Sherlock Holmes Murder at the Baskervilles
Mystery, Drama | 71 mins | Released: 1937
Director: Thomas Bentley
Starring: Arthur Wontener, Ian Flemming, Lyn Harding, John Turnbull, Robert Horton, Lawrence Grossmith, Judy Gunn
Our Rating: 6
Black & White
Although a common misconception, Murder at Baskervilles is not the sequel 20th Century Fox Hound of the Baskervilles; that was called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, not only is Murder at the Baskervilles not a Fox production, it wasn’t even made in the United States, and it premiered in Britain two years before Basil Rathbone’s screen debut in the role that would virtually define his career.
When Astor Pictures, a very minor company that would win little renown in the 50s by releasing a string of sci-fi and monster movies, got their hands on Murder at the Baskervilles (known on the other side of the Atlantic as Silver Blaze) they quickly noticed that Sir Henry Baskerville and his daughter were among the supporting characters. They used this fact an opportunity to wring a few extra bucks out of what American audiences would otherwise have seen as a very undistinguished B-movie for the genre.
Acclaimed private detective Sherlock Holmes has evidently been pushing himself rather hard of late, and his old friend, Dr. Watson, contends that it is well past time he took a vacation. Fortuitously, Holmes receives a letter from Sir Henry Baskerville — with whom he has evidently kept up an acquaintance ever since that hound business twenty years ago— inviting him and Watson out to his estate in Exeter. Sir Henry has a grown daughter now, and both Diana (Judy Gunn) and her fiance, Jack Trevor (Arthur Macrae), are eager to meet the legendary genius who dispelled the old family curse once and for all. Despite his general distaste for both idleness and the countryside, such a visit appeals to Holmes; and one suspects that the prospect of finally putting a stop to Watson’s nagging appeals to him even more, and he begins arranging for a getaway to Baskerville Hall. Interestingly, it turns out that another of Holmes’s associates is going that way, too, for Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard has received a temporary transfer in order to oversee security and crowd control for the upcoming Barchester Cup horse race.
You know who else will be spending the next week or two in Exeter? Professor Robert Moriarty, that’s who! One of the big bookies for the Barchester Cup, a man by the name of Miles Stanford, is covering about £150,000 worth of bets against a horse called Silver Blaze, which produces the odds of 106:1. The trouble is, that horse has unexpectedly blown away all of the competition in the trials and is now favored to win. If that happens, Stanford is totally fucked. Thus it is that the bookie has come to see Moriarty at his secret lair in a disused London tube station; he’s hoping the arch-criminal will be able to see to it that that troublesome animal does not win the Barchester Cup, and thereby eliminate the threat to Stanford’s business. It’s a little outside Moriarty’s usual line of work, but if Stanford is willing to fork over the necessary £10,000 retainer, he’ll accept the assignment. The professor rounds up his henchmen— Moran, Barton, and Prince and sets off for Exeter.
Now a horse is a horse, and no one can bribe a horse to throw a race. So, the only thing for Moriarty to do is make sure Silver Blaze never enters the running, which entails going to the horse’s owner, Colonel Ross (Robert Horton), who is also the local chief of police.
Nevertheless, on the morning of the last trial race, Mrs. Straker, the wife of the colonel’s stable manager, awakes to find the night watchman dead and both her husband (Martin Walden) and Silver Blaze missing. Ross calls in Lestrade, and Lestrade calls in Holmes. Heaven knows there’s enough suspicion to go around at first glance. The watchman was evidently poisoned with powdered opium in his food, and it just so happens that Mrs. Straker made curry for dinner that night, one of the few dishes with a strong enough flavor to disguise that of the poison.
The Strakers’ dog raised no alarm during the night, suggesting that the horse thief was somebody known to it. Jack Trevor paid a visit to Straker a few hours earlier, hoping to raise some emergency cash by selling Colonel Ross one of his polo ponies, and it turns out that he has £5000 riding on the horse who up until recently had been the favorite to win. Also, Silas Brown, who owns that formerly favored horse, is an extremely shady character. Obviously we know that Moriarty is behind the whole caper, but he sure as hell had his pick of potential local accomplices.
Murder at the Baskervilles is the final screen appearance by Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes.
Notable Quotes from Murder at the Baskervilles:
Sherlock Holmes: [to Inspector Lestrade] “We’re old friends. I should hate to see you make such an ass of yourself as wrongfully to arrest the future son-in-law of Sir Henry Baskerville.”