26. The Spider Woman (1944)

IMDB score = 7.3/10

Holmes and Watson? = Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Synopsis = Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of so-called "pajama suicides". He knows the female villain behind them is as cunning as Moriarty and as venomous as a spider.

Defense by RosieWWW:

When the hosts on Holmes-themed podcasts (The Baker Street Babes and I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere) ask their guests how they were first introduced to The Great Detective, there’s a pretty high chance their answer will be “I was watching television one rainy afternoon, and saw a Rathbone and Bruce film” In this regard, I felt a little peeved that any of the films that are considered so formative to so many, appear in the list at all. Then I actually watched the movie.

The film begins with news of a series of mysterious suicides in 1940s London. Pyjama-clad men are tumbling from the rooftops at an unexpected rate, yet Sherlock Holmes is nowhere to be found. Instead, he’s taking a fishing vacation with Dr Watson in Scotland. Watson keeps ducking off into the bushes every few minutes to read a newspaper he’s kept hidden in his hat. Busted, he asks Holmes what they are going to do about this series of suicides. Holmes declares he is done with crime, feels faint, and promptly falls into a ravine and is presumed dead. A singular act in the first five minutes of a movie bearing your name.

This is just the first of a veritable pick-and-mix of canonical references. Not only does Holmes’ “death” and (of course) reappearance call back to The Final Problem and The Empty House, it also has elements from The Sign of The Four, The Devil’s Foot, The Speckled Band, and The Yellow Face.

The scenes where Mrs Hudson, Watson and Lestrade are mourning the loss of Holmes, and his subsequent reappearance in the guise of an ill-mannered postman, are touching and entertaining in turn.

A special note must be made of the incident when a visitor to Baker Street appears wearing dark sunglasses and what appears to be a wig and false beard. Poor old Dr Watson is quite taken in, believing that Mr Gillflower is Holmes in disguise. This scene is called back to quite splendidly in BBC Sherlock’s The Empty Hearse. In another scene, Dr Watson rises above some of his Boobus Britainnicus reputation, by identifying that a small skeleton belongs not to a child, but a tiny adult human.

The villainous Spider Woman is a decent adversary, not taken in at all by Holmes' ridiculous disguises. Her attempts to mislead Holmes with about the creepiest child to ever appear on film were effective. The film’s final showdown at a carnival shooting range was rather thrilling, featuring the most obvious note of the 1940s setting with range targets of caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini.

This movie is all in all pretty fun, with a decent mystery, some fair original deductions and some funny lines. Be prepared, however, for the film to blatantly disregard your 21st Century social mores against “Applying Boot-Polish To Disguise Yourself as an Indian Prince” and “Stuffing a Pygmy in a Suitcase.”