Sherlock Holmes And The Spider Woman

  • 1944
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Mystery

One of the most entertaining of the Rathbone-Bruce Holmesian ventures, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON melds two different periods. The settings are reminiscent of Victorian London, but automobiles, airplanes, and Adolf Hitler also figure into the picture. The film also mixes sources, amalgamating several of Conan Doyle's stories, with additional,...read more

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One of the most entertaining of the Rathbone-Bruce Holmesian ventures, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON melds two different periods. The settings are reminiscent of Victorian London, but automobiles, airplanes, and Adolf Hitler also figure into the picture. The film also mixes

sources, amalgamating several of Conan Doyle's stories, with additional, new material thrown in. The plot is set in motion when Rathbone, as Holmes, fakes his own drowning in Scotland in order to throw some miscreants off his track. The evil bunch, led by Sondergaard, is responsible for a series

of "Pajama Suicides"--actually murders, the victims being well-to-do, heavily insured men, and Sondergaard the beneficiary of all their policies. (Screenwriter Millhauser had apparently never scanned the suicide clauses of an insurance contract.) The nature of the diabolical plot leads Rathbone to

suspect a woman's touch, the misogynistic sleuth asserting that not even his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, could be so fiendish as to devise such a system. To catch the culprits, Rathbone disguises himself as a wealthy East Indian officer and, noting that the pajama-clad victims were all fond of

gambling, heads for a casino. There he pretends to be despondent over presumed heavy gambling losses and is consoled by Sondergaard, who advises him that he can borrow against his life insurance policy if he finds a new beneficiary. Playing the part of the dupe, Rathbone takes tea at her flat, but

when she spills tea on his arm and the dye on his skin runs, the clever criminal recognizes him. That night, a deadly spider is released in his flat. Investigating, Rathbone and police inspector Hoey discover a carrying case with air holes and the footprints of a "child" on the roof. Back at 221-B

Baker Street, Rathbone--now known to be alive--and his loyal aide, Bruce, receive a visit from the spidery Sondergaard, accompanied by mute child Infuhr, a scene-stealing terror. Her purpose is ostensibly to engage the great detective in locating the missing Indian officer, but as the deadly

visitor departs, the mute lad throws some candy wrappers into the fire and the room fills with poisonous smoke. Rathbone manages to smash a window before he and his physician friend die from the fumes. The detective then enlists the assistance of a celebrated arachnologist to trace the deadly

spider that was released in his flat, but finds an impostor, gang member Craig, in the expert's place. Recognized, Craig releases some spiders as a diversion and escapes Rathbone's clutches.

Rathbone then discovers the body of the real scientist, as well as the charred fragments of his African diary, which refer to some animal that is "doglike," "immune," and "faithful." The bumbling Bruce (who himself possesses at least two of those three qualities) then finds a small skeleton in a

closet, but the skeleton, he avers, is not that of a child, despite its size. Rathbone makes the appropriate deduction: the skeleton is that of a pygmy, and such a pygmy has been the spider woman's agent of destruction, the bratty Infuhr having been merely a false scent. Rathbone traces the pygmy

to a sideshow at a carnival, where he is trapped by Sondergaard's minions and tied to a shooting-gallery target, a cutout of Adolf Hitler. He frees himself in the nick of time (just as Bruce is about to shoot), and he and his friends round up Sondergaard and her mob, including pygmy Rossitto. The

smoothly menacing Sondergaard was so fine in this film that she returned three years later, without Rathbone, in THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK. This was the first film in the "Sherlock Holmes" series in which exhibitors were offered the option of using the Holmes name in the title of the picture

or not, as they pleased; the studio felt that the series impact had been reduced with time and familiarity, and the same option was offered in succeeding releases.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: One of the most entertaining of the Rathbone-Bruce Holmesian ventures, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON melds two different periods. The settings are reminiscent of Victorian London, but automobiles, airplanes, and Adolf Hitler also figure into the pi… (more)

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