The master detective Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his faithful cohort Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are back, preserved and digitally restored in 35mm to original condition by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Thi... more »s newly restored version of the classic film includes the period war bond tag and studio logo and credits from its original theatrical release. Filled with ominous shadows and interesting camera angles, the visual beauty of the film in 35mm is stunning. London is in a panic over a series of apparent "Pajama Suicides." Sherlock Holmes, however, is more inclined to believe that they are calculated murders. It is up to the great detective to discover the motive and the means of these crimes and to unmask the murderer. Enter Miss Adria Spedding; an intoxicating woman of character whom Holmes is convinced is behind the killings. A series of masquerades and deadly game playing ensues as Holmes and Watson enter a battle of wits with The Spider Woman.« less
Sarah Hadley | Murfreesboro, Tennessee USA | 02/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With this film - the fifth entry, and the seventh to feature Rathbone and Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson - the Universal Holmes series reached its zenith. Although the time period is still obviously the 1940s - made overt by the finale in the shooting gallery - the film actually uses it to its advantage, presenting an engaging movie experience that goes down very smooth, seeming both cultured and modern (at least, for its time). Unlike so many of the Universal series, there's no attempt to make the proceedings pseudo-Gothic, nor to rely on a WWII setting - the basic plot is one that could work in any time period. That serves the story very well, because for once it feels like Holmes and Watson are up against a genuine, contemporary criminal. Just how ingenious can a villain be in the 1940s if he has to carry out his murders in an ancestral home without electricity or telephone service?
More than any of the other films, "Spider Woman" draws on a number of the original Conan Doyle series for bits and pieces of inspiration, chiefly "The Final Problem," "The Sign of Four," "The Speckled Band," and "The Devil's Foot." Bizarrely enough, it works quite well to take these individual little elements and weave them into an entirely new story. Sure, all that stuff about human-seeking deadly tarantulas is utter garbage, but it's made up for by the many twists and turns of the "howdunnit" (for, indeed, that's exactly what kind of mystery this is). Aside from the plot tricks, however, it's the characters that make the story. Gale Sondergaard is easily the most suave villain of the series, and her scenes with Basil Rathbone are a treat. His blackface Indian disguise may seem a bit offensive today, but at least it lets Holmes retain his dignity, unlike so many of the weird masks and outfits he dons throughout the series. Nigel Bruce also gets some nice moments, chiefly his surprise at seeing his friend Holmes alive. And as for the child - isn't that child eerie? It's his little skip that's so disturbing, I think. Perfectly done.
Ultimately, you have a taut little adventure mystery (unusual enough, in what's really a series of thrillers) with a solid cast and a fast-paced, surprising story that remains true to the Conan Doyle roots of the lead characters. What more can you ask for in 63 minutes? And as with most of the films, the restoration by UCLA yields excellent results - the picture is shockingly sharp and clean. I personally recommend getting this as part of MPI's "Sherlock Holmes Collection: Volume Two," but even if you're only interested in the one film, I don't think you'll be at all disappointed by "The Spider Woman.""
Creepy thriller is one of Holmes' best
B. W. Fairbanks | Lakewood, OH United States | 01/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With this, the fifth film in Universal's Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone, the studio dropped the great detective's name from the title, confident that other aspects of the production were powerful enough to attract audiences. "Spider Woman" was a perfect entry in which to deemphasize the appearance of Sherlock Holmes since Gale Sondergaard's performance as Andrea Spedding, aka the Spider Woman, would have been good enough to make this episode memorable even if she had matched wits with a less formidable opponent. Her character was so well received that it inspired an unofficial sequel, "The Spider Woman Strikes Back" (unofficial because she technically played another character and Holmes was not involved) in which another alumnus of the series, "Pearl of Death"'s Rondo Hatton, was also featured. For fans of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, it's fun to see how screenwriter Bertram Millhauser uses Doyle's "The Dying Detective" as a source for our first glimpse of Holmes here, and, as always, Roy William Neill creates a beautifully eerie atmosphere with scenes draped in shadows the likes of which can only be found in German Expressionism (and don't miss the scene in Ordway's lab, perhaps the most frightening moment in any of the 12 films). Neill deserves more acclaim than he's received, and the fact that he never rose above the assembly line of B movie making is a damning indictment of Hollywood's inability to properly utilize its talent.Rathbone is superb, as always, and Dennis Hoey as LaStrade also shines especially in the affecting moments early in the film when the Inspector believes his rival has died. And Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, though bumbling as amusingly as ever, is given the opportunity to demonstrate his intelligence, even showing Holmes up for once. The only drawback to this creepy thriller is a disappointing climax. Otherwise, "Spider Woman" has bite to spare."
The Most Entertaining In the Series
Craig Connell | Lockport, NY USA | 04/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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.
This DVD looks super, too. What a great "restoration" job was done on this."
You'd better take a shot of anti-spider venom if Andrea Sped
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 01/29/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you are drawn to beautiful and intelligent adventuresses, but have a thing about spiders with excruciatingly painful venom, The Spider Woman may cause emotional conflict.
The woman in question is Andrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard), sophisticated, alluring; a woman who knows what wealthy, powerful men, in this case high-style gamblers down on their luck, long for...not sex (at least in the movies of the Forties) but validation (as in real life). Andrea maintains her life of luxury and style by separating men from their life insurance polices, and then separating the men from their lives. They all commit suicide, to the bluff puzzlement of Inspector Lestrade. (Those who might worry about what could be spoilers may want to avoid the next few sentences.) Andrea Spedding's clever technique involves her affection for spiders, the little ones who bite and scamper off, leaving pain so intense even leaping out of a window in your pajamas is welcome relief.
Only Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is sure these bizarre and unexpected series of suicides is actually the fiendish workings of a master criminal, and a female master criminal at that.
We're off on one of the better movies in the series. Not as good as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or The Hound of the Baskervilles, but solidly in the middle amongst the others. In its favor is a clever plot that centers on Andrea Spedding, played with great allure and conscienceless glee by that wonderful actress, Gale Sondergaard. There's Basil Rathbone, one of the great Holmes actors, and Nigel Bruce as Watson. There are some effective set pieces and a lengthy, first-class conclusion in a crowded arcade filled with jostling, happy people, with the fat lady chortling, a mysterious fortune-telling gypsy, a small person in a box, a shooting booth with .22 rifles and moving targets that look like Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo...a deadly arcade, as it turns out.
Rathbone as Holmes in various disguises, however, for me is a bit much, especially when he's all gussied up as a high class gambler from India, complete with gown, turban and enough dark makeup to qualify for a minstrel show in the States. The Spider Woman lurches, sometimes slowly, from one bit of plot exposition to another. Still, the good-natured nostalgia for this series kicks in. I enjoyed the movie.
Says Holmes to Watson as they stroll through that arcade. "Remarkable woman. As audacious and deadly as one of her spiders."
"Audacious?" huffs Watson. "Stupid, I call it. Fancy trying to commit a murder in a place like this with all these people about!"
"That's where you're wrong, old boy," says Holmes. "In an isolated place, a cry for help or a single shot might very well arouse the curiosity of at least one casual witness. But in an arcade like this, people are bent only on pleasure and will instinctively disregard anything from the normal that doesn't immediately concern them. Yes, Watson, Miss Spedding deserves credit for picking the most logical spot in the world for committing my murder."
Be sure to buy the MPI release, which has an excellent restoration by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. There are no extras."
"He said inconspicuous, Lestrade, not half-witted." -- Watso
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 06/19/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
""I would hate to have you take cold, and die of natural causes." Andrea to Sherlock Holmes
From the moment Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce donned the personas of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Hound of the Baskervilles, audiences refused to accept any others in the roles. After two topflight "A" productions which retained the period of Conan Doyle's famous sleuth, the duo were updated to modern times for a long string of "B" productions. All coming in at around an hour, moviegoers enjoyed the "B" series even more, especially during the war, when people needed the entertaining distraction of Rathbone and the kind but often clueless Bruce thwarting murder and mayhem, or the enemies of freedom intent on destroying it. Neither had a chance against Holmes and Watson, and it was just the boost moviegoers needed to keep going. It is the slew of "B" films which embedded deep in their hearts the enduring image of Holmes and Watson still with us today, even if it did stray somewhat from Conan Doyle's original vision at times.
There wasn't a dud among them, but The Spider Woman ranks high among those with fans, for its atmosphere, a tightly written screenplay by Bertram Millhauser based on an actual Conan Doyle story, and a deliciously nasty yet elegant turn by Gale Sondergaard. She proves a worthy opponent for the Baker Street detective in every way, in a performance still memorable all these years later. Holmes is on the banks of a river fishing, in Scotland, while back in London a string of shocking suicides rock England. Watson can't keep his curiosity at bay, but despite the shocking revelation from Holmes that he believes the deaths to be murder, and the most shocking crime wave since Jack the Ripper, even more troublesome are the dizzy spells Holmes is encountering. Since it happens early, and is over just as quickly, it is no spoiler to reveal this is the film in which Holmes will fake his death, momentarily. Watson and Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) are shook, but soon relieved, when he rejoins the living. Old Scotland Yard pal Lestrade can't resist the barb: "Just when we thought we had you dead and buried. What a sell!"
But real death may not be far away, as Holmes suspects a woman, and his adversary proves more than a match for him. As deadly as the Lycosa Carnivora spiders she uses on her victims, Andrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard) proves as smart as she is attractive. A ploy Holmes devises to discover the exact nature of her scheme doesn't fool her in the least. Bold and unafraid, a game of cat and mouse ensues in which a deadly spider, a Pygmy, and a carnival shooting gallery, with Watson unaware he is firing at Holmes, nearly make London's finest a thing of the past. The confrontations are delightful fun, with Sondergaard a darkly delicious indulgence. The script is excellent in this one, with memorable lines throughout. One of the best in a solid series which always entertained, as it was designed to do. Another winner from producer and director Roy William Neill, with a tip of the hat to Gale Sondergaard. A must for fans."