Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles, 2000

We will forego the usual vintage B-western this week. I had intended to write a post about such a movie. I had all the screen caps, and the list of notes that I create before I begin writing the full article. However, we must put it aside for another time, for another matter of pressing import is at hand.

How many movies have you seen that begin with such a disclaimer? To me, this translates as: This is such an egregiously butchered version of a classic tale that the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle wishes to make it very clear that we do not approve of it, nor did we have anything to do with its creation, but it's public domain, so what're you gonna do?

I am not a Sherlockian scholar. I am only a fan who has read all the canonical stories a few times each and who has seen at least two other movie versions of this tale. Both of which, by the way, were vastly superior to this one, in the same way that a gentle massage is vastly superior to a stab in the eye with a sharpened stick.

There are so many things wrong with this movie. So many. I grow weary at the thought. I cannot list every item, but I hope that what I am able to write here will help to shield you from ever being exposed to this awful film.

This is a 2000 version of the classic Holmes novella The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was made by a Canadian company. I will not hold it against them. Some truly bad movies have come from the United States as well. I simply note it to show that Hollywood is not the only place that produces movies that totally stink.

After a scene in which the first victim dies from the attack of the legendary hound, we are shown a busy London street and a quick cut to this:

I groaned inwardly. I also groaned outwardly. Not another movie showing Holmes smoking some monstrous "calabash!"* Fortunately, he never smokes this pipe. He never even touches it, and in fact it appears to be there only as a decoration. Unfortunately, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

As a general rule, I like Matt Frewer. He was the star of what I think was one of the greatest television series of all time: Max Headroom. It was satirically prophetic in a cyberpunkish way and I still check periodically to see if it has been released on DVD (it hasn't).

However, his portrayal of Holmes was a mistake. I think he must have had some dirt on the casting director. It was simply wrong. The real Holmes was emotionally repressed and socially detached, but Frewer's Holmes is neither. In fact, he appears to enjoy mixing with society for the sole purpose of demonstrating to everyone else in the world what incompetent fools they are in comparison to himself. He is an arrogant yet brilliant buffoon. In short: he is an asshole.

Paraphrase: "Ah! my dear Watson! You are such an unmitigated idiot! And yet, it is your very idiocy that inspires my genius; and for that, I thank you."

The real Holmes/Watson relationship was one of mutual respect. Holmes trusted Watson with his life on several occasions and Watson never failed him. The Holmes/Watson relationship in this version is inexplicable. Holmes continually humiliates Watson and abuses him intellectually; Watson appears to remain with Holmes due some sort of bizarre intellectual masochism.

Now we come to--I shudder to contemplate what I will soon be forced to write about--the pipe smoking.

Frewer definitely does smoke a pipe in this movie. It is not just a stunt pipe. But the way he goes about it! His lighting, portrayed in this scene, is awkward, as if he had just spent 15 minutes working it out backstage.

At least he is really smoking something.

I absolutely refuse to believe that the real Holmes would have grinned such a ghastly grin around the stem of his pipe. It just isn't right.

And Watson! Oh, Watson, what have they done to you? The real Watson enjoyed the pipe just as much as did Holmes, but this Watson is a fussy, effiminate pansy who begins coughing at the slightest hint of smoke. The real Watson objected only to Holmes' occasional habit of shooting up with cocaine.

He brings out his pocket kerchief (delicately perfumed, I am sure) to breathe through every time someone lights up within a hundred feet of him. Egad.

When Holmes finishes his pipe (twice in this movie), he spins it around in his fingers, bowl up and stem down. Oh, the horror! Any pipe smoker would know that this is a sure way to drain the juices from the bowl--where they belong--down into the stem. Argh! I can hardly bear to think of it.

Later that night, Holmes is alone, wearing this bizarre bedtime ensemble, that ungainly pipe clamped in his teeth.

I began to recoil in horror at the scene that I knew I was about to behold.

No. Alas, please just let it be over with quickly.


Holmes and Watson lunch with Dr. Mortimer to meet Sir Henry and discuss the matter at hand. Mortimer enjoys his cigar.

And the delicate Watson goes into a fit of coughing. Out comes the kerchief.

Jason London as Sir Henry Baskerville gives the movie far too much of a "Hallmark Movie Channel" feel. In fact, I think that is where it originally aired.

Later still, after eating at the Stapleton's, everyone enjoys an after-dinner cigar.

Except for Miss Watson, of course.

At first glance, Watson does appear to know how to handle his revolver. When presented with the demonic hound, he goes into a full isoceles and locks his hands up tightly on the gun, his eyes appearing to focus on his target rather than his sights. At second glance, he doesn't appear to actually have a finger on the trigger.

Holmes' gun-handling fares not much better, and he blames his own missed shot on getting comically tangled up in his costume. I say, be careful, Holmes! You're pointing that dashed gun straight at my left ear!

This was a made-for-TV movie, which means that after commercials are subtracted it runs only 90 minutes long. A two-hour version of this tale is not long enough, in my opinion. Cutting it even shorter gave it more of the feel of a summary, rather than a real story. The feckless and genteel Watson made it almost excruciatingly unbearable.

I should also mention Matt Frewer's fake British accent. It has all the grace of a three-legged giraffe with a neck brace. Stilted, forced and awkward, even to my American ears. I will have to watch several hours of Jeremy Brett to remove Frewer's clashing "A's" and endlessly rolled "R's" from my memory. And even then, I fear, the memory will lurk, waiting to arise from the shadows at the first hint of the word "crrrrrrrack."

Do not watch this movie. It is not worth 90 minutes of your time. Still, if you persist in watching it after all that I have said, I have done all I can; I retire with a clean conscience.

Source: Encore Mysteries movie channel
Runtime: 90 minutes
Amazon Search: The Hound of the Baskervilles

*I put it in quotes because a real calabash has at least an outer bowl shell made from a calabash gourd. This one appears to be of solid porcelain.


  1. As a lifelong fan of Sherlock Holmes, this sounds like a ghastly movie; thanks for the warning.

  2. While the movie was sad and incompetent it was Sherlock and a mystery--something us desperate fans of mystery long for--especially since Dresden is off the air and the new Sherlock is rather fanciful as well. I do love the house in this version of the Hound. Do you know where it's located? Sincerely, a simpering SH fan

  3. I have read "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and unfortunately I have seen this movie version. I agree with almost everything that has been said on this page. The fact that Watson doesn't smoke is just absurd and I was appalled at what they had done. Another thing that struck me is that Stapleton, the evil behind the cursed hound, is portrayed as rather a clutz. I always imagined Stapleton as someone like the guy that played Sir Henry. In my opinion, they should have just stayed with the plot. The ending of the movie is also horrible and I said to myself after, "What did I just watch?" . Although this movie has a lot of negative aspects, for those who don't know "The Hound of the Baskervilles" story and don't care to know it, this movie provides suspense, mystery, and enjoyment.