Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in “The Spider Woman” – reviewed by George

A rash of “pyjama suicides” has the London press agog. Men are going to bed, then arising in the middle of the night and killing themselves. The public’s reaction is personified by one married couple: the husband rants that suicide is a crime; where are the police? where is Sherlock Holmes? And his wife agrees: where is Sherlock Holmes?
Turns out that Holmes and Watson are in Scotland fishing, and Holmes (Basil Rathbone) confides in Watson (Nigel Bruce) that these are all murders: no one goes to bed and then gets up in the middle of the night and kills himself. Watson says, “So we must go back!” And Holmes explains that crime is over for him. His symptoms indicate that a cerebral hemorrhage is probable. He stops fishing and walks a little ways off, faints, and falls into the fast-moving stream. Cut to newspaper headlines, the first proclaiming his death and the second reporting the crime wave that follows.
His records, case memorabilia, and the furnishings of his receiving room are donated to the British Museum. Mrs. Hudson (Mary Gordon again, who has appeared in every Rathbone-Bruce film so far without billing, but gets billing in this film in the closing credits) sniffles that she doesn’t want to see his things gone. Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) arrives to accompany the museum van, waiting outside, and chides Watson pretty roughly, “Why didn’t you jump in after him, you blunderhead?!” And Watson replies sadly, “He was gone. When I got there he was gone.”
As Lestrade leaves, a mailman arrives with a package for Holmes that requires a signature. Lestrade indicates Watson and says, “He’ll sign.” The mailman, who is rather full of himself, looks around and denigrates the furniture, “I suppose it suited ‘im all right.” And then, in a prescient nod to Matthew McConaughey, he adds, “all right, all right, all right.” And then he says it again. He continues to insult Holmes until Watson puts an end to his bosh with a bash – to the chin.
And then we meet the brains behind the scheme (which at this point we still don’t understand), the Spider Woman Miss Adrea Spedding (the great movie villainess Gale Sondergaard) and her half-brother Norman Locke (Vernon Downing). She is reading a newspaper story out loud about an Indian named Rajni Singh, who is reported to be a lover of the gaming tables, but says he is in London to see if British surgeons can restore his left arm, injured in the service of the Empire. She tells Norman to be sure that Singh receives a card to the Urban Casino.
There follows a tale of poisonous spiders, a seriously weird child, and a scheme to get life insurance policies away from their owners. This is one of the best Holmes movies so far, fast-moving and suspenseful, with a nail-biting ending at an arcade, where Watson has been set up to commit murder.
Directed by Roy William Neill from a screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on a Doyle story.

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