The Spiders/1919-20/Decla-Bioscop AG, Kino Lorber DVD/173 min.
By Michael Wilmington
Fritz Lang (“M,” “Metropolis,” “Die Nibelungen”) was a master of horror, crime and adventure, and he combines them all – along with a dark touch of romance and a smidgen of humor – in this epic movie, recently released on DVD by Kino Lorber.
It’s a tale of lost treasure, exotic Peruvian climes, a daring adventurer (Carl de Vogt as the almost insanely courageous explorer from San Francisco, Kay Hoog), a band of ruthless criminals who tunnel under Chinatown and make up the international gang The Spiders, the priceless and elusive Buddha’s Head Diamond, the beauteous sun priestess Naela (Lil Dagover) and one of the more murderous of all femme fatales, the perfidious Lio Sha (Ressel Orla).
This spectacular black and white silent movie was released in two episodes (both in this DVD) – Part One: “The Golden Sea” (1919) and Part Two: “The Diamond Ship” (1920). It was quite obviously influenced by Louis Feuillade’s French crime serials (“Judex,” “Fantomas” and “Les Vampires”), which are better, but not by much. Serial followers with campier tastes might prefer the jovial, high-spirited nonsense of American cliff-hangers like “The Perils of Pauline,” but even considering The Spiders’ lack of humor, it’s easy to see that both Lang and Feuillade are superior artists, and that Lang would grow into an even more important one.
Only Hitler and the Nazis, worse monsters and more evil criminals than The Spiders, could drive out Lang and the other German and Austrian film noir greats to Hollywood, stopping his rise in his own country. But these remnants of high adventure remain.
(Silent movie with intertitles and music score by Ben Model.)