Published on July 5, 2016
The Spider Woman (alternatively titled Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman and Spider Woman) is a 1944 mystery film starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, the seventh of fourteen such films the pair were involved in. As with all of the Universal Studios films in the series, the film is set in then-present day as opposed to the Victorian setting of the original stories. This film incorporates elements from the novel The Sign of the Four, as well as the short stories “The Final Problem”, “The Adventure of the Empty House”, “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”.
Consulting detective Sherlock Holmes fakes his own death in Scotland in order to investigate a number of bizarre apparent suicides that he is convinced are part of an elaborate plot by “a female Moriarty”. Returning to his assistant Watson in secret, Holmes notes that all the victims were wealthy gamblers, so disguised as “Rajni Singh”, a distinguished Indian officer, he stalks London’s gaming clubs.
It is not long before he encounters the villain of the piece, Adrea Spedding. Holmes discovers that she seeks out men short of money, persuades them to pawn their life insurance policies with her accomplices, then kills them. Holmes sets himself up as her next victim, discovering that she uses the deadly spider, Lycosa Carnivora, whose venom causes such excruciating pain that the victims kill themselves. Holmes also finds the footprint of a child nearby.
Searching for evidence Holmes and Watson visit eminent arachnologist Matthew Ordway, who may have supplied the deadly creatures. Holmes soon realizes that the man he is speaking to is an impostor, but the villain makes his escape. Searching the premises Holmes finds the corpse of the real Ordway, as well as his journals, which allude to something or someone from Central Africa immune to the spider venom. This baffles Holmes until he finds the model skeleton of a child. However, Dr. Watson points out that the relation of the skull and the circumference of the chest prove it is not a child, and Holmes deduces that the Central African creature described in the journal is a pygmy.
Holmes and Watson continue their investigations at a nearby fairground, but Holmes falls into the clutches of Spedding and her gang. Bound and gagged, Holmes is tied behind a moving target in a shooting gallery, at which Lestrade and Watson take pot shots with a .22 rifle. However Holmes manages to escape, and Lestrade and the police arrest Spedding, her gang, and the pygmy.
The film ends with Holmes theorizing that the best place to commit a murder would be in a crowded place as he and Watson gradually disappear into the crowd.
Basil Rathbone – Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce – Dr. John Watson
Gale Sondergaard – Adrea Spedding
Vernon Downing – Norman Locke
Dennis Hoey – Inspector Lestrade
Alec Craig – Radlik
Arthur Hohl – Adam Gilflower
Mary Gordon – Mrs. Hudson
Teddy Infuhr – Larry
Lydia Bilbrook – Susan (uncredited)
Angelo Rossitto – The Pygmy