Saturday, August 20, 2016

Film Review: The Spiders

"The Spiders"
**** (out of ****)

You hear a movie is called "The Spiders" and you may think it is a monster movie with human size spiders attacking people because of some scientific experiment gone wrong. But that is not what Fritz Lang's "The Spiders" (1919) is about. The Spiders is the name of an underground criminal organization.

"The Spiders", which was once believed to be a "lost film", is in many ways the precursor for the action / adventure genre we know today. Considering this German silent film was made in 1919 it is not difficult to see how amazingly influential it has been throughout the history of cinema.

Originally intended to be a four-part movie serial (only two were filmed) the first part, called "The Golden Sea", follows a young, wealthy yacht racing champion, Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) who finds a bottle with a message inside it, from a Harvard professor. While in Peru, the professor has found a lost Inca civilization and their hidden treasure. Fearful he will be captured and offered as a human sacrifice, to please the Gods, the professor writes his whereabouts on a map and ask whoever finds his message, inform Harvard of his findings.

Kay is immediately intrigued by this scenario, decides he must go to Peru and find the treasure. He tells his story however at a dinner party where the beautiful (and do I need to mention dangerous) Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) is also in attendance. It is clear from her facial expressions Lio would also like to find the treasure. It is quickly revealed Lio is the leader of "The Spiders" and she and her right hand man, Dr. Telphas (Georg John) will go to Peru in an attempt to beat Kay to the treasure.

 Danger follows Kay wherever he goes; The Spiders break into his home and steal his map, he is chased by a gang and shot it and finds himself in a hidden cave, surrounded by his would-be killers. Without Kay would we have Indiana Jones or Batman? The amateur turned detective or the rich playboy who seeks adventure and still finds time for romance, when saving a lady from a giant python.

We even get the cliche romance of two people, from different worlds, taught to see one another as enemies, who find love. It is a story as old as "Romeo & Juliet" and the basis for so many movie romances, many of which "The Spiders" beat to the punch.

Although movie serials had existed before the release of "The Spiders", we can also see the influence this would have on the once popular form of entertainment, creating cliffhanger after cliffhanger for our hero. "The Spiders" could have been broken down into more than two-parts, which run more than an hour long.


Then there are the massive sets created for the movie, which may not recall Mr. Lang's own films, but instead one of his American contemporary's films, Cecil B. DeMille, with larger than life sets and women in revealing clothing.

The second adventure in the series, called "The Diamond Ship", serves as the basis of every "revenge" movie you have seen, with our hero, Kay attempting to dismantle the Spiders organization and kill Lio. Both Kay and Lio are searching for a special diamond that will allow the holder to rule Asia.

Between the two stories, "The Golden Sea" works slightly better in the way it introduces us to this world and these characters. We are struck with wide-eyed fascination learning about The Spiders and the interaction between Kay and Lio. There is also more for us to root for.

Still, because of the running time, both movies are compact with action and espionage (in fact Mr. Lang would direct a movie called "Spies" (1928), which did much for secret agent movies) so the viewer is never bored. In one sequence in "The Diamond Ship" Kay discovers an underground city, underneath the Chinatown district, and faces the fear of being exposed by someone from The Spiders.

"The Golden Sea" was Mr. Lang's third movie however his first two films are considered lost. These may be the best examples of Mr. Lang's earliest work for audiences to watch in order to see Mr. Lang's emerging style.

Mr. Lang would go on to make some highly influential silent films in Germany; "Metropolis" (1927), "Woman in the Moon" (1929), and "M" (1931) before coming to America, where his style shifted to more psychological film noir. Some of these movies are considered classics today but Mr. Lang never found great success in America as he did in Germany. Because of this, unfortunately, a great many of his films are ignored by movie fans, thus Mr. Lang's name does not live on as strongly as it should have.

"The Spiders" is an excellent example of Mr. Lang's gifts as a visual storyteller. It is one of the highlights of his career.