Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Classic Movie Dogathon: The Hound of the Baskervilles


Classic Film and TV Cafe is sponsoring a Dogathon -- movies about or featuring some of the most memorable canine actors.  My contribution is a little tribute to a dog that scared me to death.  My first Sherlock Holmes movie experience as a little girl was 1939's The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I fell in love with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson, a love that continues.  I fell in love with Baskerville Hall and the bleak, eerie English moors.  As for the Hound -- I have always been afraid of big dogs, and he was a BIG dog.





The Hound was played by a 156-pound Great Dane.  His real name was Blitzen (German for flash or lightning), but in 1939, when Hitler was beginning his devastating march across Europe, 20th Century Fox decided that a name with such a Teutonic overtone was not acceptable.  His name was changed to Chief -- personally, I think Gargantua would have suited him better.  


Despite my best efforts, I was not able to find any kind of bio of Chief.  I don't know if he ever played in other movies.  To me, though, he was the most unforgettable movie dog ever.  I did learn that Great Danes, despite their huge size and dominating look, are actually called gentle giants. Chief was certainly a giant, but he did not look gentle as the Hound.  He was terrifying.

There have been other versions of the The Hound of the Baskervilles, some very good, one or two probably even better, but this one lives in my memory as my introduction to the beloved team of Rathbone and Bruce, one of the best movie sets of the moors, my love for the shadowy beauty of black and white film, and Chief, the Hound that scared a little girl who still watched the movie any time it was on.

26 comments:

  1. What an inspired choice for the Dogathon, Becky. Glad to see you back online! I've never seen any Sherlock Holmes movies (except the first Downey film), so I missed this. He does look ferocious, though.

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  2. Oooh, I can hear Lionel Atwill saying "Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound." Chills down my back. My goodness, Becky, all that love for Rathborne and Bruce and none for Richard Greene?

    I know exactly what you mean about Basil and Nigel. Those late night viewings of Sherlock Holmes movies in my youth were my introduction to Holmes and a lifetime of mystery.

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  3. Wow - that was some set of choppers on Chief! I'll bet those are what landed him the role. Great post, Becky - love those warm and cuddly doggies, but this one scares the bejeezus out of me!

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  4. You're right on! This dog scared me too! I love dogs but WOW! I agree that this was my favorite version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The atmosphere created was excellent as was the teaming of Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce. Great choice for the Dogathon! AND WELCOME BACK !!!

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    1. I agree with my wife ! ( A almost always do ! ) Great movie choice and nicely written article !

      I came from the same time and place as you Becky , so... you know that I have MANY fond memories of Basil and Nigel of my own .

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  5. Becky, a perfect choice for the Dogathon! Blitzen...er, I mean Chief, looks pretty ferocious in that photo of him baring his teeth. I think his name change, though, had more to do with canine-reindeer confusion. As for the HOUND, it's my favorite of Conan Doyle's four Holmes novels. As you know, I'm a big fan of the Peter Cushing film version, but I do thoroughly enjoy the 1939 adaptation with Basil and Nigel. By the way, your photos are marvelous, especially the silhouette of the dog attack on the cliff (plus, Basil in disguise in the photo montage). Enjoyable stuff!

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  6. Love all the Rathbone/Bruce movies, but this is my all time favorite. The atmosphere is perfect and all the actors give excellent performances. Basil Rathbone is the definitive Holmes as Nigel Bruce is the perfect Dr. Watson.

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  7. Hi Becky, one of my favorite movies, I really loved all the Rathbone & Bruce films, for me, despite some respectable later duos, Basil & Nigel were the definitive team!

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  8. Becks,
    You have great taste in actors and films! I adore Nigel Bruce too. The scenery, locations in this film are so very eery and that photo you posted brings me back to just ho mysterious everything was with the dark settings, fog and old decaying buildings in the distance.

    As for the Great Dane. I've always been intimidated by them. My cousin had one for a few year and that dang thing was as big as a horse. Certainly not a dog breed I would be comfortable with although hers was quite mild mannered.

    Love your trivia on Hounds. You can never go wrong with Sherlock Holmes.

    A fun and informative read as always.
    Good to have you back.
    Page

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  9. Becky, I love the mystery of "The Hound of the Baskervilles!" Today I am quite certain that 1. I would avoid the moors like the plague. They feature bogs that once stepped in one might never again emerge from. 2. I would not venture out on the moors at night (see number 1) and then add lack of visibility and things that go bump in the night. 3. I would not go out on the moors, after the light of day, where a ginormous hound, whether legendary or true, might be, especially in the moors (see number 1) and in darkness (see number 2). I loved your post and especially your photos. Bring on the fluffy bunny dogs! But I do love to read and see a good mystery inside my house safely located not on the moors, with doors locked, and husband and gentle dog nearby.

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    1. Becky, as I said over at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED, if I were a pup I'd be wagging my tail with joy because you're back again -- HOORAY!!! Great review of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce always a joy to behold as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and tons of suspense. They should've called that hound Super Chief, because he was one fearsome beast! Oddly, the Hound kinda reminded me of our favorite dog when I was a kid: Ruby, a 5-foot-6 German Shepherd with brown and tan markings and pretty amber eyes. Ruby was a sweetheart with our family -- and a TERROR to anyone she viewed as a threat. Those who didn't manage to make friends with Ruby nicknamed her "Hound of the Baskervilles" -- really! :-)

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  10. Great film. I don't like going outdoors on a foggy night partially because of this story :)

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  11. Becky ~ may I begin by saying how nice it is to see your blog included in this canine themed blogathon. I have missed seeing your posts in my blogroll, and this was certainly worth the wait. Your choice of "The Hound of The Baskervilles" was a given, and this film has taken on legendary status in my mind. The pairing of Conan Doyle’s characters and storytelling; Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson; the all too real art direction in re-creating the story for the screen and a canine that can only be described as “a hell hound” personified. I agree with Caftan Woman and admit the first time I watched the film; I was all in a swoon over Richard Greene.

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  12. So glad you're back!

    Love, love, love Holmes. He was a life-changer for me. At age ten, I saw the movie Young Sherlock Holmes, and then I began reading the novels and stories. Holmes (and Doyle, of course) made me a reader. Devouring the onscreen depictions beginning with Rathbone and Bruce followed shortly behind. I must watch The Hound of the Baskervilles again soon!

    As always, the images you chose are just wonderful--beautiful, haunting, and perfect reasons to fall in love with movies all over again.

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  13. Confession: I've actually never seen any of these. They rank high on the gotta-get-to-it list! I'm pretty sure I even own a copy of this one, I don't know what's been keeping me from them!

    Love the second scan, Chief does look quite terrifying there!

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  14. I can't thank you enough, my good friends, for telling me you enjoyed my little post and welcoming me back. It means a lot. I can see a lot of affection for the poor, snarling Hound -- Cliff, you've just got to watch it and get into the atmosphere. I think you'll like it.

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  15. We've never seen this movie either! Ack! We'll watch for it the first chance we get... And we agree with your appraisal of Bruce and Rathbone. They were fabulous.

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  16. Great Grimpen Mire!! ... Nice post Becky, you can never go wrong with a Rathbone/Bruce "Holmes" film ...

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  17. Becky, I like this movie a lot too, for several reasons. As enjoyable as the later Universal series is, the period trappings of the Sherlock Holmes tales add a lot of atmosphere, and it's wonderful to find that atmosphere in the first two Holmes pictures from Fox with Rathbone and Bruce, of which this is one. Also, this is one of Conan Doyle's most irresistible plots and the classic example of his plot of miscreants disguising their misdeeds with supernatural hocus-pocus. And you're right that the huge Great Dane playing the "villain" is most scary--the detail that above all must be convincing for the plot to be believable. That said, I do like the Hammer version equally well, and the Granada TV Jeremy Brett version is also quite good, in a more realistic, less melodramatic vein. Still, Rathbone and Bruce remain the archetypal Holmes and Dr. Watson.

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  18. Thanks, R.A. and Dave. It's a great classic.

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  19. R.D., I loved the Hammer version too, and also a more recent British version with Richard Roxburgh as Holmes.

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  20. I had picked this movie to talk about, Becky, but you beat me to the punch!

    I enjoyed reading your post about one of the more famous dogs in movie-dom. This guy was really a scary dude. Well, wouldn't you be if you were mistreated and denied food? I was never happier than when Stapleton gets it in the end. :)

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  21. Becky,

    I love this choice and your comments. The images you chose are amazing! I must say, any post that includes a mention of how anyone fell in love with film wins me over. You did it with style. Fun read.

    Aurora

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  22. Welcome back, Becky, and what a great way to return, with Holmes and Watson. For years I considered this the truly "scary" Sherlock Holmes story/film. Because of Blitzen...errr...Chief. Though I later learned that Great Danes are usually extremely sweet, affectionate creatures, "Baskervilles" instilled a fear of the breed in me that lasted for some time.

    I wonder who portrayed the Great Danes in Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" and "Strangers on a Train"...perhaps Blitzen/Chief in ominous but less outright vicious roles??

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  23. Yvette, Aurora and Eve, thanks so much for your fun comments. I appreciate it!

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  24. It was a bullmastiff, not a great dane

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