Directed by Richard Oswald [Other horror films: Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (1916), Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil (1916), Nächte des Grauens (1917), Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917), Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), Nachtgestalten (1920), Cagliostro – Liebe un Leben eines großen Abenteurers (1929), Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)]
Though this came out 15 years after the 1914 adaptation, I think it’s arguably on equal grounding. Certainly this version of The Hound of the Baskervilles improves on some levels than the earlier silent movie, but at the same time, I think a few things were holding it back from making more of an impact.
One thing I did appreciate was a more traditional version of the story, and by that, I mean the version of the story I’m accustomed to. Here they brought in some elements that were missing from the 1914 version, including Watson and Holmes appearing and then disappearing for a good portion of the story (this classic element of the plot couldn’t have happened in the 1914 version, as, in unique fashion, Holmes actually went to investigate the case without first being summoned by Henry Baskerville, so the classic, “I can’t leave London, but take Watson with you,” line was absent).
Worth mentioning is that while Watson did appear in the 1914 version, he was such a non-entity that he wasn’t even credited.
It’s not that this addition instantly make the movie better, by any means, but it certainly was nice to see, as I was wondering at what point that sub-plot would make it into the movies.
What really gives this film a different and potentially more powerful aura is the strong atmosphere, especially in the opening sequence with the elder Baskerville being terrified of the howls coming from the stormy night, and the group of friends around him mostly laughing the superstitions off. The storm is great, the tension is great, and the film kicks off with such a fantastic atmosphere. I can also add that the black-and-white looked quite crisp, and helped in that endeavor (and yes – while the 1914 version was tinted, this version is in black-and-white).
It should also be said that this version isn’t complete – some sequences are missing, and to get around that, this reconstruction summarizes the missing moments while giving us stills of the characters introduced during those scenes (such as Fritz Rasp’s Stapleton and Betty Bird’s Beryl). Some might be bothered by the missing scenes, and I hope they turn up at some point, but I thought they did a pretty good job working with what they had, and it was certainly more watchable and engaging than the TCM restoration of London After Midnight, so there’s that.
If that’s one last issue I have, it’s that I didn’t care all that much for Carlyle Blackwell, who played Sherlock Holmes (at least in comparison to the 1914’s Alwin Neuß). It’s not that Blackwell gave a particularly poor performance – he most certainly didn’t – but he was younger and a bit more handsome than I usually expect from a Sherlock Holmes, and while far from perfect, I did think the 1914 rendition done by Neuß was better.
No complaints about the rest of the cast, though – playing Stapleton, Fritz Rasp brought a quality quiet insanity with him that wasn’t really in the 1914’s Friedrich Kühne’s version. Obviously Rasp and Kühne were going for different things – Kühne a traditional, mustache-twirling fiend and Rasp a mentally-unstable psychopath – but both had solid respective performances, and here, I thought Rasp did great.
As Henry Baskerville, Livio Pavanelli did decently, though he wasn’t anything special. Playing his love interest was Betty Bird, who did get more character than Baskerville’s love interest in the 1914 version (and that character, Lyons, does appear here, though in a different way), was likewise just okay. The butler Barrymore (Andreas Van Horn in the 1914 movie), played by Valy Arnheim, lost a bit of story that he previously had, but also gained a little something with the added escaped convict on the moors subplot, and Arnheim did well with that.
And lastly, playing Watson, George Seroff was pretty strong throughout most of the film, though his character gets overshadowed by Holmes (as one can naturally expect) by the end, and so he doesn’t leave all that much of an impact.
The conclusion presented here is quite a bit more action-packed than what we got 15 years ago, and it’s all a decent amount of fun (albeit I couldn’t help but notice Watson, as it seems he always is, is treated a bit like a doddering fool at times), and the use of shadows and other film techniques such as flashbacks, slow camera-swivels and close-ups make this film far more technical than what the 1914 version managed (though with a difference of 15 years, one would certainly hope that’s the case).
When all is said and done, Holmes said it best: “Supernatural dogs do not leave footprints,” and while this movie was enjoyable to watch, I can’t say that it’s the pillar of silent horror despite having many strong elements present.