In "The Woman in Green", a mysterious maniac is terrorizing post-WW II London: innocent women are being murdered and their right fore-finger is being carefully removed. Even the great Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is mystified, but the horror of the act is enough to drive him to find the murder.
Description: A tale of murder, blackmail and hypnosis: a fiendish blackmail plot by Moriarty involves the sensational murders of innocent woman and prominent men being blackmailed with being connected to the murders, a state even they cannot disprove, being entranced by a lovely hypnotist and rendered unaware of their actions at the time of the murders.
Sherlock Holmes becomes involved at the request of Inspector Gregson (Matthew Boulton) because the police cannot find a common motive or reason for the killings.
Inspector Gregson: I put my pride in my pocket and went to see the man who'd so often helped Inspector Lastrade and myself in the past – Sherlock Holmes!
After viewing the latest victim, it is a chance meeting at the Pembroke House, a very upper class social club, where Holmes and Gregson are discussing the case that will ultimately give Holmes his first clue and gives the audience the first look at the title character, the lovely Lydia Marlowe (Hillary Brooke), as she entertains her next victim, Sir George Fenwick (Paul Cavanagh).
Inspector Gregson: What are you looking at, Mr. Holmes?
Sherlock Holmes: Looking at a very handsome woman, not born to the purple, but giving an excellent imitation.
Gregson: Is that his daughter with him?
Holmes: Don't be so naive, Inspector.
Holmes: Wonder where she's taking Sir George Fenwick?
Gregson: Don't be so naive, Mr. Holmes.
The scene follows Lydia and Sir George as they return to her apartment. With soft music in the background and a drugged drink, Lydia directs Sir George's attention to the pool of water before him. Before long, the swirling water and her soft words have her unfortunate victim entranced, although the latter part of the induction is off-camera: when Sir George awakens, it is in a cheap hotel room with the news vendor below crying that another "finger murder" has taken place. To his horror, he discovers the telltale severed finger in his pocket. Upon returning to Lydia, she explains that he left shortly after he arrived and she has no idea what he did since.
After that comes the blackmail, the threat of such terrifying proportions that, even if untrue, would blacken the family name and honor. However, Sir George apparently takes the honorable way out, suicide, but the blackmailers discovered he was planning on informing the police and murdered him, making it appear a suicide. But Sir George, in his dying moment, grasps the one thing that would direct Sherlock Holmes toward his killers: a book of matches from the Pembroke House where he saw Sherlock Holmes that fateful night, knowing that Holmes saw him with Lydia.
But Sherlock Holmes is getting too close: Moriarty arranges for an assassination, meeting Holmes at his dwelling, setting him up for a sniper across the street. This sniper was a victim of the alluring Lydia and was to commit the the crime under her trance, but when the assassination was foiled, he was killed to prevent him from talking.
Having seen the sniper and his reactions, Sherlock deduces that he was hypnotized, and things are starting to fall in place for him. He attends a gathering at the Mesmer Club, where all the hypnotists of London gather. While the doubting Watson (Nigel Bruce) is embarrassed to discover he was hypnotized, Holmes is watching the audience to locate Lydia, who was sent to the Mesmer Club by Moriarty in order to induce Holmes to return to her apartment.
Lydia invites Holmes to her apartment. Moriarty directed her so, telling her "Holmes has one weakness, his insatiable curiosity. If you can rouse that, you can lead him anywhere." and she uses that to persuade him to allow her to hypnotize him. She remarks that he would be a difficult subject, administering a narcotic to ease the process, then she directs his attention to the pool of water before him. As she starts it swirling and begins her induction, Sherlock starts nodding away.
When Holmes is hypnotized, Moriarty appears, having Sherlock tested to ensure he was entranced, then orders him to write a suicide note. Then, as Sherlock is being instructed to walk on the wall of the balcony, Watson and Gregson and the police barge in to rescue Holmes. But Sherlock does not need rescuing: he wasn't hypnotized. The test with the knife was passed because Sherlock switched the drug with an anesthetic when Lydia's back was turned. As he is placed in handcuffs, Moriarty breaks away, leaping over the balcony, but his attempt to grab the wall across the way fails, causing him to fall to his death below. And, at that, with his death and his gang in custody. the threat of the "finger murders" is brought to an end.
Commentary: The hypnosis in this movie takes place in three scenes and is of varying accuracy and realism. It is also probably necessary, as one might consider simply drugging the victims into unconsciousness would serve the same purpose, but there are advantages to hypnosis that simply drugging the victim would not accomplish.
The first scene is where Lydia hypnotizes Sir George. The full induction is not shown, nor what was suggested to him, but the result, basically amnesia combined probably with suggestions to go to a certain location, get a room and fall asleep. This way, there are witnesses who can testify truthfully that Sir George left and took a cab to the area of the of the murder. The hypnosis involved may not be enough to force Sir George (or any one else) to perform all of these things, but the addition of the drug could be enough to make it possible. This scene I would have to rate as marginally possible.
The second scene is at the Mesmer Club. As Holmes and Watson enter, a demonstration of hypnosis is just finishing. In typical doltish fashion, Watson denigrates and denies hypnosis and is thus made the target of another demonstration with the dual purpose of embarrassing and enlightening him. This scene I rate as authentic.
The third scene appears to involve hypnosis, and that's the final scene with Lydia and Sherlock. This is where Lydia is supposed to hypnotize Sherlock so that Moriarty can have him commit suicide. Even with the addition of the cannabis drug, it is unlikely that the plot would possibly happen, and if it were to happen, the whole process would fall over into mind control rather than hypnosis. The expectation here is hardly authentic but Holmes' resistance to it is authentic.
History: Based very loosely on the Doyle story 'The Adventure of the Empty House''. "The Woman in Green" is one of the last of the series of Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce adaptations. The only part of the movie that is directly from canon is the assassination scene, the rest was the creation of screenwriter Bertram Millhauser, the screenwriter for other films in this series including "The Spider Woman" and "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" (one of the two other films of this series that Hillary Brooke appears in.)
Recommendation: Definitely recommended but not very highly recommended. Henry Daniell plays a very good Moriarty (Rathbone called his performance "delectably dangerous" and said that Daniell was his favorite of the three actors who played Moriarty opposite him) with an icy, no-nonsense directness that you should expect from a master criminal. Their interplay is one of the best scenes in the movie:
Moriarty: We've had many encounters in the past. You hope to place me on the gallows. I tell you I shall never stand upon the gallows. But, if you are instrumental in any way in bringing about my destruction, you will not be alive to enjoy your satisfaction.
Holmes: Then we shall walk together through the gates of Eternity hand in hand.
Moriarty: What a charming picture that would make.
Holmes: Yes, wouldn't it? I really think it might be worth it.
Hillary Brooke plays a very lovely but sinister hypnotist, always cool and in control, and the full induction on Holmes she uses is excellently done. Their sinister assistants in crime, especially the demented doctor with a passion for "dollies" who actually performs the finger excision, are creepy.
However, the mystery and the motive behind it is contrived and really doesn't seem that threatening enough to engender the blackmail scheme Moriarty is plotting. The fact that this series was translated into (then) present times doesn't help: Sherlock Holmes is a Victorian individual and needs to remain there. It also unfortunately suffers by making Watson into a buffoon instead of the valued partner he was in the stories. Both that portrayal and the stories suffer from series creep, being the 11th of the series of 14 and it shows.
- "The Woman in Green" entry in Wikipedia
- "The Woman in Green" entry at the Basil Rathbone: Master of Stage and Screen website
- "The Woman in Green" picture page at the Basil Rathbone: Master of Stage and Screen website
- "The Woman in Green" at RottenTomatoes
- This is the only film in this series in which Mycroft Holmes is referenced.
- This is the first film of this series in which the actors were so well identified with the characters that the title credits make no mention of the characters the actors are protraying.
- This is the third movie in this series in which Moriarty appears to die at the end, yet he returns in each previous sequel. However, the character doesn't appear in any Holmes movie for another 30 years.
- This is the first time, however, that Henry Daniell plays Professor Moriarty although he appears as different characters in two earlier movies of this series.
- This is also one of three of the Holmes movies in which Hillary Brooke appears. She also appeared in the classic "Invaders from Mars" (1953) in which she was under the control of the Martians and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- The use of a cannabis derivative to aid inductions was well-known at the time.
- It is a pity this is a B&W movie: it would have been nice to actually see the lovely Lydia wearing green, I think it would have been a very good color on her.
- You are not seeing things when watching the induction scenes: the reflections in the pool of water are inverted, they both should be upside down, coming from where Hillary's hand is at.
- The movie itself has fallen out of copyright and so can be found in any number of releases. I recommend the one listed above which was digitally remastered from original sources.