The foggy streets of London are being stalked by a serial killer, responsible for “a series of the most atrocious murders since Jack The Ripper.” The killer’s macabre modus operandi involves the removal of the right forefinger of his female victims. The police are baffled and hope that Sherlock Holmes can catch the perpetrator, before another woman meets an untimely death.
The final film in the series to be written by Bertram Millhauser (responsible for the likes of The Spider Woman and The Pearl Of Death) The Woman in Green is a suitably mysterious and involving case for Holmes and Watson. Proceedings begin in a rather different tone from the rest of the series. A voiceover from what turns out to be the officer on the case, Inspector Gregson, gives the impression that this is a noirish detective film. Once Holmes arrives things settle into the familiar and effective formula but the presence of the Woman in Green with her femme fatale like qualities further echoes the film noir genre.
Running parallel to the narrative of Holmes’ investigations is the problem facing Sir George Fenwick. Waking up in a cheap boarding house near to the most recent murder he finds something unexpected in his jacket pocket and returns to his last remembered location, the abode of one Lydia Marlowe. Soon enough Holmes becomes involved in the activities of both Sir George and his female friend and it is not long before he realises that a criminal mastermind is at work. None other than that napoleon of crime, Professor Moriarty.
Holmes’ ultimate adversary has been given far greater prominence on the silver screen than he ever had in Doyle’s original stories. Used by Doyle as a way of giving Holmes a (not so) final send-off in The Final Problem filmmakers have revived him on many occasions to great effect. His inclusion in The Woman in Green gives the case a far more personal and dangerous edge for the crimefighter. Henry Daniell gets the chance to portray him, having made previous appearances in Universal’s Holmes’ films as various characters, and he does a good job. His interpretation is of a cold, calculating individual who gives the impression that he sets himself above the rest of mankind, detached from civil society and its rules and regulations. An entertaining performance although not quite as definitive as that of George Zucco.
Although the plot has nothing in common with the stories of Doyle (apart from one scene which will be familiar to those that have read The Adventure of the Empty House) it maintains an authentic atmosphere. The script gives Basil Rathbone plenty to do, whether it is revealing the minutiae of a murder at the crime scene, explaining to a bumbling Watson the traits of a female client by a cursory observation from his window, or engaging in taunting verbal exchanges with his arch nemesis. It goes without saying that his performance is reliably assured. Nigel Bruce, the perfect counterpoint to Rathbone, also gets the chance to play to his strengths, providing some entertaining comic relief, most memorably when the duo’s investigations take them to The Mesmer Club.
The Woman in Green (a rather odd title for a black and white film) is an enjoyable adventure for fans of the pipe-smoking detective. From the off it is an intriguing mystery with a satisfyingly elaborate resolution which places Holmes in a perilous predicament. The good news is that Holmes lives to see another day. The bad news is that his next case would be the rather lacklustre Pursuit To Algiers.