AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Spider Woman
Alternate Title: Sherlock Holmes in Peril
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
Release Date:   21 Jan 1944
Production Date:   10 May--early Jun 1943
Duration (in mins):   62-63
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes)  
    Nigel Bruce (Doctor [John] Watson)  
    Gale Sondergaard (Adrea Spedding)  
    Dennis Hoey ([Inspector] Lestrade)  
    Vernon Downing (Norman Locke)  
    Alec Craig (Radlik)  
    Arthur Hohl ([Adam] Gilflower)  
    Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson)  
    Stanley Logan (Robert)  
    Donald Stuart (Artie)  
    John Roche (Croupier)  
    John Burton (Announcer)  
    Lydia Bilbrook (Susan)  
    Belle Mitchell (Fortune teller)  
    Harry Cording (Fred Garvin)  
    John Rogers (Clerk)  
    Wilson Benge (Clerk)  
    Teddy Infuhr (Larry)  
    Jimmy Aubrey (News vendor)  
    George Kirby (News vendor)  
    Marie de Becker (Charwoman)  
    Sylvia Andrews (Charwoman)  
    Angelo Rossitto (Pygmy)  
    Gene Stutenroth (Taylor)  
    Arthur Stenning (Plainclothesman)  
    Frank Benson (Attendent)  

Summary: With a rash of "pajama suicides" plaguing London, a cry goes out for noted private detective Sherlock Holmes, who is on a fishing vacation in Scotland, to investigate. Holmes quickly deduces that the deaths are actually murders, as no suicide notes have been left by any of the victims, but he tells his friend, Dr. John Watson, that he has decided to retire for heath reasons rather than take on the case. Soon thereafter, Holmes collapses and disappears, and the newspapers are filled with stories of the detective's death by drowning. In actuality, Holmes has faked his own death in order to go undercover to expose the murderous gang, which he suspects is led by a "female Moriarty." Holmes pretends to be an Indian officer named Raghni Singh who, like the previous victims, is a compulsive gambler. Adrea Spedding, the leader of the gang, falls for Holmes's bait and invites him to the Urban Casino, where, after losing all his money and contemplating suicide, he is told by Adrea that he can borrow money on his life insurance policy by making one of her friends his new beneficiary. The next day, however, Adrea discovers Holmes's disguise, and she orders her goons to place a poisonous spider in the air shaft of his apartment. Holmes foils her plot, however, and after killing one of Adrea's accomplices, the detective and Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard discover a wooden case and small footprints on the apartment's roof. Later, Holmes and Watson are visited at their Baker Street residency by Adrea and her mute "nephew," Larry. She pretends to be interested in hiring the detective to find her missing friend "Raghni," but as she leaves, Larry throws some candy wrappers into the fireplace, filling the flat with poisonous smoke. Holmes and Watson escape the fumes, however, then go to the home of Matthew Ordway, an eccentric specialist in insects. Holmes soon deduces that the man they meet there is an impostor named Radlik, but he makes his escape by releasing some of Ordway's deadly insects. Holmes and Watson later find the murdered Ordway, as well as the skeleton of a small individual. Holmes quickly realizes that Adrea has been using a pygmy to plant the poisonous spiders in the homes of her victims. Holmes and Watson then go to search for the pygmy at a local carnival, where the detective is soon captured by Adrea and her gang. Holmes is strapped behind a cutout of Adolf Hitler in a shooting gallery, but he escapes his binds just in time to avoid being shot to death by Watson and Norman Locke, Adrea's half-brother. Adrea and her gang are then arrested, and Holmes expresses his respect for the female's evil cunning. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
  Melville Shyer (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Benedict (Exec prod)
  Roy William Neill (Prod)
Writer: Bertram Millhauser (Scr)
Photography: Charles Van Enger (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: John B. Goodman (Art dir)
  Martin Obzina (Art dir)
Film Editor: William Austin (Film ed)
Set Decoration: R. A. Gausman (Set dec)
  Edward Ray Robinson (Set dec)
Costumes: Vera West (Gowns)
Music: H. J. Salter (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Sd dir)
  Paul Neal ([Sd] tech)
Country: United States
Series: Sherlock Holmes

Source Text: Based on the short story "The Adventures of the Dying Detective" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Strand (Dec 1913).
Authors: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 24/11/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12379

PCA NO: 9470
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
Subjects (Major): Murder
  Private detectives
  Women gangsters
Subjects (Minor): Brothers and sisters
  East Indians
  Life insurance
  London (England)
  Police inspectors
  Racial impersonation
  Scotland Yard (London, England)

Note: The working title of this film was Sherlock Holmes in Peril , and it was also reviewed under the title Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman . The Spider Woman was very loosely based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story, "The Adventures of the Dying Detective" in Strand (Dec 1913). For additional information on the series and other films featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle characters, consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and the entries for Sherlock Holmes and The Hounds of the Baskervilles in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.4020 and F3.2009. Gale Sondergaard also starred in the 1946 film The Spider Woman Strikes Back (see below), but that picture had no connection to The Spider Woman other than Sondergaard's participation. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   15 Jan 1944.   
Daily Variety   6 Jan 44   p. 3.
Film Daily   13 Jan 44   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Apr 43   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   14 May 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jan 44   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   15 Jan 44   p. 1714.
Variety   12 Jan 44   p. 24.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.