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This might rate as the most entertaining of all the Basil Rathbone
Sherlock Holmes films, which I still think are the best renditions on
film of the famous detective.
This has a surprising amount of action and is simply a fun story to watch. Packed into just one hour are such scenes as Holmes faking his death, a near-poisoning of he and Dr. Watson by gas, a strange little boy who hops around a room, tarantulas on the loose, on and on.
Nigel Bruce is his normally funny Dr. Watson and Gale Sondergaard makes an excellent villain. Credibility is stretched in the beginning and ending scenes but it's an enjoyable ride all the way through.
Sherlock Holmes matches wits with THE SPIDER WOMAN, a fiendish femme
fatale responsible for a series of ingenious London murders.
Holmes & Watson face one of their most dangerous enemies in this highly enjoyable little crime mystery. Angry arachnids, toxic gas, Hitler's deadly heart and a very sinister little boy are only some of the elements Holmes must contend with in order to solve the latest crime spree to baffle the Metropolitan Police. Behind it all is the malice of a clever, cruel & cunning woman who gleefully challenges the great detective to do his best to stop her.
The movie is not without its faults. The brief running time and abrupt conclusion are unfortunate, and the ultimate reason for all the murders is really not all that exciting, but the vivid characters and dangerous adventure more than compensate for the film's shortcomings.
Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce remain perfect in their leading roles. Rathbone obviously relished playing the cerebral genius and he gets to spice out his characterization with a couple of dead-on disguises. Bumbling Bruce only grows more lovable with each passing film, playing his part with fierce loyalty as well as charming naiveté.
Oscar winning actress Gale Sondergaard portrays the title role with deadly feline guile, teasing Holmes the way a cat plays with a mouse. Alec Craig & Arthur Hohl steal a few screen moments as eccentric entomologists. Back for their recurring roles are Dennis Hoey as dogged Inspector Lestrade and dear Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson.
This film -- which was based on wisps of plot from Conan Doyle's
The Final Problem, The Empty House, The Speckled Band, The Sign of Four, and The Devil's Foot -- followed SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH (1943) and preceded THE SCARLET CLAW (1944). Miss Sondergaard reprised her villainous role two years later in THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946).
I'm becoming a huge fan of Universal's classic Sherlock Holmes series. The more of them I see, the more I enjoy the series and the more I am impressed by Basil Rathbone's excellent portrayal of the great literary detective. This mystery follows a mysterious series of suicides and it sees Holmes and his good friend Dr Watson at their best once again. While I wouldn't consider this entry in the series as one of the very best, it's certainly very good and anyone who likes this sort of thing will no doubt enjoy themselves. Really, though, Holmes could be investigating what makes steam come out of the kettle and it would be invigorating and exciting just thanks to the way that Basil Rathbone plays the man. The mannerisms, the voice and the screen presence of the great actor combine to create a fantastic representation of the eloquent detective and you really can't imagine anyone but Basil Rathbone playing Sherlock Holmes in these films. One problem with this entry in the series, however, is that it's very short at just an hour long and this ensures that the film can never really get it's teeth into the central mystery plot line, and it feels somewhat underdone because of this. However, this is made up for with some great sequences, most notably the one in which Doctor Watson meets an entomologist that Holmes has hired, which I say is the best scene in any Sherlock Holmes movie, ever. These sorts of films work because they're a lot of fun to watch, and this instalment is no different. If you like Sherlock Holmes mysteries; this isn't as good as the likes of Hound of the Baskervilles, The Scarlet Claw and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; but it stands up as an admirable entry into the series in it's own right!
The 1942-43 Holmes/Watson films are often pathetic nonsense involving Nazi
spies and have Holmes dashing all over the place firing guns at all and
sundry, which doesn't work at all.
Yes, this is wartime, and the targets in the fairground shooting gallery are Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini, but this is a proper detective story about mysterious murders.
It's an amalgam of Conan Doyle's original stories The Sign of Four and The Final Problem rather than a farrago of cod secret agents, and it works pretty well as a mystery.
Gale Sondergaard makes a marvellous villain, and plays excellently opposite Rathbone's Holmes.
Well worth while
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
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.
With an involved, detailed mystery and an elegant adversary played by
Gale Sondergaard, this is one of the most entertaining features in the
Sherlock Holmes series of movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel
Bruce. The story gets a little far-fetched, but it is quite
interesting. It is loaded with plot devices pulled from several
different Arthur Conan Doyle stories, and it's interesting to see how
many you can catch. It also features the usual pleasant camaraderie
between Rathbone and Bruce, plus Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade.
As "The Spider Woman", Sondergaard creates a memorable opponent for Holmes. The slightly exaggerated role cannot have been much of a challenge for such a fine actress, but she puts her heart into it, and looks as if she is enjoying herself - as her character certainly is. By creating such a dynamic character, she also helps make the complicated story seem more plausible, and it creates a worthy challenge for Holmes.
The movie also contains the amusing bits of dialogue and detail that characterized so many of the movies in the series. The climactic sequence, in particular, is a very good combination of suspense and wit. It is a fitting way to cap off an enjoyable entry in the popular series.
The fifth installment in Universal's Sherlock Holmes series and one of the best. "Spider Woman" finds Basil Rathbone matching wits with the enticing title character, superbly played by the beautiful Gale Sondergaard. Rathbone's Holmes is brilliant as always, but even Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson is permitted to show some brains for once in this immensely entertaining mystery. A good show all around, although this series would really hit its peak with the next episode, "The Scarlet Claw."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film, along with Hound of the Baskervilles, Woman in Green, and Pearl of Death, is in a tie for the best Holmes film as far as I'm concerned. The film grabs the viewer's attention immediately with a man jumping to his death (which viewers later learn is the result of a spider bite causing pain and apparently insanity), and England once again needs Holmes. Holmes and Watson are away in Scotland, where the detective fakes his death after telling Watson he is not well enough to solve the case, falling over a waterfall supposedly from a cerebral hemorage. Lestrad has a rare moment where he admits respect for Holmes, and a scene where Holmes in disguise badmouths himself and gets slugged by Watson for it is priceless, especially when Watson faints when he learns Holmes is alive. Back to work, Holmes in disguise starts to unravel the case he and Watson had been discussing before his supposed death to throw the murderess of guard. The Spider Woman is his intellectual equal though, and sees through his disguise. Several scenes follow with witty banter between the two, an attempt at killing Holmes and Watson with poisonous gas, Watson embarrassing himself by mistaking a spider expert for Holmes in disguise, and the two friends nearly being killed by an impostor spider expert. For once Watson is actually a help to Holmes understanding how the crime is done by pointing him towards the pygmy idea. The end scene is too good to spoil,but take my word for it, it's as suspenseful and funny as the best of any Holmes scenes. Avid readers of the original series will recognize scenes from The Final Problem (the death scene), the Empty House (the return), The Speckled Band (where the spider goes after Holmes in the hotel) and Sign of the Four (one word: pygmy. LOL).
In wartime Britain, a series of well-known men commit suicide - their only
connection being the fact that they are all gamblers. This happens while
Holmes and Watson are holidaying in Scotland when this is happening and
Holmes fakes his own death to be able to go back to London in disguise and
work on the case. He finds the killer with ease but not the method or
motive for the murders.
The interesting set up of graphic suicides (or at least graphic for the time) had me from the start but the film didn't manage to hold me throughout the running time although it got better towards the end. The usual `he's dead - oh, he's not' thing didn't really work for me but happily the film didn't labour this ruse too long. The plot does have certainly `different' aspects to it, they may not be supernatural as such but they are certainly different from the usual fare. There isn't anything too wrong about this but I didn't totally get won over by it.
The film does have some fine moments to it - the scene where Watson unwittingly is made to try and kill Holmes, very tense and enjoyable and ends with a Holmes line that Bond himself would have been proud of: `I was just going round and round but my heart wasn't really in it'! The confrontations between Holmes and Spedding are enjoyable - she is an extraordinary villain and she matches Holmes well.
Rathbone does good work and he does bring out a reasonable chemistry with Sondergaard that helps the fact that they are meant to be against each other. Bruce is good and seems to be growing in confidence (or at least what the film allows him to do) with some good quips of his own. Hoey is always a welcome addition to the cast and he is a good comic relief that takes the pressure off Bruce somewhat.
Overall, the plot didn't totally hang together for me and it lacked a little bit of logic as a result of the slightly unusal nature of the murders and the criminals involved but it is still very enjoyable and the conclusion in the fairground is a lot tenser than a B-movie deserves to be!
Adrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard), the evil mastermind of The Spider
Woman, concocts a particularly absurd scheme in order to make herself
filthy rich: she convinces wealthy men with cash flow problems to use
their life insurance policies as collateral against a loan; then she
bumps them off, not with anything as simple as a gun or dagger, but by
releasing a pygmy into the ventilation ducts where they live, and
having him release a poisonous spider into their bedroom while they
sleep. So excruciating is the pain from the spider's bite, that the men
hurl themselves to their death rather than endure the agony. With no
clues as to why the men have killed themselves (the obedient spider
obviously having wandered back into the vent having done his duty), the
press report these mysterious deaths as 'pyjama suicides'.
Holmes (Basil Rathbone) naturally suspects otherwise and cooks up with own crazy plan to discover the truth: whilst enjoying a relaxing fishing break in Scotland with trusty sidekick Watson (Nigel Bruce), the great detective fakes his own death, and then adopts a series of silly disguises to investigate the case, soon coming face to face with The Spider Woman, who proves to be every bit as devious and deadly as Holmes' old nemesis Moriarty, but better looking.
This preposterous plot makes for one of the most entertaining films in the series, Holmes' sporting patently false facial hair for his roles as a rude postie and a down-on-his luck Indian Rajni Singh, Watson making a complete fool of himself with an eminent entomologist, and Spedding ordering pint-sized Obongo from the Congo, the Prancing Pygmy (Angelo Rossitto, one-half of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome's Master Blaster) back into his case! The film also benefits from a suitably silly ending in which Adrea tries to do away with Holmes in a manner so convoluted it would shame Austin Powers' Dr. Evil: she ties him up in a fairground shooting gallery, his heart directly behind one of the targets, and leaves it up to an oblivious Watson to do her dirty work!
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