The sixty tales that comprise the Sherlock Holmes Canon hold a unique place in the realm of both adaptation studies and culture studies. The stories were originally written at a time concurrent with the birth of cinema; Holmes was part of the vanguard of literary figures to appear on film. Since his first appearance on screen in 1900, Sherlock Holmes, his friend and colleague Dr. Watson, and the adventures in which they figure have been consistently adapted for the full lifespan of the cinematic medium. Despite this rich history, the adaptations have, almost without exception, been scrutinized through the lens of fidelity criticism, a trend that ignores the potential for more revealing scholarship.
This work offers a detailed survey of seven adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, spanning seventy years, in order to establish and analyze a pattern in the on-screen presentation of Dr. Watson's character through the shifting dynamics of his relationship with Sherlock Holmes. As it approaches the character of Watson as the on-screen proxy for the viewer, it also draws connections between how he is presented and the audience's views and needs. By placing these films into conversation with one another rather than exclusively with the source text, the study takes an important step away from fidelity criticism and opens the door to a wide range of future fruitful analyses of Sherlock Holmes on screen.