It was still early in his directorial career when Fritz Lang accepted the assignment to direct what was to be a mystery-action serial comprised of four feature-length episodes. Lang was forced by this assignment to relinguish the directorial duties on another Decla film: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). The serial was to be about a secret society of criminals and a lone heroic spoiler of their nefarious plans. Lang completed two feature-length episodes before the proposed four-part project was cut short by the films’ producer. Part one was released as The Golden Sea and part two as The Diamond Ship.
The films were originally intended to be presented in two separate viewings, and as a whole are inextricably part of the serial motion picture tradition; that is, a hero struggling against the resources of a group of evildoers, getting into seemingly impossible to escape dangerous situations yet escaping to foil the group’s plans. The film is also part of what can be called the European serial tradition (also represented by France’s Les vampires [1915-1916]), and that is its being comprised of feature-length episodes. The Spiders is a hit-and-miss experience, being in turns good action entertainment and ridiculous camp.
Carl de Vogt makes an interesting-looking hero, all chiselled features and brawny limbs, but some of his wardrobe seems silly. Ressel Orla is entertaining as Lio Sha one of the leaders of the Spiders, who would declare her love and as quickly threaten to murder. And we are happy to see the beautiful Lil Dagover in another film appearance contemporaneous to her Caligari role. The set design by Hermann Warm (among others) is exotic. The cinematography for part one is by the famous Karl Freund.
Many of the requisite serial elements are present in The Spiders: Secret societies, secret maps, secret doorways, secret hand signals, spying butlers, masked intruders, sacrifical Incas, Indian mystics, inscrutible Chinese, gold, diamonds, hidden treasure, airplanes, hot-air balloons, ships, chases, kidnapping, telepathy, disguises, hypnotism, murder, underground cities, opium dens, sacrificial temples, dark caves, and plenty of fights and gun battles. Also present are the unworldly escapes from impending death and danger. The hero, Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt), inexplicably escapes a room flooded with water only to smuggle himself, in subsequent shots, onto a ship controlled by the Spiders inside a ridiculously-outfitted crate complete with a small library and a reading lamp. There is also an inexplicable end to a hand-to-hand struggle. The abrupt escapes may be explained readily as missing footage rather than a lapse in narrative or editorial incompetence. — Carl Bennett
2012 DVD edition
The Spiders (1919-1920), color-tinted black & white, 173 minutes, not rated.
Kino Lorber, K817, UPC 7-38329-08172-0.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 16 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 28 February 2012.
Country of origin: USA
Kino Lorber’s new edition of Fritz Lang’sThe Spiders (1919-1920) has been mastered from a restored print, with a longer running time than any previous home video edition.
The film is accompanied by a music score performed by Ben Model.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
1999 DVD edition
The Spiders (1919-1920), color-tinted black & white, 137 minutes, not rated.
Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID4678DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-46782-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 23 chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $29.99.
DVD release date: 17 August 1999.
Country of origin: USA
The Spiders (1919-1920) apparently has not survived the years intact or in best condition. The video transfer, which has recently been digitally remastered, has utilized a speckled, worn print, which looks like a 17.5mm or 16mm reduction print. We can assume that, since The Spiders was previously considered a lost film, the original print used for restoration in the 1970s is the only surviving print.
There appears, at times, to be missing footage which is bridged by an intertitle, and there are small snippets missing throughout the film, which could be missing footage or could be where original German intertitles were located and were not replaced by corresponding English intertitles in the original print. Overall, there are many distracting flaws in the original print but that print appears to be largely intact and remains quite viewable.
The print itself is damaged throughout, with blotches, frame jitters, and with scratches that perhaps could have been helped by wetgate printing in print duplication. Some sections are contrasty and some have a respectable amount of tonal range. The contrasty footage is helped marginally by the edition’s color tinting, which at least fills in color where highlight details have been blasted out. The video transfer image framing is generous, but the transfer speed appears at times to run too fast.
The organ accompaniment by Gaylord Carter, presumably recorded when the film was restored in 1978 by David and Kimberly Shepard, carries the film along wonderfully.
This edition, with its shortcomings, is far from an ideal presentation. But if it has been transferred from the only surviving print, then we are extremely lucky to still have the opportunity to view this fun excursion into Fritz Lang’s cinematic world. We recommend, with the above caveats, this DVD edition of The Spiders.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.