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One of the best of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series at
Universal. This one has Holmes faking his own death in order to
investigate a series of suspicious suicides. His investigation leads
him to one of his most formidable foes: a villainess with a use for
spiders played with deliciously evil glee by Gale Sondergaard.
This is a fun one. It's smart and humorous with nice atmosphere, fine suspense, and solid performances all around. It's got many of the trademarks of the series, including the lovable buffoonery from Nigel Bruce's Watson, Holmes in disguises that shouldn't fool anyone, and Dennis Hoey's Inspector Lastrade, always a day late and a clue short on every case. Watson and Lestrade aren't just around for comic relief, though. They have a very touching scene together when they believe Holmes has died. The scene stealer in this one is Gale Sondergaard, who easily matches any male villain the Holmes series had and tops most of them. Her chemistry with Rathbone is terrific. Universal was so impressed they signed her to a contract, intending to do a whole series of B films based on the Spider Woman character. Plans changed, however, and the only other Spider Woman movie Sondergaard made -- The Spider Woman Strikes Back -- had no connection to the character from this movie. That's a shame because Sondergaard was perfect for horror/thriller films and those could have been some enjoyable movies. This is definitely one of the high marks for the series and one you will want to see.
As the title suggests, this time Holmes has got to do with a TRUE
'spider woman' - not that she bears any resemblance to those not very
charming creatures, but she's exactly as dangerous and reckless as
them, and even 'works' with them (by the way, she's played by Gale
Sondergaard, who specialized in mysterious and sometimes really fatal
But at the beginning of the story there's a mysterious series of 'pyjama suicides', where quite successful and seemingly happy people suddenly commit suicide in the middle of the night, without leaving even a note behind them; and for solving those very strange 'incidents - which aren't suicides, but MURDERS, as Holmes has already deduced - Holmes goes 'underground' in a very spectacular way. He fakes his own death, and disguised as a high-ranking Indian officer, he examines a famous casino where people play for very high stakes - because, as he knows, there's ONE thing all the 'suicide cases' had in common: they had all been notorious gamblers... And there he meets dark, beautiful Adrea Spedding - the 'spider woman'...
So, of course, there's no great mystery there; we get to know very soon who's the instigator of those 'suicides', and how they're carried out - but that leads us to REAL, enormously poisonous spiders and other sudden, unexpected dangers and a lot of other features that render this movie REALLY suspenseful! Surely a great enjoyment for every fan of classic crime...
This is one of the funnier of the Holmes/Rathbone movies. The premise itself defies belief, but we can still go along for the ride. The question for me is, "How do you train spiders to seek out and attack people?" You make up a spider that can do this. You also throw in a boy in a British school uniform who hops every three steps and goes around catching flies. He is the nephew of the spider woman. He is responsible for throwing something into the fireplace that almost asphyxiates our boys. This is about a series of suicides that are unexplainable, until we realize there is an insurance scam involved. How can suicide be murder. You find this out. There is the usual Holmes speechmaking and pontificating. Watson does everything he can to obstruct things. Gail Sondegaard is a pretty good villain, kind of an in-your-face threat, hiding in plain sight. Holmes is aware that she is on to him, but has to find evidence. Still, a delightful B-movie that I remember as a child.
The Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films are generally good(great in the case of Hound of the Baskervilles, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Scarlet Claw) films and Rathbone's Holmes is easily the best of the movie incarnations of the characters, second only to Jeremy Brett overall. While not in the top 3 Rathbone/Holmes entries, The Spider Woman is one of the better and most entertaining films of the series. It is far too short and the ending could have been more rounded off but that was all that came off as not-as-good with The Spider Woman. It is well photographed and lit with evocative period detail and the music does a good job at being energetic and having a good amount of atmosphere. The dialogue is both thought-provoking with Holmes and amusing with Watson and Lestrade, while the story is well-paced, suspenseful and easy to follow with a few far-fetched moments(though not enough to harm the film), fun-to-spot references to Sherlock Holmes stories and a tense and eerie climax. Thank goodness also that there isn't any out-of-place patriotic speech here either. The characters are still engaging and have good chemistry with one another, with the villain being one of the most memorable of the series. The acting is very good, Gale Sondergaard's beautiful but chillingly and deliciously deadly performance steals the film but Basil Rathbone is still his usual brilliant self and Nigel Bruce(less of a bumbling fool than he can be in the role) and Dennis Hoey provide some amusing moments without jarring. All in all, an extremely entertaining film, if you love Sherlock Holmes and Rathbone's portrayal you are most likely to really like The Spider Woman. 8/10 Bethany Cox
Sherlock Holmes in The Spider Woman faces a female master criminal, one
as Basil Rathbone describes 'as deadly as Moriarty'. Gale Sondergaard
is in the infamous title role and she's got the brain of a Professor
Moriarty and the charm of a Mata Hari.
In fact as the film begins Holmes and Watson are finally on a long postponed fishing trip in Scotland and they are discussing a series of suicides of wealthy men, men dying with no apparent cause. Forensics certainly was not what it is today or Gale Sondergaard's method of execution might have been discovered.
Holmes fakes his own death, the better to put the still unknown villain at some ease and for him to assume some disguise. Rathbone's disguise as an Indian Maharajah is a good one, but Sondergaard sees right through it. Then it's a battle of brains and wits.
The Spider Woman is a good if not great Holmes feature totally dominated by Gale Sondergaard's evil character. Sondergaard even got another crack at the role of the Spider Woman. She earned it with this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So says Sherlock Holmes in describing the obvious villianess
responsible for a series of pajama suicides which he is sure are
murders. That feline is none other than the beautiful but exotic
looking Gale Sondergaard, the best bad lady in the business who
obviously enjoys the crimes she commits here with the glee in her smile
as she plots another scheme or attempts a murder.
There is no doubt from the start of the film in the audience's mind who the culprit is. What the mystery is comes down to how she will be caught. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are excellent as always, but the film belongs to Sondergaard, who would play many similar characters, but none as deliciously deadly as this one. Feline or 8-Legged, Sondergaard's outfits cast shadows that even resemble a spider. Try not to freak out as she makes one attempt on Holmes that is quite spooky. It's no wonder that classic film fans compare her Spider Woman so much to George Zucco's Moriarty. The final shot of Sondergaard at the very end is classic and will make viewers guess as what scheme she has up her sleeve.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rather neatly done tale that draws nothing of importance from any of
the Conan-Doyle stories. London is suffering a great rash of suicides
by wealthy men. After faking his own death by stroke while on a fishing
trip -- for no evident reason -- Holmes investigates and discovers that
the victims had one thing in common, their love of gambling.
Disguised as an Indian aristocrat Holmes frequents a number of casinos, which I never knew England had in 1943, hoping to find a link. I realize, by the way, that the film was released in 1944 but I'm assuming it was set in 1943 because Benito Mussolini figures as a villain, and by 1944 he was out of it. Holmes locates the link between the victims at one of the casinos. When he loses money, he's approached by a sympathetic Gale Sondergaard. She offers to lend him money if he's willing to use his life insurance policy as collateral, and if he's willing to change the name of the beneficiary. Something like that. I'm not too good at this stuff. I don't know how much my OWN policy is worth.
Anyway, that's the scheme. Sondergaard hangs around casinos looking for rich guys who are temporarily broke. She has them sign over their policies in return for a loan. Then she has the victims bitten by a venomous spider while they sleep. The venom is so painful that it drives the victim mad and they destroy themselves while in their pajamas. Later, someone will come forward and claim the benefits of the insurance.
It doesn't take long for Holmes to sniff out the scam. And it doesn't take Sondergaard long to figure out who the mysterious Indian aristocrat was either. She lures Holmes to an arcade and has her thugs tie him up behind a rotating cut-out figure of Hitler. She removes the iron plate behind Hitler's heart, exposing Holmes' heart instead. In a tense scene, the unwitting Watson picks up a rifle at the counter and stops barely short of shooting Holmes through the heart. Holmes escapes and he and Lestrade capture Sondergaard and her henchmen.
Holmes gets to wear two of his disguises, one -- the postman -- fairly effective. He and Watson are almost gassed to death at 221b Baker Street. An African pygmy plays a role in the plot. It's a distracting and undemanding story. Sondergaard gives a hammy performance full of knowing smirks. And one of her goons is the goofy-looking detective who is enthralled by the abstract painting in Joan Fontaine's vestibule in Hitchcock's "Suspicion." But it occurred to me that, without Rathbone as Holmes, and without Watson to provide his pawky humor, this is a B murder mystery that Boston Blackie or Bulldog Drummond or The Falcon or Charlie Chan might have managed equally well.
I enjoyed it. It's the kind of story that, if I'd seen it as a child, would have creeped me out. "The Pearl of Death", as I recall, made my hair stand on end.
The "hopping boy" with cat-quick reflexes is one of the most unusual
and unsettling figures of the decade. I don't think I've ever seen such
an imaginative and offbeat use of a young person in any other movie.
The film itself has many imaginative touches, but among them, it's that
bizarre little "hop" (never explained, and neither is the boy) that's
so memorable. He's a perfect adjunct to the leeringly evil Adrea
(Sondergaard) who looks like she's having a delicious time playing
cat-and-mouse with the tricky Sherlock (Rathbone). In fact, their
devious encounters are models of beautifully "layered" acting as each
has several things going on internally at the same time. She's a
perfect foil for the master detective, with a flashy smile that says
one thing while her eyes say another. Too bad the imperious Sondergaard
was lost to the blacklist of the early 50's.
I never did figure out just how the pygmy (Angelo Rossito in blackface) fit into the suicide scheme, but that's okay because the movie has so many intriguing touches, including the highly contrived but suspenseful climax. Even Hoey's Inspector Lestrade is wisely restrained, and when he walks off proudly arm-in-arm with the eye-catching Adrea at the end, it's a rather charming little moment. I guess my only complaint is with the poorly done process shot of the raging river that contrasts starkly with the well-stocked foreground. Nonetheless, this is one of the most imaginative entries of any detective series of the period.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When a wave of apparently inexplicable suicides strikes London,
Sherlock Holmes sniffs a more sinister plot and uncovers a diabolical
insurance scam masterminded by a femme fatale, Adrea Spedding, also
known as The Spider Woman
This one is my personal favourite of the fourteen Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes quickies of the forties, not least for the fabulous performance by the beautiful, charming, wildly talented Sondergaard as the arch-villainess. Her scenes with Rathbone sparkle with undercurrents of attraction, respect, ambiguity and tension, each character trying to trip the other up and both actors playing an amazing game of illusions. As with most of the other films, Bertram Millhauser's script is pretty much an original work with little coming from any of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, but is never less than exciting or amusing, or both. The finale, as Watson unwittingly shoots at a carny sideshow to which Holmes has been strapped, is one of the series most memorably gleeful sequences. Cult fans should note Rossitto as Obongo the pygmy - he was in a plethora of great oddball flicks, from Freaks to The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Followed by a curio, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, which is a horror quickie with no relation to the Holmes movie, but also features Sondergaard as the villain. Despite their make-'em-quick-and-cheap nature, many of these forties detective series films are full of invention, intrigue, great performances and thrills-a-plenty. This is one of the best.
Holmes is intrigued and baffled by the number of apparent suicides that
the press have dubbed The Pyjama Suicides. However, he confides to
Watson that he is retired and has no wish to be involved with the case,
but shock of all shocks!, Holmes is feared to be dead after a tragic
accident whilst out with Watson. Is this the end of the great man?, or
merely a ruse to subterfuge the criminal mind at the heart of these
Your appreciation of this, the seventh film in the franchise, depends on how you like your Holmes mysteries served, those who like the more darker supernatural entries will get very much from it, so luckily for me, i happen to be one of those people. As usual Holmes and his logical course of detecting is a rivetingly enjoyable watch, whilst Watson quips away and thankfully here gets a script more befitting Nigel Bruce's talents. The film may just contain one of the funniest sequences in a Holmes film as well, look out for the moment Watson thinks he has rumbled one of Holmes' disguises. Poisonous gases, creepy crawlies, a delectably evil villainess, and a quite wonderful fairground finale, help to make The Spider Woman a very strong entry in the Rathbone/Bruce cannon of Sherlock Holmes pictures. 8/10
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