Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret which he will do anything to protect, even if that means driving his wife insane.
A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away...
The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane; now Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Sherlock Holmes takes on a case that the press has dubbed the pajama suicides. Eminent men are going to bed in the safety of their own homes, with everything seemingly being normal, only to commit suicide in the night. Holmes fakes his own death in the hopes of giving him a freer hand in the investigation and is convinced that a woman, a female Moriarty as he describes her, is behind the deaths. The dead men were all eminent and very wealthy. He impersonates a wealthy retired Indian military officer in the hope of drawing out the woman and he soon meets Adrea Spedding but she quickly sees through his disguise and proves herself to be the challenge Holmes predicted she would be. She is a worthy adversary and soon traps him setting him up in a carnival shooting gallery that seems to assure his death. Written by
At one point Holmes says to Watson, "If you ever see me getting too sure again, fancying myself more clever then Adrea Spedding, just whisper one word to me: pygmy." This line was inspired by the short story "The Adventure of the Yellow Face," in which Holmes tells Watson, "If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you." See more »
The pygmy skeleton Holmes and Watson finds in Matthew Ordway's closet is clearly a flat cardboard prop rather than a three-dimensional skeleton. See more »
One of the best in Universal's Sherlock Holmes series, The Spider Woman dispenses, for the most part, with the overt WWII subject matter (which was also reasonably sparse in the previous outing, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death). The climax does make use of the image of Hitler and other Axis figures, but this was (aside from a brief mention in Dressed to Kill) the final direct war reference in the series. This bears mentioning because the film benefits strongly from the general lack of wartime subterfuge. Rather than battling Nazi agents, Rathbone's Sherlock is embroiled in a truly Holmesian mystery, surrounding several apparent suicides...which Holmes, naturally (and correctly), deduces to be homicides.
Though the opening credits proclaim "Based on a Story by Arthur Conan Doyle," The Spider Woman adapts (quite freely) major incidents from no less than five of Conan Doyle's tales...The Sign of Four, The Speckled Band, The Final Problem, The Empty House (also referenced in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon), and The Devil's Foot. False advertising, maybe...but the script (courtesy of Bertram Millhauser) manages to weave them all into a framework that makes for a fun and intriguing mystery.
Other assets include the performances, which are better than in some of the earlier films (though Rathbone and Bruce never disappointed), and the more sure-handed guidance of regular directer Roy William Neill...by this time, a vast improvement over the direction in his first Holmes outing, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. It's also appropriate (if somewhat superficial) to note that Holmes's hairstyle, which changed for the better in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, thankfully does not revert in this one (nor at any time for the duration of the series) to the shambles that it was in the first three films.
All in all, one of the best made, and most entertaining, films in the Universal series. It doesn't quite rise to the heights of The Scarlet Claw, but it's easily one of the best.
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