I just watched the 1983 movie starring Ian Richardson as Holmes, Donald Churchill as Watson, and Martin Thaw as Sir Henry. Finally a version of HOUN that actually has a coal black hound that's suitably massive and scary! Even Thaw's American accent wasn't overdone.
The movie starts out with the Barrymores at the Baskerville Hall, hearing the hound's howls. Meanwhile Sir Charles is waiting for Laura Lyons, but he soon dies in his gazebo, rather than outside at the gate. There are still hound footprints around outside, but it's clear that Sir Charles died of pure fright, rather than running away from the beast.
Then we come to Baker Street, with Holmes playing a tune on the violin, and Watson looking at Mortimer's stick. After Holmes criticizes his deductions, Dr. Mortimer arrives with his spaniel. Dr. Mortimer looks at Holmes several times with fascination, as if aching to make his speech about coveting Holmes's skull, but he doesn't. He gets straight to business with reading out the legend of Sir Hugo Baskerville. I liked the dramatization until the point when the farmer's daughter fell into the mire, had to beg for Sir Hugo to save her, and then was assaulted by him right there. And it seemed to go on forever, in between glimpses of her horse sinking in the mire. How horrible! Why couldn't she have just died in the mire, or the hound attack Sir Hugo before he could get to raping? I know the legend in the book has the girl dying, but this horrible assault was too much. Gratuitous. I already know Sir Hugo is evil, and what he intended to do to the girl. I don't need to see him succeed before his throat's ripped out.
Anyway, back to Baker Street. Dr. Mortimer tells them about Sir Charles's death, and his nephew Sir Henry arriving, so Holmes agrees to meet them tomorrow morning. So Sir Henry arrives and he's an American instead of a Canadian. When he checks into his hotel, somehow the warning letter has already arrived ahead of him. We skip to the next day when they show the note to Holmes. Sir Henry isn't scared by the letter, but he's so reluctant a baronet, that he says he won't go to the moor at all. He's just staying in London to have his lawyers settle up the estate, before going back to America.
Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer walk back to the hotel, but Holmes sees they are followed and goes after them. The bearded man in the carriage isn't just following Henry; he has a special gun inside his dogheaded cane, and he tries to shoot Sir Henry, before being thwarted and dropping his cane as the cabby drives away. Holmes shows off the deadly cane, then sends Watson to find the cabby by his number, while he goes with them to the hotel. There's a really funny scene with the hotel maid saying she's an "honest girl" and crying that she didn't steal Sir Henry's old boot that disappeared. He feels so bad that he apologizes to her and gives her money. After she leaves, she blows a raspberry and grins about the money she got.
Watson arrives with the cabby, who also earns a lot of money for describing the bearded gentleman who used his cab. Holmes is quite amused that the bearded guy claimed to be Sherlock Holmes. Over lunch, Sir Henry says that the assassination attempt has inspired him to be defiant and go to Baskerville Hall after all. Holmes says he'll send someone "redoubtable" to go with him, and poor Watson is surprised and confused that Holmes means him. Oh, Watson, if only you were written as the formidable man of action you are, instead of as this comic sidekick! Thank God for the rehabilitation of the army doctor as a smart, capable man.
Thankfully, there's another scene that makes up for this. Watson is getting ready to leave Baker Street, and Holmes is warning him not to leave Sir Henry's side. Watson brandishes his gun to show that he's prepared for danger, and Holmes jokes with him in a French accent. I liked that warm moment, showing that Watson can be dangerous, and that they have a friendly relationship. Holmes isn't just critical and superior to him all the time.
Anyway, Watson goes with Sir Henry and Mortimer to Devon, and they have to stop at the local village so that their carriage can be searched. Barrymore explains that Selden is on the loose. Watson goes into the local pub to get a drink and inquire if he can send letters from there. But suddenly he runs into Lestrade! Lestrade says he is on "special assignment" to catch the convict Selden, because he was the one who arrested him in the first place. Watson sounds very disdainful and skeptical of Lestrade's abilities. In turn Lestrade is suspicious about why Watson is here without Holmes; is Holmes trying to catch Selden too? Watson, rather ridiculously, claims to be in Devon for the "sailing." Despite Lestrade's early appearance in the movie, he doesn't get to join Holmes and Watson in hunting the hound at the end of the movie. I'm rather puzzled why they did that; apparently they preferred keeping Lestrade hostile to Holmes and making him an incompetent rival.
Anyway, then Brian Blessed appears as Geoffrey Lyons, Laura Lyons's husband! This is a really radical departure from the book, that not only is Lyons the painter still living with Laura, but that Laura is not currently trying to divorce him even though he's a drunken abuser. I guess they wanted another red herring suspect to be the "bearded man" from the carriage, but sheesh, what it does to poor Laura Lyons! (Connie Booth plays Laura; she was also Violet Morstan in the Margaret Colin movie I love.) Geoffrey Lyons insults Sir Henry and makes a veiled reference to his hatred for Sir Charles before going back to his drink.
Sir Henry, Mortimer, and Watson finally leave for Baskerville Hall. The hound howls, and for some reason, Mortimer's dog Sheba runs off into the moor. Mortimer doesn't go to look for it, instead assuming that the dog decided to run home. But of course the spaniel gets killed, and even though Mortimer hears Sheba's cry, he still doesn't go out to investigate, because Barrymore says "some animal" must have fallen in the mire. Doesn't a spaniel count as "some animal"? I mean, I know the spaniel died in the book, but boy, Mortimer's passiveness about losing her seems stupid. Anyway, while they're playing pool after dinner, Barrymore goes to light the fire and discovers the fragment of Laura Lyons's note in the ashes. He hands it to Sir Henry and points out the date of the murder.
Next morning, Watson asks Mrs. Barrymore if she was the one crying last night. Both Barrymores deny it, so after breakfast, Watson says he'll post a letter to Holmes, then speak to Laura Lyons. Watson runs into Lestrade again, and then a gypsy with an accordion. He also has a pack of tarot cards and offers to read Lestrade's fortune. Watson tries to speak to Laura Lyons, but unfortunately, Geoffrey is at home and is jealous. Watson wisely decides not to mention the note, and to claim instead that he's lost and asking for directions. Lyons slams the door. Thus, even though Watson knows of Laura early, his investigation is stalled.
Inside the house, Geoffrey accuses Laura of having "aristocratic tastes" and Laura slaps him. Then Geoffrey grabs her, as if ready to hit her back, but he stops and suddenly says that he loves her and wishes she still loved him too. She says he was a different man before, and she leaves the room. I mean, it's not just the domestic abuse implied here, it's that they alternate his violence with talk of love. There are later scenes in the movie where he does actually get violent, or even choke her, but she actually asks other people to leave, rather than ask for their help. And they walk out, even though she's in danger. Why is Laura Lyons so screwed up, defending Geoffrey? But I suppose it's the same weird dynamic where Helen Stoner kept covering up for Dr. Roylott's brawls in SPEC. But still it's odd that there's no talk of divorce, like in the original story.
Out on the moor, Watson meets the gypsy again, and of course this must be Holmes in disguise, but Watson doesn't suspect. Jack Stapleton interrupts and shoos the gypsy away. He talks too fast and keeps asking Watson questions about Holmes, and what their theories about Sir Charles's death are. He's clever in trying to put Watson off-kilter, and he keeps claiming that he learned all about Watson from Dr. Mortimer. Meanwhile, Sir Henry is meeting Beryl Stapleton by himself. There's no case of mistaken identity, and she's a blonde on horseback, saving him from walking into the mire. All their romantic scenes have this sweeping feel, with them on the wild moor and the music swelling. She warns him to leave the moor, but he's too struck by her beauty to pay heed.
Back at Baskerville Hall, Watson writes a letter to Holmes late at night, but Sir Henry interrupts him to go sneak up on Mrs. Baskerville at the window. (She's the one signalling to Selden, not her husband.) She claims she doesn't know who's signalling back with the other light, and that she thought it was like the ghostly hound she saw before. She leaves with her husband, while Sir Henry and Watson decide to go outside and find the other light. When they get there, Selden tries to push a boulder onto them, but they escape. Watson shoots at Selden, winging him, but then declines to give chase. Watson says they ought to go back home before they get lost in the mist; Sir Henry spots the gypsy watching them.
The next day, Sir Henry and Watson visit the Stapletons. Later, Sir Henry and Beryl go riding on the moor by themselves, and they come across a gypsy camp. They approach Holmes-in-disguise, and he offers to read Beryl's fortune. She agrees and takes off her glove so he can read her palm. He sniffs her hand then gives her a creepy reading about how she has a choice to make, that involves life and death. She gets upset and rides away in guilt. Sir Henry catches up with her when she's crying under a tree, and he kisses her. Stapleton sees them and jealously fights with Sir Henry before storming off with Beryl.
Sir Henry is still telling Watson about the fight when Stapleton arrives to apologize. He gives a strange excuse that Beryl is in frail health and that she's obsessed with Sir Charles's death. If she falls in love too, surely that will ruin her health more. Er, what? Watson accepts this as if he believes it's brain fever or something, and Stapleton claims that he's sent Beryl away to be with an aunt so that she can get away from the gloomy atmosphere and recover. Er, she looked like a healthy, active woman riding her horse, you know. Don't know why they'd buy this "frail health" garbage from a so-called protective brother.
Anyway, that evening, Watson spots the gypsy on the moor and follows him back into his hut. He tries to threaten/question the gypsy, only to belatedly recognize the tune he's playing on his accordion. Holmes finally speaks in his own voice, and Watson wishes Holmes would stop keeping things from him. Meanwhile, Stapleton can't lure Sir Henry out with Beryl anymore, so he sends a forged note from Mortimer, asking him to come immediately. Sir Henry goes out alone, but the hound chases and kills Selden instead. Sir Henry discovers the body at the same time as Holmes and Watson do, and Holmes shows him that the hound was following the scent of Sir Henry's old clothes. Stapleton arrives and Holmes lies about how Selden died. He asks Stapleton to stay with the body while they all report the death to Lestrade.
Back at Baskerville Hall, Holmes informs the Barrymores of Selden's death, and Mrs. Barrymore apologizes to Sir Henry. Holmes asks Barrymore to describe the messenger that brought the note supposedly from Mortimer. It's merely the same "bearded man". So Holmes and Watson go to visit Laura Lyons, and they confront her with the burnt note fragment. Unlike in the book, Laura says that she was having an affair with Sir Charles, and that she made the appointment in the gazebo to be with him. However Geoffrey somehow found out and came home in a drunken rage to beat her, so she never made the rendezvous. Here is the part where she creepily defends Geoffrey, saying that his failure as an artist has made him a drunken abuser, but she knows that he's not really capable of murder. Besides, Sir Charles died of a heart attack. Holmes gets her to admit that someone else knew of her affair with Sir Charles, and she almost reveals the name, but Geoffrey comes home and attacks her for having men in the house. Watson tries to defend her, but Geoffrey smashes a bottle, and Laura actually tells both Watson and Holmes to go. Geoffrey even has a Grimesby Roylott moment, bending a fire poker. Holmes bends it back, but still leaves with Watson. Then Geoffrey starts choking her.
Laura is either stupid or suicidal; otherwise her behavior makes no sense. In the book she had been living alone, supporting herself with a typing business and seeking to divorce her husband. Also, Sir Charles wasn't her lover; Stapleton was. If Sir Charles loved her so much, and had plenty of money to help her get a divorce, then why didn't he do it? Even as a landlord, Sir Charles could have just thrown Lyons off the land, and invited Laura to stay with him or a friend. He had plenty of power to help her, and yet he apparently hasn't done so in this movie. Changing the affair makes Stapleton's jealousy over Beryl less hypocritical, but it sure makes Sir Charles a crap lover. I can't stand seeing Laura being a helpless victim of her husband, much less still loyal to him.
There's even worse things to come with Geoffrey, if you can believe it. Stapleton somehow finds out that Laura almost revealed his identity, so he goes to the house in disguise. Geoffrey is drunk and asleep while Laura is alone in bed, crying quietly. But she still hasn't run away! Stapleton gets on the bed and starts choking her. She struggles and pulls off his fake beard, recognizing him, then dies. He grabs his fake beard back and leaves.
Lestrade, who apparently hasn't left the moor yet, is in charge of the murder investigation, and he has Geoffrey Lyons in custody. Geoffrey claims he couldn't have killed Laura. He loves her, and she's the only beauty in his life. My God, this whining was so offensive. Like I'm supposed to feel sorry for him being framed, and believe his twisted love, when he was ready to choke her just like the real murderer! This relationship is so horrible. I think it's possibly meant to foreshadow the reveal about Beryl and Jack Stapleton, and why she never went to the police or anything, but this recurring abuse with contradictory protests of love and loyalty is sickening. Holmes allows Lestrade to think he's right and has caught the murderer; he even supports Mortimer's theory that Lyons was the same bearded man who tried to kill Sir Henry in London. And possibly send a dog to attack him on the moor? They say he had a dog, but I never saw one.
This is all, of course, confusing to Watson, because Holmes told him the other day that Lyons only had a motive to kill Sir Charles, not Sir Henry. Holmes says he was wrong and waves it off as Lyons becoming deranged with jealousy. They head back to Baskerville Hall to tell Sir Henry the good news that he's not in danger anymore. Stapleton invites everyone to his house for a celebratory dinner. Holmes says he and Watson are going back to London, though, and they hurry away. Watson still says things don't make sense, so Holmes finally reveals that the beard fibers found in Laura's hand were from Asian hair, the kind used in cheap wigs. It wasn't her husband's beard at all. Holmes only went along with Geoffrey's imprisonment in order that the real murderer would think Holmes failed and went home to London.
So that night, Holmes and Watson go to hunt the hound, and Holmes explains that it's Stapleton's, not Lyons' dog. As I said, Lestrade's not with them, so they wait for Sir Henry to leave Stapleton's house. Dr. Mortimer was also at dinner, but he leaves in his carriage while Sir Henry leaves on horseback. Holmes and Watson lose him in the fog, but the hound howls and knocks Sir Henry off his horse. Holmes fights the hound, and Dr. Mortimer arrives. Watson hesitates with his gun until he gets a clear shot, then he kills the hound. Holmes sends Sir Henry home with Dr. Mortimer, while he and Watson go back to Stapleton's house. While inside, they hear Beryl calling for help from a hidden cellar. It's weird that she wasn't heard before, when Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer were in the house. Anyway, they free her and ask her where Stapleton is. She offers to show them. They all go to a hut near the Grimpen Mire, where Stapleton kept the hound and fed it. Stapleton shoots at them and traps them in the house. Holmes slips out, though, and shoots at him. They chase Stapleton all over the mire, until he sinks. Stapleton begs for help, and Holmes actually tries to pull him out, but Stapleton still slips down.
Back at Baskerville Hall, Holmes shows everyone that Stapleton looks like the painting of Sir Hugo, and must be a Baskerville. Then he explains his deductions that Beryl sent the newspaper warning note in London, and was also Stapleton's wife, not his sister. She feels guilty and apologizes, saying that she thought she could try to stop Stapleton's scheme. (Though apparently not by going to the police.) Holmes gives a look to Sir Henry, who decides to forgive Beryl and go out on a walk with her, now that the curse of the Baskervilles is over. Watson remarks on the curse being a figment of the imagination, and Holmes replies that "without imagination, there would be no horror." The closing credits roll over Baskerville Hall.
This movie had various good points, particularly in the hound, but the scenes of assault and abuse are disturbing. Ian Richardson made a convincing Holmes, though, and Watson sometimes had strong moments. Richardson also starred in an adaptation of SIGN, but with a different Watson, so I'll have to find it and hope it will be better.