Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cook), the world's greatest detective, has been called upon to solve many an unusual case, as today when a group of nuns arrive at the Baker Street address he shares with his companion Dr John Watson (Dudley Moore) and implore them to find a stolen relic before an important religious ceremony can take place. Luckily, Holmes' keen mind noticed precisely who stole the object and sends them away happy, but when another potential client, Dr. Mortimer (Terry-Thomas), turns up claiming a monstrous hound is loose on Dartmoor, Holmes decides he has better things to do.
If only everyone involved had felt the same then we would not have this film as a career low point for both Cook and Moore and the hapless British talent they cast here. The reasons for the production's failure have been well-documented, but essentially it boiled down to one man: director Paul Morrissey, who was brought in for his hip associations with Andy Warhol, but turned out to have a tin ear for comedy, or British comedy at any rate. He was a big fan of the Carry On series and ordered the duo to rework the script under his influence to make it more like those, then additionally to include a bunch of their old sketches.
He felt audiences would want to see material they were familiar with, which explains why there were so many famous faces showing up in supporting roles, especially Kenneth Williams who had been a mainstay of the Carry Ons, and summed up why his style and Cook and Moore's style really were not compatible. The sad thing was the partnership that had been so fruitful before was truly looking forward to recapturing the magic of their first film together, Bedazzled, and they were often mentioning this as their dream project for years before it went before the cameras, so when it was judged as one of the worst British comedies ever made the effect must have been crushing as the bitterness of Derek and Clive and the team's subsequent estrangement was all that was left for their future together.
Funnily enough, the script stuck surprisingly close to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original plot, except that where Holmes pretends to be otherwise engaged on the page all the better to conduct his own clandestine investigations, in this incarnation he really cannot be bothered with the case and we see him in sketches where he visits a massage parlour (run by a seductive Penelope Keith, if you can envisage that) or goes to see his mother (Moore in drag) who is a fake medium for no apparent reason to do with the matter in hand. This leaves Watson to bumble through the sleuthing for the most part, with Moore rabbitting his way through leaden puns and shtick which wouldn't pass muster in the most impoverished music hall.
Still, as a record of well known performers making arses of themselves through no fault of their own, this Hound of the Baskervilles did have a car crash quality about it that made the occasional item of potential amusement stick out like a forlorn lighthouse amid a stormy clutter of gags dying in the air; Watson visiting the Post Office and finding the postmaster is dressed identically to him, except even shorter almost raises a smirk. As it was, Williams was allowed to go way over the top which looked like desperation, and his fellow thesps tried to make something out of very little, but you could discern a dead behind the eyes appearance to many of them. Cook and Moore had tried to salvage the film by recutting it, but Morrissey's damage had been done, making one wish they'd recruited a journeyman director rather than a cult talent whose approach jarred so badly with theirs. When Moore's piano player (he had scored the film himself like a silent movie) is booed and pelted with vegetables at the end, it doesn't seem like a joke at all, but then, neither does much else here.