Movie Review: The Spider Woman (1943)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1943 Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone.

Synopsis: Believing a string of suicides are actually murders, Sherlock Holmes fakes his own death in an effort to draw the murderer out in the open. He eventually finds himself matching wits with a cunning female villain who is using poisonous spiders to collect on the life insurance policies of her victims.


I had a bit of extra time before heading into the office this morning and decided to spend it watching a movie. It had been a while since I had watched a Sherlock Holmes film and this one sounded interesting so I gave it a try. It turned out to be a good one.

As far as mysteries go, this did lack a little something. The movie made no effort to hide who the killer was, her methods or even her motive. But, despite that, I did find the movie to be entertaining.

I think the thing that intrigued me most about this film was the way the villain (Sondergaard) proved to be Holmes' intellectual equal. This included seeing through a very clever disguise, figuring out his real identity and taking the fight to him. At very least, she managed to keep him on his toes and kept the movie from becoming predictable and even managed to create some suspense toward the end (though her method of killing Holmes seemed like something I would expect to see in an old Batman rerun).

The inclusion of spiders as the main murder weapon is also a nice touch. At minimum, they gave the movie a little bit of a creepy/crawly feel to it, especially when they were in a room that was full of them.

Another thing I was happy to see was Watson (Bruce) getting his moment in the sun by helping Holmes identify one of the accomplices. Normally, these films focus on making Watson more of the comic relief and, in doing that, don't always do the character justice, especially since he often seems less intelligent than a doctor should be. It was refreshing to see the movie remember his medical training and have him find a clue Holmes himself missed.

Final Opinion

The movie probably could have used a little more mystery surrounding the murders and how they were done. However, the solid villain made this worth watching and I would recommend it as a result.

My Grade: A

Updated: 12/29/2020, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 01/08/2021

StevenHelmer, Thank you for the practical information and the product line.
It's a trip down memory lane to read your review of one of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone. The latter made a believable detective even though Nigel Bruce may have been a compelling comic relief that was not at all true to Dr. Watson's character in the Doyle books. Guy Ritchie's Jude Law offers a truer interpretation, don't you think?
Mark Strong, in his good-guy roles, reminds me somewhat of Basil Rathbone. Was Darkest Hour one of the films you've seen, and did you catch the uncredited performance of Mark Strong (whom I recognized by his voice, from that first word in "What just happened?") in the film's ending moments?

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