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The Spider Woman (1943)

Passed | | Mystery, Thriller | 21 January 1944 (USA)
Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of so-called "pajama suicides". He knows the female villain behind them is as cunning as Moriarty and as venomous as a spider.


Roy William Neill


Bertram Millhauser (screenplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (story) (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)




Complete credited cast:
Basil Rathbone ... Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce ... Doctor Watson
Gale Sondergaard ... Adrea Spedding
Dennis Hoey ... Lestrade
Vernon Downing Vernon Downing ... Norman Locke
Alec Craig ... Radlik
Arthur Hohl ... Gilflower
Mary Gordon ... Mrs. Hudson


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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Here is crawling death sent to Sherlock Holmes by the most fiendish killer of all... See more »


Mystery | Thriller


Passed | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Sherlock Holmes' character says all he has of value is an insurance policy worth £5,000. This is in pounds sterling. The story action takes place in 1943, and is not a specific tale written by Arthur Conan Doyle. When adjusted for inflation to 2017 values, this amounts to a value in the neighborhood of £210,000! At 2018 exchange rates that is approximately $270,000 in U. S. Dollars. Hence, over time, the seemingly not-so-large quantity of a mere 5,000 has a lot more significance and value. See more »


Insurance companies won't pay off on suicide, yet the Spider Woman deliberately makes these murders look like suicide to collect on the life insurance. In reality she wouldn't collect a dime. See more »


[first lines]
News Vendor: Read all about the pyjama suicide. Here you are, governor. Thank you, sir. Thank you. Read all about it, another pyjama suicide.
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Followed by The Scarlet Claw (1944) See more »

User Reviews

Kiss of "The Spider Woman"
15 February 2006 | by james_oblivionSee all my reviews

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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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

21 January 1944 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Sherlock Holmes in the Spider Woman See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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