Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles

'Hound Of The Baskervilles' is not the glittering highlight of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's  partnership, more a well polished turd, this loose adaptation of Conan Doyle's tale has, nonetheless, long had a place in my affections.

Peter Cook as Sherlock, or 'Sherl' as to his mother
Peter Cook plays the lazy, charmless, Jew-ish Sherlock Holmes and Dudley Moore is, of course, the bumbling Dr Watson, who adopts an ill-advised Welsh accent for comedy effect. A variety of old stagers ham it up nicely as the supporting cast.

Yes, this is a comedy but I would warn potential viewers that the gags are a little thin on the ground, or rather well-worn. This will not come as much surprise to anyone familiar with British cinema of the period (1978), as the film industry was in a very poor state: Hammer was washed up, the Carry On series had more or less run their (coarse?) course and producers were reduced to transferring successful television sit-coms to the big screen in a desperate attempt to attract audiences. Those who have seen the film versions of Man About the House, Porridge, George and Mildred, Rising Damp, and so on, must surely agree that these were all miserable failures, where actors who filled the small screen with their charisma and riotous laughter were all at sea in a humour-free cinematic ocean.

The Barrymores : Max Wall and Irene Handel (my dream couple)
Massage Parlour Madam : Penelope Keith (hot stuff)
In this scene Watson attempts to send a telegram to Holmes, assisted by the strangely familiar postmaster, Henry Woolf (mate of Harold Pinter, star of 70s BBC kids show Words and Pictures), with Prunella Scales and Eastender's Lou Beale:

HOTB is no different from other films from the era, as Pete and Dud valiantly attempt to revive aging gags such as Pete's 'One Leg Too Few', which debuted 18 years previously in 1960, and music hall routines much older still. Please don't misunderstand; I love these jokes and still laugh at this film, but there's something hollow at the heart of it, a melancholy going-through-the-motions that suggests Cook and Moore finishing their days as Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for a new punchy gag that never comes along. Director Paul Morrissey's cold reserve may have found favour with Warhol's ironic ntures in horror cinema, but with a British story and cast it feels empty, set-bound and passionless.

The Franklands (M&C favourites Dana Gillespie and Hugh Griffith) grab Wattie
Beryl Stapledon (Joan Greenwood) exposes Watson to her seduction techniques:

I would imagine that lengthy lunches off set were probably the highlight of Cook's day during the filming. His Holmes looks noticeably bored through much of his time on screen when compared to Moore, whom the camera loves and who is clearly having much more fun as Watson and especially in his additional part as Holmes' Jewish mother. Dud attacks this part with relish as he is freed from his usual subservient role and is able to abuse Pete with abandon. Moore had endured years of Cook's tormenting, which only increased with Cook's drinking, and he left soon after this film for stardom in Hollywood. Their partnership was at an end, played-out, literally, by Dudley's melodramatic piano score.

1 comment:

  1. I have very fond memories of watching and re-watching this taped from the telly on to 240 VHS. Pete & Dud were brand new to me then. Being about 12 and just post the Video Nasty era,I hadn't seen The Exorcist either. Nor were the Beeb repeating Python at that point. So other than a love of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes, the film had no baggage for me.

    Ignorant of the knowledge that Pete & Dud were re-hashing their prime material from the 60's I found it to be about the funniest thing I had ever seen. The scene with Dudley Moore, Denholm Elliott and the incontinent Chihuahua had me in fits.

    I guess what I'm saying is this movie found it's level in an ignorant 12 year old.