Thursday, January 19, 2017

Calling Doctor Watson!

I'm a sucker for Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. When I'm asked what my favorite novel is I usually give out the title of Doyle's mystery on the moors. The blend of classic detection and murder with a whisper of the supernatural is a delightful brew that any fan of Scooby-Doo can appreciate. It has been adapted to the small and large screens many times and I try to ferret them all out to see who has grokked the essence of the tale.

The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Matt Frewer (Max Headroom himself) as Sherlock Holmes has more than a few virtues. This version is a 2000 television version from the great land of Canada. Frewer played the great detective four times, of which this is the first. I cannot judge the others since I have not seen them, but this portrayal is not all that good. He seems to be playing at Sherlock rather than inhabiting the character; filling the role with affectations and limited understanding. The virtue of The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Sherlock Holmes is actually not present for much of the story and that is certainly the case here, where with some changes we see even less of him than in the original story.

That leaves room for the true protagonist of the novel -- Dr. Watson. And the Watson here is quite good as played by veteran actor Kenneth Welsh. Welsh is one those myriad actors whose name is likely unknown but whose face is ubiquitous for veteran televison watchers.  He is easily the best actor in this movie and he gives his Watson a perfect blend of the necessary incompetence and empathy which the character demands. He's no fool this Watson by any means.

The other actors in the piece are okay, with Robin Wilcock as Stapleton doing an above average job. The role of Henry Baskerville was played by Jason London and frankly he was fine but seemed a bit too young in the face for my tastes. Emma Campbell as Beryl Stapleton was a right beauty. Arthur Holden and Leni Parker as the Barrymores are quite good.

And then there's the eponymous "Hound", which in point of fact is not even a hound as far as I can tell. I'm no student of dog species by any means so I cannot detect the breed but this dog was far from spectral and not even all that big. He was shown in the daytime and seen much too often to be considered a ghost. It was all rather a botch.

The setting is lovely and does steal a scene or two from the sometimes merely capable acting, but it doesn't seem to have the bleakness one associates with the desolate moors of Doyle's story. It's crucial that the isolation of the Baskervilles be communicated as that's key to the threat to Henry.

This is a perfectly harmless adaptation, but whatever virtues it has go to the actors, especially Welsh who wring out whatever they can from a meager outing. And as for Sherlock Holmes, it's probably not a good thing when in a Holmes story you want even less of the title character.

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