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Case Number 17941: Small Claims Court

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Sherlock Holmes: The Spider Woman / The Voice Of Terror

MPI // 1944 // 129 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 18th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan was a friend of Mycroft Holmes. Sadly, that Watson fellow got all the good material.

The Charge

Restored in 35mm.

The Case

Basil Rathbone starred as Sherlock Holmes fourteen times between 1939 and 1946, with Nigel Bruce by his side as the steady Dr. Watson, and the pair mounted 220 radio broadcasts as the detective and his interlocutor. This association was both a blessing and a curse for Rathbone, who was initially disappointed by his typecasting as the great detective. Only later in life did he embrace his strong association with Holmes, eventually writing a play where he starred as the detective once again.

Sherlock Holmes Double Feature: The Spider Woman/The Voice of Terror includes two movies: The Spider Woman, about a rash of apparent suicides Holmes knows are murders, and The Voice of Terror, about Nazi sabateurs who broadcast over the radio.

Watching these Holmes films now, it's not hard to see why Rathbone was so closely associated with the character. Undoubtedly Holmes is a complex character who balances his supreme logical mind with a tendency towards melancholy and lassitude (not to mention his fondness for cocaine). This makes him a fascinating target for actors to hit, and Rathbone succeeds in creating a portrait of the great detective as a logical man of action, vital in both mind and body. There are hints at a darker Holmes here and there in Rathbone's portrayal, but for the most part, this is Sherlock at his most bright and essential.

This is my first encounter with any of the Rathbone Holmes films, and I confess myself impressed by how diverse these 60-minute features are. I generally associate Holmes with his study, with the occasional carriage ride to a crime scene before retiring again to smoke and contemplate the criminal. Both of these films put that notion to rest. Certainly they include the classic scenes of Holmes discussing the crime at great length in his study, but both also feature some amount of travel and a surprising amount of action. The Spider Woman, for instance, ends in a rather heart-stopping little set piece involving Holmes strapped into a carnival shooting gallery while his unknowing friends take aim. I don't mean to imply these are thrilling action-fests, but rather they balance the typically cerebral aspects of Holmes with a number of surprisingly thrilling scenes.

MPI has shown remarkable dedication to the cinematic Holmes legacy, releasing numerous series of Holmes adventures with different actors. Here they've released both films on a single disc, and the box cover touts "Restored in 35mm." On its own that doesn't mean much, but then I saw the logo of the UCLA Film and Television archive before the features rolled. There's a group that knows how to do restoration work and it shows here. Aside from a few scratches here and there these films looked remarkably clear. Contrast was great, with lots of deep blacks and grain was kept to appropriate levels. Although the audio doesn't jump out of the speakers, it does a fine job with the dialogue, and subtitles are included if the English accents prove to be too thick. There are no extras to speak of on this disc.

Perhaps my real only complaint about this disc is that it's a simple repackaging of two previously available discs. Both films were available for years from MPI before this double-feature was released, and considering the length of the program and lack of extras, there's no reason they should ever have been release on separate discs in the first place. I also have to quibble with the decision to put these two films together on a single disc. There is no thematic reason to put them together and they certainly aren't chronologically linked. It strikes me that the kind of person who would collect Sherlock Holmes films would be less than pleased at the random throwing together of these two films, even if they're both quite nice on their own.

The Spider Woman and The Voice of Terror are both worthy entries into the cinematic canon of Sherlock Holmes, sure to garner quite a bit of interest once Robert Downey Jr.'s take on the character has a wider audience. The wonderfully restored look of these pictures makes them worth at least a rental to any fan of Sherlock Holmes or cinematic deduction. Fans who've already purchased these films singly have no reason to upgrade to this double feature, aside from a possible desire to consolidate shelf space.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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