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Monday, May 13, 2019

Capturing A Moment No One Else Did

Russell Merritt Collars a Bone-Chilling Hound in 1959

If challenged to name a healthy addiction, I submit … Sherlock Holmes. Is there another fictional character to demand such fan devotion for over a hundred years? Surely it gratifies Robert Downey, Jr. more to play Holmes than Iron Man. I watch Rathbone/Holmes when I’m not in the mood for anything else, which is often. There are those who have duplicated 221-B Baker Street in their home, exact to a last fleck of dust. Retrieval of thought-lost Holmes films has been a last couple year’s detective story, so far yielding William Gillette in a 1915 feature, then a German-made Hound Of The Baskervilles (Der Hund von Baskerville) that never played theatres in America and wasn’t expected to surface again. A lead rescuer was writer/historian Russell Merritt, an avid Sherlockian who contributes interview insights plus a booklet essay to Flicker Alley’s just-out Blu-Ray. The climb toward restoration was steep: a nitrate source here, surviving 9.5 footage there, and stills to bridge a minor gap in the second reel. Result is an impossible dream of Holmes devotees fully realized. Extras include an even earlier Hound brought up from depths. It’s an extraordinary package for mystery mavens.

And speaking to extraordinary, here are highlights I am privileged to share from scrapbooks maintained by Russell Merritt when he was a teenager living in New Jersey. Priding myself for clipping ads from early-on childhood, imagine humbling sight of all-encompassing save that Russell made of Gotham’s first-run of Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles in summer 1959. He didn’t preserve one ad from the Victoria Theatre’s Broadway open --- he got them all --- each different, of course, with the group a summation of how Hound was promoted for NY premiere play. Kept too was press coverage, reviews, publicity plants, a trade ad, and get this for remarkable: young Mr. Merritt, age sixteen, took his camera to the Victoria and photographed the marquee and entrance. I don’t believe such images exist elsewhere. Certainly they were not to be had ten years ago when I searched trades for NY marquee shots to illustrate a Greenbriar Hammer Hound post. What Russell Merritt captured in 7/59 was unique and remains so. This is scholarship with sleeves rolled up, and done in the field. Precocious on one hand (how many teens carried cameras with them to movies?), far-sighted beyond what any other fan would attempt on the other, let alone sixty years ago when films were figured disposable at best by most.

I’ve pondered these images a lot since Russell sent them. Note the Astor next door with The Horse Soldiers. A massive billboard heralds the playdate for John Ford’s Civil War saga starring John Wayne and William Holden. Both it and Baskervilles hailed from distributor United Artists. UA bet more of ad/pub on The Horse Soldiers, figuring a wider public would embrace the starry cast and setting over a UK import with less certain prospects. In fact, the Ford film fell down wickets-wise, despite the massive push, big spending not returned by a less enthused attendance. The Victoria hangs key art of the Baskerville’s Hound on the marquee, plus banners ringing the theatre front. UA was committed to a “Horror-Phonic” sell from the start. You’d not know from advertising that Sherlock Holmes was even involved in this venture. Did the “Howl-and-Horror” campaign help or hurt receipts? A disappointing domestic outcome suggests the latter, but how else to exploit Hound Of The Baskervilles but on shocker terms? Baskervilles is Broadway-dwarfed by The Horse Soldiers, but we can be grateful that Russell Merritt chose Holmes/Hammer for his scrapbook and photog emphasis, his a most complete record by far of how this Hound howled in 1959 Gotham. Much thanks then, for his sharing these marvelous images with us.


Blogger DBenson said...

There's a CD, "Sherlock Holmes: Classic Themes From Baker Street", that includes a medley of the Hammer Hound score. It's available used and as an MP3 download at Amazon.

The Rathbone and the Hammer versions remain the best of a surprising number of attempted Hounds. The Ian Richardson version was juiced with ugly rape scenes; the Jeremy Brett version was too stately (and the genuine locations were ironically too pretty); the Tom Baker TV serial was soap-opera cheap; the Australian animated version (voice of Peter O'Toole) was a bore; and the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comedy was a jawdropping waste of Cook, Moore, and a mob of talented comic actors. "Sherlock" resorted to a scifi approach. There are at least four more floating around out there.

4:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I watched some You Tube clips today from a 1972 TV-movie of Baskervilles with Stewart Granger as Holmes.

7:04 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

Tragic situation re-exposed here, and it is STILL difficult to accept the truth of it all re/..'when sixty years ago when films were considered disposable at best by most". This has been something of a shocker; a wake-up call for classic film lovers like me who have passed an ignorance test with an A grade with thinking that most memorable films would ALWAYS be with us-like a GREAT BOOK, and NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN, and therefore NEVER would I have ever come to the conclusion that they could or would become items of ANY or NO further use in a persons' life, nor could there be any real value involved to give thought to any more of it than the price of a film ticket or book cost, period-- That THAT alone, would be enough . It seems like the film or book from yesteryear, then, has been such a waste,(?) save for the few things that we DO and CAN recall from said cherished items as important to us-& maybe be memorable for friend-sharing as well.. However, to really ice the cake, it seems that there's approx. 3000 human beings who do care enough to purchase a BOOK, OR a VIDEO of OLD.(3000 units 'issued' of the particular collectors' item). Not a warm thought to know that the rest of the Human Race could care less. They REALLY don't give a damn. I guess I've really been ignorant to this fact, wanting to believe that old classic movies would always remain memorable with the World Public. GOD, WHAT A LETDOWN. Just ask someone, anyone what they think about OLD MOVIES. You'll find out. .In my hypnotic state of the subject I sure wish it had been sooner in this life, than the later it has become...

7:30 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...


I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and really enjoyed your current column. I was wondering if you are aware of the two season 1960s BBC Sherlock Holmes series?

Season one ran from 1964-1965 and season two ran in 1968 with Nigel Stock as Watson. In the first season Douglas Wilmer played Holmes (I believe including the pilot that there were 13 episodes. Wilmer is very highly regarded for his portrayal of Holmes, but he did not enjoy the experience.

After Wilmer declined to return, the BBC cast Peter Cushing. That season consisted of 16 episodes one of which was a two part Hound of the Baskervilles. It is interesting to compare the 1959 with the 1968 television version.

Several years ago, the surviving Wilmer and Cushing episodes each got their own DVDs, which are worth tracking. I have heard the there might be blue rays forthcoming and more episodes may have located..

Joe from Virginia Beach

Joe McGrenra

8:33 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

My admiration for Peter Cushing is second-to-none.

That said, I never thought he nailed it as Sherlock Holmes. He always seemed to be ... performing rather than being.

He is more like Sherlock Holmes in The Mummy or as Van Helsing in any of the Dracula films than he is when playing Sherlock Holmes. I think he got stuck trying to be eccentric when, instead, he should have just relied on his trademark fire-and-ice. It would've been every effective.

9:16 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

A great post about a great movie.

Thanks, Mr. McElwee

9:51 PM  

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