MURDER AT THE BASKERVILLES is an adaptation of one of Conan Doyle's most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, "Silver Blaze", padded out to feature length by the unnecessary addition of Professor Moriarty into the tale. The film has almost nothing to do with the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, despite Holmes and Watson taking a holiday at the estate of their old friend Sir Henry Baskerville. Add to this mix that other villain Col. Sebastian Moran, complete with his air gun, and you have a film which seems a bit desperate in its attempt to be as Holmesian as possible.
That's not a drawback. MURDER AT THE BASKERVILLES is a good film anyway, perhaps the best of all the available Holmes films starring Arthur Wontner. A mere two years before Basil Rathbone would become Holmes to millions in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, Wontner still owned the part of the World's Only Consulting Detective, and, as in the previous film THE TRIUMPH OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, he has much fun playing Holmes, even to a point where he appears to throw in an ad-lib in a scene with John Turnbull's Inspector Lestrade. The mystery of a dead stableboy and a kidnapped horse is played out nicely, although the unexpected murderer is revealed in a line that is basically tossed into the air without much fanfare. For fans of the original short story, considered by many as one of Conan Doyle's greatest, there is some sad news: the story's "Incident of the Dog in the Night" dialogue, perhaps the most famous exchange in the entire Holmes canon, is unfortunately marred by damage suffered to the film over the years.
As for Moriarty, he feels shoehorned into the story, and the cheesiness of his evil hideout that looks like it came straight from a bad Saturday morning serial, stands in high contrast to the glamor and class of the rest of the film which takes place at Baskerville Hall. I suppose by this time audiences expected Professor Moriarty in a Holmes film, and sure enough he would return again in the Basil Rathbone - Nigel Bruce series. ½ - JB