THE SPIDER WOMAN (1943) Reviews and overview


‘Mistress of murder!’
The Spider Woman is a 1943 American mystery thriller film about Sherlock Holmes investigating a series of so-called “pyjama suicides”. The super sleuth soon knows the female villain behind the mysterious deaths is as cunning as his arch-enemy Moriarty and as venomous as a real spider.

Produced and directed by Roy William Neill from a screenplay written by Bertram Millhauser based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Universal Pictures productions stars Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Gale Sondergaard, Dennis Hoey, Vernon Downing and Mary Gordon.

“The mystery itself is solid enough, but that’s not necessarily the point of these Holmes adventures. They’re not play-along puzzles like an Agatha Christie adaptation, where there’s a set of definite clues and a finite number of suspects, but rather exciting tales that whip you along their incredible path — adventures indeed.” 100 Films in a Year

Spider Woman boasts a wonderfully entertaining turn from Gale Sondergaard, who almost always knew how to make evil dangerously alluring and attractive. Roy William Neill directs with his customary efficiency, finding time as usual for a surprising number of shots that show flair and invention. All in all, Spider Woman is crackling good fun in a mystery thriller vein.” AllMovie (1)

“Filled to overflowing with amusing dialogue and devilishly clever plot twists (one of them involving an autistic pygmy!), Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman is among the best of the Universal Holmes series. Best bit: told to “act inconspicuous,” Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) ceremoniously rolls his eyes upward and begins whistling loudly — whereupon Doctor Watson chides him with “Inconspicuous, Lestrade, not half-witted.” AllMovie (2)

“Just when you think it can’t possible get any more bizarre, there’s a plot twist involving a pygmy, whom Holmes refers to as “that creature in the suitcase.” Yes, between Holmes’ brown-face makeup and the treatment of a pygmy as somehow subhuman, this one seems a wee bit racist around the edges by today’s standards. Still, it’s an eccentric entry that’s not to be missed.”

“La Spedding proves a worthy adversary, as even Holmes admits to Nigel Bruce’s Dr Watson: ‘If you ever see me getting too sure again, fancying myself more clever then Adrea Spedding, just whisper one word to me: “pygmy”.’ Sondergaard is outstanding, crackling in her scenes with Rathbone, and among the film’s other pleasures are Dennis Hoey’s Inspector Lestrade and Mary Gordon’s Mrs Hudson.” Derek Winnert

“It’s hugely annoying to watch; there’s no mystery worth figuring out, not much in the way of suspense, and while the filmmakers get some small amount of thrills from a murder weapon of the creepy-crawly variety, the horror described is never actually seen. The actors don’t really seem to be into it, either. I’m told that Rathbone eventually got bored of the character, and the malaise is perhaps starting to appear here…” eFilm Critic

“There’s not an ounce of flab on Millhauser’s script which thunders through the increasingly macabre storyline, propelled by Neill’s brisk, no-nonsense direction, at reckless speed. There’s an awful lot going on in the film’s 62 minutes, so much so that you don’t really get a chance to draw breath let alone worry about the more puzzling aspects of the plot…” The EOFFTV Review

“With arachnids, Holmes’ presumed death, a creepy mute boy and a nerve-wracking finale at a carnival shooting gallery that presages Saw‘s devilish traps, The Spider Woman throws lots at the wall, and nearly all of it sticks. It helps the running time is 63 minutes, period, but a greater emphasis on comedy keeps proceedings from even nearing the realm of dull, as well.” Flick Attack

” …might as well have been set in Conan Doyle’s time. The film borrows elements from several of his stories and quite effectively casts Gale Sondergaard as the villain. Best part of the movie though is Roy William Neill’s swift direction. Memorable finale at a fairground, but the story isn’t the film’s strongest suit.” Hedmark

The Spider Woman remains one of the best of Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series. It borrows liberally from different Conan Doyle stories, so that it can’t be regarded as a straight adaptation, but it does so in order to give the cinematic Holmes his first formidable female opponent– “a female Moriarty,” as Holmes puts it.” Naturalistic! Uncanny! Marvelous!

“With large, poisonous spiders and an apparent killer child, there’s a welcome touch of the macabre to The Spider Woman, and the pace moves along like a contemporary serial from one death-defying exploit to another, including an ingenious way of knocking out Holmes and Watson in their own flat on the part of the baddie. The film sees both Rathbone and Bruce at their most typical and endearing and is justifiably regarded as one of the gems in this set of adaptations.” The Spinning Image

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

Filming locations:
Universal Studios – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California

Technical details:
63 minutes
Black and white
Aspect ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono (Western Electric Recording)

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