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Most Entertaining In the Series
ccthemovieman-114 October 2005
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.
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The Female Of The Species Is More Deadly Than The Male
Ron Oliver4 December 2004
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).
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Kiss of "The Spider Woman"
james_oblivion15 February 2006
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 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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Pretty good Holmesiana
Penfold-1314 September 1999
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
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One of the Most Entertaining Movies in the Rathbone/Bruce Series
Snow Leopard14 October 2005
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.
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Very decent Holmes mystery
The_Void17 June 2005
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!
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One of Sherlock's best
Brian W. Fairbanks8 September 1999
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."
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It's an open and shut case... with air-holes drilled into it.
BA_Harrison27 November 2011
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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One of the best Holmes films
gobstopper_20058 August 2006
Warning: 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).
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All a bit too supernatural for me
bob the moo28 December 2003
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!
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"Well, strike me up a gum tree!"
classicsoncall25 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I'm beginning to learn not to take these Sherlock Holmes film mysteries too seriously and this one is a prime example of why. While conversing with Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce ), Holmes (Basil Rathbone) states that he's through with crime and about to hang it up due to dizzy spells he's been having, and then proceeds to faint away into a river. Newspaper headlines report on the death of Holmes, but no one seems to question the lack of a corpse. Where would it have gone in that slow moving stream? Didn't Watson bother to look for him?

I guess movie viewers weren't supposed to ask those kinds of obvious questions back in the day. But on the flip side, this movie was made extremely entertaining with the whimsical elements thrown in to keep you guessing. Like the business with the 'lycosa carnivora' spider, found only in the upper reaches of the Obongo. Totally made up of course, and calling to mind a Johnny Weissmuller/Jungle Jim flick from 1951 called "Fury of the Congo"; that story had a creature called an 'Okongo'. Suddenly I'm starting to get a little dizzy myself from all these 'ongo' iterations.

Adding to the fun here is Rathbone donning a pair of disguises to the consternation of his partner, with a red herring impostor showing up calling himself Gilflower (Arthur Hohl) and turning out to be the real thing, making Watson look even more foolish. As the villain of the piece and Spider Woman of the title, Gale Sondergaard actually brings an element of class and sophistication to the role, proving a formidable adversary along with her retinue of henchmen and underlings.

The carnival atmosphere and shooting gallery location of the film's finale provides one of the more unusual backdrops to solving the mystery of the 'pyjama' murders (not a mis-spelling, I'm using the film's version), as Holmes thwarts the villains by escaping his bonds while the authorities descend to put away the Spider Woman once and for all. All handled with just the right amount of suspense, though I thought it might have been appropriate for the film makers to bring this story to a conclusion by getting the fat lady to sing.
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This Spider Woman Doesn't Stop with a Kiss
dglink5 August 2015
Sherlock Holmes encounters his most formidable foe since Professor Moriarty in "The Spider Woman," among the best of Universal's Holmes series. A number of mysterious "pajama suicides" baffle police, while Holmes is away fishing in Scotland with Doctor Watson. Feeling light headed, Holmes faints and falls from a cliff into a rushing stream; newspapers scream "Sherlock Holmes Dead!" Watson and Mrs. Hudson clean out Holmes's rooms at 221B Baker Street, and even Inspector Lestrade mourns the master sleuth. Of course, not all is as it seems, and Basil Rathbone has opportunities to illustrate his gift for disguise, perhaps one too many for the unwitting Doctor Watson.

Betram Millhauser's screenplay, which references several Conan Doyle stories, is witty and well written. With more humor than usual, Holmes verbally spars with his nemesis, especially during one delicious interplay in which both he and his foe know the identity of the other, but pretend otherwise. Watson's mistaking a visitor for Holmes in disguise provides another amusing highlight. Featured front and center in the first two Universal films, the still waging World War has been banished to only a passing reference in the cartoon faces of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo used as targets in a shooting arcade, and Holmes offers no patriotic speeches to inspire the audience. The fifth in Universal's Holmes series is all about Sherlock Holmes.

One key to the film's success is Gale Sondergaard, an Oscar winner for "Anthony Adverse," who is perfect as the spider woman of the title. A lesser actress might have chewed the scenery, but Sondergaard suggests evil with the lift of an eyebrow, a quick glance, or a toothy grin. A woman of obvious intellect and guile, Andrea Spedding, the spider woman, charms her victims and captivates the audience; Sondergaard is missed whenever off screen. Vernon Downing, who played one of the convalescing officers in "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death," returns as Spedding's accomplice in crime, Norman. Both Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, perhaps challenged by Sondergaard, rise to the occasion and are in top form as Holmes and Watson; the reliable Dennis Hoey and Mary Gordon are back as Inspector Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, respectively. Roy William Neill once again helms, and Charles Van Enger, who shot "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death," also returned to film this entry in the series with the appropriate atmosphere. Stir a witty script with Rathbone and Bruce in fine form, add a clever plot, season with several close brushes with death, garnish with a diabolical villain and the result is "The Spider Woman," a top entry in the Sherlock Holmes series.
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"They used to call me twinkle toes."
utgard1425 June 2015
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.
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Holmes and the femme fatale
binapiraeus28 February 2014
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 ladies)...

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...
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In this one Watson talks to Mr Wiggle-Woggle
Spondonman10 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
*** In this one at the beginning we're treated to Holmes and Watson holidaying in Scotland, Holmes drowning, Watson and LeStrade clearing out 221B and Mrs Hudson crying. Then Holmes, being the nice man he is comes back from the (pretense of being) dead to save his notebooks falling into the wrong hands - hang the whole nation's grief!***

That was the only part I didn't like about the Spider Woman, the rest has very little padding, and it has to move fast for you to swallow the storyline. He's up against a feline Moriarty plus gang who have been causing suicides throughout the capital. I thought Rathbone's disguises were rather good if not totally deceptive, again proving in this series what a master of character make up he was. Sondergaard makes the film stand out though, even earning it a sequel, her slinky sliminess oozing out at you from every frame.

The scenes at the fair were well played out, managing to get a bit of wartime propaganda in, along with the tension - I wonder if Hitchcock ever saw the climax of this film?
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Extremely entertaining
TheLittleSongbird9 August 2013
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
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"As Deadly as Moriarty"
bkoganbing11 April 2013
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.
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She's feline, not canine.....
mark.waltz12 December 2011
Warning: 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.
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Many Imaginative Touches
dougdoepke8 January 2010
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.
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The Greatest Of The Old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes Movies
ShootingShark20 January 2009
Warning: 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.
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Not quite a Black Widow, but still deadlier than the male.
Spikeopath13 September 2008
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 mysterious deaths?.

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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The Spider Woman (1944) ***1/2
JoeKarlosi11 June 2004
If anyone unfamiliar with the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films is looking for a good place to start his cinematic journey, I would exuberantly recommend THE SPIDER WOMAN. It is easily one of the best of all the Universal Holmes pictures of the 1940s. Without revealing surprises, I'll just say that Rathbone is at his very best in this part while matching wits with Gale Sondergaard (the perfect femme fatale), who proves quite a match for the detective in this outing. She hatches a masterful plan to kill victims for their money and make it appear to be suicide, all the while running neck and neck with Holmes as he endeavors to expose her game.

There are many intriguing twists and turns in this one, where not everything turns out as it appears to be. In addition, this contains just the right balance of mystery, suspense, close-calls, and even well-placed laughs (the latter courtesy of Nigel Bruce's confounded Dr. Watson and Dennis Hoey's bumbling Lestrade) to make for 61 completely satisfying minutes of sleuthing.
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"Your in my light old boy." Beware of women who carry pygmy's around in suitcase's, good Holmes mystery.
Paul Andrews8 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Spider Woman sees the worlds foremost detective Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) again trying to solve a baffling case. Lately a spate of mysterious suicides dubbed the 'Pyjama Suicides' by the tabloids has left Scotland Yard & Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) scratching their heads. The general public demand Sherlock Holmes investigate, however at this point in time Holmes is visiting Scotland with his trusty assistant Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) for a bit of fishing which also provides the perfect opportunity for him to fake his own death, Holmes suspects that a woman is behind the supposed suicides & that with himself appearing to be dead she will drop her guard. Since each of the victims were into gambling Holmes dons a disguise & lets it be known that his alter-ego is rich & has a taste for the odd bet. Before he knows it a glamorous woman named Andrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard) has crawled out of the woodwork, introduced herself & starts to turn the charm on when big money is mentioned. Holmes feels he is on the right track especially when an attempt is made on his life using the world's deadliest spider...

Produced & directed by Roy William Neill The Spider Woman was the seventh in a series of fourteen Sherlock Holmes films staring the duo of Rathbone & Bruce as Holmes & Watson. The script by Bertram Millhauser is based on two stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four & The Final Problem although I have not read either so I cannot compare the finished film to it's literary source. I have seen a fair few, but not all, of these Holmes films & The Spider Woman is a good example although not the best & don't expect to see a woman with eight legs, fangs & spinning a web either as the title refers to the fact that she uses spiders in her murderous schemes. At only an hour or so in length it moves along at a quick pace & never becomes too bogged down, the mystery elements keep evolving & it doesn't dwell on them for too long before the next piece of the puzzle is revealed. I would have preferred if the filmmakers had kept the killer's identity secret until the end as they reveal her too soon, although the scenes between her & Holmes are really good as each know who the other is but talk normally only with heavy hints & innuendo. The character's are pretty good but on the negative side we never know any of the victims so it's maybe a little hard to care about who killed them or why but as a whole The Spider Woman still makes for good entertaining murder mystery, oh & there isn't many scenes with spiders in the film maybe a couple at most.

Director Neill does a decent job at creating some atmosphere & tension, he probably filmed it as best he could & while the film isn't particularly flashy it does the job perfectly well.

Technically The Spider Woman is solid but unspectacular, the black and white photography is fine as is the music & generally speaking it's a well made film considering it was shot over 60 years ago. I like the period look of the film too although when it was originally made all those years ago it was contemporary. The acting is good with Rathbone putting in his usual endearing performance while both Bruce & Hoey both play their parts for laughs, as usual. Sondergaard makes a good villain & is quite nice to look at.

The Spider Woman is a good Holmes murder mystery & if you like these types of films then I have no hesitation to recommend it. It's not the best Holmes from this series of films as I still think The Scarlet Claw (1944) is the best example but this one isn't too far behind, definitely worth a watch.
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Great pulp-style thrills in this Holmes adventure
Leofwine_draca29 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A fast pace, plenty of action, and a great villainess combine to make this one of the best entries in the Rathbone/Holmes series of the late '30s/'40s. Indeed, all players are on top form here, with Nigel Bruce being particularly good as the bumbling Watson, Dennis Hoey delivering some comic lines in precisely the right manner, and Rathbone himself portraying Holmes as an agile genius. This is a film which offers us, in the first fifteen minutes alone, the death of Holmes, a string of brutal deaths, and the return of Holmes, disguised as an Indian gentleman with a crippled arm.

The plot is fast paced and packed with incident, mixing together the best bits from a couple of Conan Doyle's stories. It turns out that the men are driven to suicide after being bitten by a deadly spider, which is administered through air vents in their rooms by an evil pygmy (a factor which brings all the usual racism of the period with it). What we have here is one of the best villains in the whole series; the sublimely evil Gale Sondergaard is the ringleader of the criminals, hence the female of the title. Sondergaard really is a match for Holmes, and engages in plenty of witty and subtle conversations with him where there's a lot more going on underneath than what is simply said. She returned in a sequel, THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK, a couple of years later (minus Holmes!).

To keep things moving along, there are lots of sneaky attempts on our heroes' lives (a creepy young boy is the focal point for one attempted murder), and plenty of exciting bits. The typical "Holmes in peril" ending is actually very good too, with our hero being tied behind a picture of Hitler in a shooting gallery while an unknowing Watson aims for his heart! Other staples of the genre pop up, from the rooftop chase to a spider crawling towards a victim, and much more. This would be a good introduction to the series, refreshingly free of the 'wartime' elements and instead going back to the strong/clever aspects of Doyle's stories. Recommended.
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Welcome back, Gale Sondergaard
robertguttman7 December 2014
"The Spider Woman" is one of the series of Sherlock Holmes "B- Pictures" that were rapidly and inexpensively churned out by Universal Studios during the 1940s. The plot includes elements borrowed from at least three of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous stories, "The Final Problem", "The Sign of Four" and "The Devil's Foot".

Nevertheless, the film does have much going for it. It was for good reason that Basil Rathbone's portrayal became the definitive version of Sherlock Holmes (and, even today, for many it still is).

However, any hero is only as formidable as the villain whom he must foil. In "The Spider Woman" Rathbone's Holmes is matched against arguably one of the finest actresses of her day, the sadly under- appreciated Gale Sondergaard. Why this formidable actress, who won an Academy Award for her very first movie appearance, never received better film roles than she did remains something of a mystery. She was undoubtedly a very formidable actress. She famously proved that in the 1940 version of "The Letter". In that film, Without uttering a word of dialogue she managed to steal the scene that she played with the formidable Bette Davis, a feat of which few actresses were ever capable.

Unfortunately Sondergaard's first film role, the one for which she won her Oscar, was as a conniving villain. As happened in the case of Basil Rathbone's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, it seems that Sondergaard apparently played her part too effectively. As happened to Rathbone with Sherlock Holmes, Sondergaard found herself type- cast as an urbane, intelligent and manipulative villain. That was a shame, since she was undoubtedly capable of far more than that.

"The Spider Woman" is far from the best film of the 1940s, or even the best of the famous Sherlock Holmes series. However, it does afford a welcome showcase for the work of an actress who was undoubtedly one of the best, and possibly most under-appreciated, of her day.
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