The Spider Woman

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For other uses, see Spider Woman (disambiguation).
The Spider Woman
Spider Woman movie 1944.JPG
1944 US theatrical poster
Directed by Roy William Neill
Produced by Roy William Neill
Written by Bertram Millhauser
Based on Characters 
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring Basil Rathbone
Nigel Bruce
Gale Sondergaard
Music by Hans J. Salter
Cinematography Charles Van Enger
Edited by William Austin
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • January 21, 1944 (1944-01-21)
Running time
62 min
Country United States
Language English

The Spider Woman (alternatively titled Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman and Spider Woman) is a 1944 mystery film starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, the seventh of fourteen such films the pair were involved in. As with all of the Universal Studios films in the series, the film is set in then-present day as opposed to the Victorian setting of the original stories. This film incorporates elements from the novel The Sign of the Four, as well as the short stories "The Final Problem", "The Adventure of the Empty House", "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band".[1]


Consulting detective Sherlock Holmes fakes his own death in Scotland in order to investigate a number of bizarre apparent suicides that he is convinced are part of an elaborate plot by "a female Moriarty". Returning to his assistant Watson in secret, Holmes notes that all the victims were wealthy gamblers, so disguised as "Rajni Singh", a distinguished Indian officer, he stalks London's gaming clubs.

It is not long before he encounters the villain of the piece, Adrea Spedding. Holmes discovers that she seeks out men short of money, persuades them to pawn their life insurance policies with her accomplices, then kills them. Holmes sets himself up as her next victim, discovering that she uses the deadly spider, Lycosa Carnivora, whose venom causes such excruciating pain that the victims kill themselves. Holmes also finds the footprint of a child nearby.

Searching for evidence Holmes and Watson visit eminent arachnologist Matthew Ordway, who may have supplied the deadly creatures. Holmes soon realizes that the man he is speaking to is an impostor, but the villain makes his escape. Searching the premises Holmes finds the corpse of the real Ordway, as well as his journals, which allude to something or someone from Central Africa immune to the spider venom. This baffles Holmes until he finds the model skeleton of a child. However, Dr. Watson points out that the relation of the skull and the circumference of the chest prove it is not a child, and Holmes deduces that the Central African creature described in the journal is a pygmy.

Holmes and Watson continue their investigations at a nearby fairground, but Holmes falls into the clutches of Spedding and her gang. Bound and gagged, Holmes is tied behind a moving target in a shooting gallery, at which Lestrade and Watson take pot shots with a .22 rifle. However Holmes manages to escape, and Lestrade and the police arrest Spedding, her gang, and the pygmy.

The film ends with Holmes theorizing that the best place to commit a murder would be in a crowded place as he and Watson gradually disappear into the crowd.[2]


Allusions to the Sherlock Holmes canon[edit]

  • Though The Spider Woman has an original plot, the film heavily features elements from various stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes faking his death at a waterfall is similar to the climax of "The Final Problem" and his subsequent reappearance in the presence of a mourning Watson bears resemblance to "The Empty House". The use of a pygmy confederate is taken from the novel The Sign of Four and the murder by use of a venomous animal inserted through a ventilation system is taken from "The Speckled Band", though the swamp adder of that story is replaced by a spider (just as it was in "The Adventure of the Deptford Horror" a Sherlockian pastiche by Adrian Conan Doyle). The mute child with a compulsion to catch flies is similar to a character in "The Copper Beeches". The film also featured elements of "The Devil's Foot". Holmes described the antagonist as a "female Moriarty", referencing his nemesis Professor James Moriarty.[3] Holmes' request that Watson whisper "pygmy" in his ear if he becomes overconfident is from "The Yellow Face", in which the word was "Norbury".
  • Elements of The Spider Woman were given homage in the Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse", including Watson mistaking a genuine client for a false-bearded Holmes in disguise.


  1. ^ Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, Titan Books, Third Edition, January 31, 2012, ISBN 978-0-85768-776-0, page 268
  2. ^ David Stuart Davies, Holmes of the Movies (New English Library, 1976) ISBN 0-450-03358-9
  3. ^ Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, Titan Books, Third Edition, January 31, 2012, ISBN 978-0-85768-776-0, page 268

External links[edit]