the descent of Hugo, he stood to inherit if the rest of the Baskervilles died.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: This Hound doesn't even pretend to be supernatural, he's just a very large and vicious dog. Which was probably the right choice, given the state of special effects at the time.
  • Quicksand Sucks: The Grimpen Mire; it sucked down entire Shetland pony, and Sir Henry narrowly avoids the same fate.
  • Quieter Than Silence: Used several times to great effect, as when Watson's door slowly eases open in complete silence and he reaches for his gun, and when he and Sir Henry investigate the Hall at night without saying a word.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the book, Stapleton has his wife Beryl pose as his sister to catch Sir Henry's eye. Here, she is his stepsister.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The Hound isn't actually supernatural—it's just a vicious dog bought by the villain so that Sir Henry's death wouldn't be seen as the murder it was planned to be.
  • Separate Scene Storytelling: Dr. Mortimer reading 'The Legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles' fades into a flashback with letter-effects around the edges of the screen.
  • Sherlock Scan: As in any media where Sherlock Holmes appears.
  • Sins of the Father: While Hugo Baskerville certainly got what was coming to him, there's no reason for the Hound to be hunting his descendants for generations afterwards; subverted, however, by the fact that the Legend of the Hound really is just a legend and that there's no actual dog hunting down the Baskervilles.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Possibly. In the book, it's stated that Stapleton died trying to go through the Grimpen Mire, but in the movie it's left open whether he went through the moor and met his end there as he did in the book, or if he went by the roads and was captured by the authorities.
  • They Have the Scent!: The Hound has Sir Henry's, from the old boot that was stolen near the beginning of the movie.
  • This Is No Time for Knitting: Watson's response to Sherlock very badly playing the violin right after hearing the grisly tale of death, family curses, and ancient evil that follows the Baskervilles, though it's implied that Sherlock did it because it would annoy him rather than any attempt to help think through the problem.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Sherlock and Watson in this adaptation have no problems snipping at each other, even though the fondness is evident.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: Sherlock's justification for deceiving everyone, including Watson, into believing he was still in London instead of investigating the case himself on the moor.
  • Window Pain: A rock with a threatening note tied to it is tossed through Sir Henry's carriage as it drives into London, warning him to stay away from Baskerville Hall.
  • You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You: Dr. Mortimer's explanation as to why he didn't report finding the footprints of a gigantic hound near Sir Charles' body.