(director: Roy William Neill; screenwriters: based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/Bertram Millhauser; cinematographer: Charles Van Enger; editor: William Austin; music: Hans J. Salter; cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Gale Sondergaard (Andrea Spedding), Dennis Hoey (Lestrade), Vernon Downing (Norman Locke), Arthur Hohl (Gilflower), Alec Craig (Radlik), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson), Gene Roth (Taylor); Runtime: 62; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roy William Neill; Universal; 1944)

“The seventh Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce film in the Sherlock Holmes series is an inspired one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The seventh Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce film in the Sherlock Holmes series is an inspired one. Director Roy William Neill (“The Black Room”/”Black Angel”/”Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”) and writer Bertram Millhauser have Holmes as no longer Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian detective but instead as a modern-day sleuth.

London is swept by a rash of mysterious suicides, where men are found dead in their pajamas. Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are on a fishing vacation in Scotland (with Holmes fishing in a suit and tie, if you will), and Holmes deduces that the “Pajama Suicides” are murders. Thereby Holmes fakes his death by jumping into the river, as he hopes this will make the diabolical villains responsible for the crime spree less cautious.

When Holmes secretly returns to circulation, he disguises himself as a wealthy Indian, Rajnee Singh, and loses his bankroll at a swank gambling casino. There Andrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard), who Holmes thinks of as the “female Moriarty,” intervenes to stop his suicide and set him up with someone she knows that runs a life insurance scam–giving him a much needed sum of money if he signs away his life insurance policy benefits to them. When Andrea suspects that she’s dealing with Holmes and not Singh, she has her goons place a venomous snake in his bed and when that fails visits his Baker Street flat with a mute child, she says is her nephew, and tries to kill him with a poisonous smoke bomb hidden in the kid’s candy wrapper that’s thrown in the fireplace. Holmes learns from her failed attempts to kill him, that a deadly South American spider, the Lycosa carnivora, is the means used in the suicide murders and that a carnival pygmy is used to gain entrance to the victim’s homes by climbing down the shaft. The trail leads to a visit by Holmes to an eccentric spider collector named Ordway, where the gang gets their spiders. But Ordway has been killed and Holmes exposes the impostor. Holmes has no solid proof to convict the gang, so he schemes to smoke them out in the open by going with Watson to an arcade–where a fortune teller’s place serves as the gang’s HQ. But before Holmes can arrest them, he is captured by the Spider Woman’s henchmen and is bound and gagged behind a moving target of Hitler at a shooting gallery that also has revolving targets with effigies of Mussolini and Hirohito. At this same shooting gallery, Watson is showing off his shooting prowess to Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) by patriotically firing a rifle at the Hitler target.

The climactic scene was ingenious and Sondergaard’s creepy insect-like performance as the malevolent villain with the brains to rival Holmes was deliciously macabre, as this B-film had the same high quality of an A-film.

REVIEWED ON 12/31/2009 GRADE: B+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/