3. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
IMDB score = 4.5/10
Holmes and Watson? = Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Synopsis = A Sherlock Holmes spoof about a family that has been haunted for years by the curse of a horrible hound.
Defense by Paul Thomas Miller:
What makes this film an especially painful failure, is the fact that it should be fantastic. Written by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and starring the likes of Spike Milligan, Kenneth Williams, Irene Handl, Terry Thomas and Denholm Elliott, it should have been amazing. But popular consensus is that it is a total stinker.
Does it deserve this analysis? Hell yes. The plot is confusing, Watson is inexplicably Welsh, they insert the classic one legged actor sketch into the middle to pad it out and the ending involves a Benny Hill style chase across the moor, the invention of KFC and a volcano.
It has to be the least Holmesian Holmes film ever made.
Or is it? After all, there are references to Canonical cases such as The Engineer’s Thumb, until the last ten minutes the plot is fairly close to the original, the inter-titles are accompanied by the original Paget illustrations and we even get to set Selden chased to his death by the Hound.
And at the end of the day, this was intended to be a comedy first and a Holmes movie second. Much though the almost incoherent plot ruins its status as a film, much of the humour is still pretty good. It ranges from Carry On humour (“Did you manage to drag yourself up on deck?” “Ooh no, I just dressed casual.”) to visual humour like Stapleton’s perpetually piddling pooches.
It also includes a nice theme of Sherlock deciding to send Watson on the case alone because he wants to have a break from sleuthing. We get to see Cook explore how he imagines Holmes would have relaxed. Okay, it doesn’t give any fantastic Holmesian insights, but it does open up an interesting topic for further consideration.
While the weirdness of an Exorcist-style Beryl Stapleton and the confusion of involving people like Holmes’s mum may drag this film back a bit, it is still possible to enjoy it. I reckon any group of Holmesians could get enjoyment out of watching this film together and then chatting about it afterwards. For my money, if you can get a fun conversation out of a Holmes, it has validated itself.