The Hound of the Baskervilles appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Part of a 14-film package, the Blu-ray’s press materials indicate that 12 of those flicks received restoration via the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The info doesn’t state which two lacked restoration, but a little research makes it apparent; since two of the movies were originally released by Fox, it seems very likely that those were the ones that didn’t get the full clean-up.
Hound is one of those pair. While the Blu-ray didn’t look awful, it was immediately clear that the transfer came from a problematic source.
Though a source that improved as it progressed. At its worst, Hound suffered from a mix of concerns. Sharpness could be a bit off, and I thought the film went with too much digital noise reduction; that tended to give the movie something of a pasty, flat look at times. Parts of the flick were a bit too bright and blown-out, and print flaws created definite distractions. I noticed instances of blotches, scratches, lines, and specks.
These decreased a lot as the movie went on, though. While I saw some examples of source defects from start to finish, they were definitely heavier in the first act; the remaining two acts seemed cleaner. Sharpness also improved along the way; while I still saw instances of iffy definition, the movie could boast pretty solid delineation much of the time.
Blacks tended to be pretty tight and dense, and low-light shots boasted nice clarity. I continued to think the DNR was an issue, and the movie could be too bright, but again, those concerns decreased as we went through the film. While I felt the transfer came with too many problems for a grade above a “C-”, I nonetheless felt pleased with much of the image.
Similar thoughts greeted the flawed monaural audio of Hound. Speech tended to be the strongest aspect of the track. Dialogue could seem a bit sharp, but the lines were always easily intelligible, and they lacked notable edginess. This was a chatty flick, and the speech was perfectly acceptable.
Music played a minor role, as the film lacked much score. When heard, those elements came across as somewhat harsh, but they were decent. The same went for effects; though they didn’t have much to do, they were fine for their age, as they showed some roughness but not a great deal.
The audio lost most of its points due to source flaws. The track came with quite a few clicks and pops, and it showed skips at times; parts of the recording appeared to be missing, as the audio would jump on occasion. These problems weren’t unreasonable given the movie’s age, but I still thought they created distractions. All of that left us with a mediocre soundtrack.
Because Hound came as part of a 14-film, five-disc set, I didn’t give it a grade for bonus materials. The package spreads these across all of those platters, and only a few are film-specific, so I didn’t think it was fair to issue individual marks for extras.
Hound does come with one specific component: an audio commentary from author David Stuart Davies. In this running, screen-specific track, Davies discusses the original story and its adaptation to the screen, cast, characters and performances, sets and costumes, and a few other production areas.
On the negative side, Davies drops out a little too often, so we end up with a bit more dead air than I’d like. However, that’s not a major issue, and Davies offers a reasonable amount of good information. He works especially well when he gets into differences between the novel and the movie, and he also chips in nice facts about deleted/unshot scenes. Despite the lulls, this becomes a useful commentary.
Also found on Disc One of this package, we get an Introduction by Robert Gitt. In this four-minute, 38-second piece, Gitt discusses the efforts that went into the restoration of the Universal Holmes flicks. Since Hound came from Fox, it may seem odd that I mention this extra in this review, but the “Introduction” is generic enough that I’ll refer to it in all of my Holmes discussions. Gitt gives us a good look at some of the challenges he and his team encountered.
Disc Five offers a few more bonus materials, and we find five Photo Galleries. Each one shows a running montage of stills accompanied by music; they run two minutes, 35 seconds apiece. We see posters and photos from the flicks. These are mildly interesting but not particularly memorable.
Next we discover a compilation of trailers. We locate promos for The Spider Woman, The Scarlet Claw, The Pearl of Death, House of Fear, Terror By Night and Dressed to Kill. They’re in awful shape, but they’re still fun to see.
Footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes from a newsreel that appeared at the time of his death. This one-minute, 16-second clip gives us a little of Doyle as he talks about his work on the series. He doesn’t tell us much, but it’s nice to have a look at the man behind the legend.
Though The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Sherlock Holmes film to star Basil Rathbone, it wasn’t the best. The movie mixes good with meh to end up as a decent but not tremendously endearing adventure. The Blu-ray provides inconsistent picture and audio along with an interesting audio commentary. Hound deserves a look for its historical value, but it’s not a great film.