“The Woman in Green” (1945)

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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.



  • 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.

3 comments to “The Woman in Green” (1945)

  • Darci

    Who are the 3 mar­tyrs Lydia Mar­lowe men­tion is her protest to Dr. Onslowe?  They sound like “Evans, Esdale, and Bray”?  The scene is at 4:27 in the first clip.

  • ronin1861

    The lat­ter two are James Esdaile and James Braid. I might have this the4 wrong way round, but Esdaile prac­ticed surgery using mes­merism as anaes­thet­ic in British India in the late 18th/early 19th cen­tu­ry. It nev­er caught on because chem­i­cal aneas­t­he­sia became wide­spread at around this time. Braid is cred­it­ed with coin­ing the term ‘hyp­no­tism’ which even­tu­al­ly replaced ‘mes­merism’. Iron­i­cal­ly, his own favoured term was ‘monoideism’.
    Don’t know who ‘Evans’ is/was. I’ll need to watch the clip…
    It’s a nice touch to have ref­er­ences to some of the founders of mod­ern hyp­no­tism in the film, I think.

  • HypnoMedia

    It could be War­ren Felt Evans (1817–1889), who was a major fig­ure in the New Thought Move­ment and a writer on the phi­los­o­phy of mes­merist Phineas Quim­by. Quim­by him­self was very influ­en­tial on Mary Bak­er Eddy, the founder of Chris­t­ian Science.