Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles and Peter Cushing

I am visiting the hallowed ground of Sherlock Holmes once again thanks to my good friend Mangus. Not only did he hit me with the weekly question: "What you going to blog about?" But he also let me know that the A&E network had released the BBC series of Sherlock Holmes that starred Peter Cushing as Holmes. Most people now probably remember Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin from the original Star Wars: A New Hope… when it was just Star Wars. He also portrayed such notable characters as Abraham Van Helsing and Victor Frankenstein in the wonderfully atmospheric Hammer films.

I had seen Cushing portray Holmes in the Hammer version of "The Hound" with Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. Well, thanks to Mangus I got to enjoy him again in the BBC version.

The basic plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Sir Henry Baskerville has inherited his family estates after the death of his uncle. His uncle apparently died from fright because the spectral hound that has cursed the family line for two hundred years or more was chasing him. Holmes is brought in, not necessarily to solve the crime, but rather to protect Sir Henry from the curse and perhaps persuade him to not take up the family residence. Holmes of course does not believe in any supernatural agent and sends Watson to guard Sir Henry. The investigation is pursued and the ending is a climax of gun fire and the villain doing himself in.

This is one of my favorite Holmes stories, mostly because it is the first one I read as a boy (read 10 or 12 years old), coupled with the super natural elements it left an impression that started my love of the character and the Victorian mystery. My only complaint, like all the Holmes "novels" is that Holmes is off stage most of the time. The movies are no different. But it is still a great Holmes story with its intrigues and subtle clues.

I found myself pleasantly surprised when I watched Peter Cushing's portrayal of Holmes. He was lively, energetic, and, above all, convincing. He was wonderful actor. I had forgotten how much so.

Holmes was personable, warm, and entertaining. His gestures were those of a stage performer making his point; as much as Holmes is want to do as his experience upon the boards left him with the desire to create a sense of showmanship with his own performances. The character WAS Sherlock Holmes, an engaging and charismatic individual, not just a reasoning machine. His affection for Watson was heart felt and warm, as true friends would share and perfectly in line with the dialogue Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself wrote. What also struck me was how Peter Cushing looked like Sherlock Holmes as he was illustrated in the Strand magazine and how he was envisioned in so many other incarnations. His hawkish, sharp features and harsh profile is Holmes. He was even tall enough for the role, being almost six foot himself. (When standing next to Darth Vader, aka David Prowes he looked short).

After watching Cushing's performance in this dramatization I look forward to the rest. My regret is that of the BBC series, apparently only five of these classics survived.

Outside Cushing's performance the BBC production was interesting in its own right. Nigel Stock played Dr. John Watson, which broke away from the Nigel Bruce portrayal of Watson as the bumbling side-kick…. a portrayal I always detested. This Watson is as Doyle intended, he is a man of action, ready to bring a villain to immediate justice.

The production had definite 1960s feel to it, as programs like The Avengers and Dark Shadows did. So there is a little television nostalgia thrown into the mix for me.

If you are a Sherlock fan and you have not seen Peter Cushing as the Master Detective you would do worse then to look for the DVD collection of his work.

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