The Spider Woman (1944)
As the seventh in the utterly splendid, 14-film series that paired Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, 1944’s The Spider Woman is one of the most purely entertaining. It’s also as close as the franchise got to adapting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” story — a perennial favorite.
In a lively opening montage, London is abuzz about the rash of “Pyjama Suicides,” so named because people have suddenly killed themselves in the middle of the night, with neither rhyme no reason. But as Holmes notes, suicides are apt to leave notes, which these unfortunate souls didn’t; therefore, he suspects murder, my dear Watson, murder.
He’s right, of course, especially since the victims were catching Zs behind locked doors. Before the midpoint of the film, both Holmes and the viewer already know the culprit — the titular female, Miss Adria Spedding (Gale Sondergaard, The Mark of Zorro) — but not her methods. One can surmise from the title that spiders may be involved, and they are, but there’s more to it than that.
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. —Rod Lott