| Run Time: 62 min. | b/w
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Gale Sondergaard, Dennis Hoey
Genres: Mystery | Thriller
Sondergaard proves to be a more than equal adversary for the great Holmes in one of the best Rathbone/Bruce series. She’s a scheming villainess who is behind a series of “unexplained” suicides of men holding large insurance policies.
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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
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!
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).
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.