Fritz Lang's Die Spinnen (The Spiders) is actually a collection of two feature length serials made in 1919 and 1920. While two other films were planned to follow, they never materialized. Kino presents the two films together on one Blu-ray disc.
In the first film, Der goldene See (The Golden Sea), we journey to San Francisco where we meet an adventurer named Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt). When he finds a bottle with a message in it from a professor who mysteriously disappeared some time ago, he reports his findings to the fellow members of his club. The letter also happens to contain a map that, the note says, will lead to a long hidden stash of ancient Inca gold somewhere in Peru! Armed with this knowledge, Hoog decides he himself will head to the jungles and find this treasure, unaware that a group of criminals known as The Spiders have sent a beautiful woman named Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) out to beat him to it.
Shortly after his arrival, Hoog saves Sun Priestess Naela (Lil Dagover) from danger and soon enough, the two are quite the item. When none other than Lio Sha also decides Hoog is the man for her, things get complicated. Even more so when diamonds come into the equation!
The second film, Das Brillantenschiff (The Diamond Ship), finds Hoog once again on the hunt for treasure. This time around he's looking for a diamond shaped like a Buddha reported to give the right ‘princess' the power to rule over all of Asia. Hoog's quest for the diamond brings him first to the underbelly of San Francisco's Chinatown and then across the pond to London. Here The Spiders assume a man named John Terry holds (Rudolf Lettinger) the key to the diamond's location. To get it from him, they kidnap his daughter Ellen (Thea Zander). Hoog and Terry team up to get her back and along the way uncover some interesting clues as to the diamond's actual location.
What neither Hoog nor Terry counted on was a man named Four-Finger John (Edgar Pauly) psying on them and reporting their findings back to The Spiders. Once they know what Hoog and Terry know, they send none other than Lio Sha and her army of goons out to get to the treasure before our heroes.
Made in a vein very similar to French serials like the Les Vampires and Fantomas films, The Spiders is an impressive mix of Lang's penchant for artistry and all the tropes of a typical adventure serial. We get all sorts of dastardly criminal types for our hero to deal with, a few beautiful women, exotic locations, hidden treasure, criminal cabals, fights aplenty and some well executed shoot outs as well. These are adventure films that basically play by the rules of the day, so they're maybe not necessarily breaking new ground thematically but Lang ensures that at the very least they're quickly paced and that they always look very good. The camerawork here is consistently impressive and the sets and production values are quite strong. Logic may not be the order of the day and the movies never seem particularly concerned with realism at all, but they are fun.
The cast are pretty decent here too. Carl de Vogt makes for an appropriately dashing hero. He's strong and he's smart and his as quick with his pistol as he is with his wit. The ladies can't help but love him and de Vogt plays the part well. Edgar Pauly is memorable in his role in the second film, playing the nefarious type well, while beautiful Lil Dagover (who also starred in Destiny which Lang would direct in 1921) is gorgeous as the princess, even if she's not really all that believable based on her looks. Ressel Orla tends, more often than not, to steal the scenes she's involved with. She has an exotic look to her and her character is probably the most interesting of the two films as you never really know if she's going to kill our hero or try to talk him into running off with her. Lang worked with her on another film in 1919, Halbblut, his directorial debut which unfortunately seems to be lost and which also starred Carl de Vogt.The Blu-ray:
The Spiders arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer framed at 1.27.1 that looks quite good, particularly when you consider the age of the picture. Detail is surprisingly strong in spots, allowing viewers to really appreciate the intricacies of some of the sets and the costumes. There was, understandably, some print damage that could not be eliminated. As such, you'll notice some scratches here and there as well as some specks but by and large this is in pretty nice shape. The color tinting applied to specific scenes works well here and is reproduced nicely without draining the picture of detail and texture and the image is free of any obvious compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge enhancement.Sound:
The silent film is accompanied by a musical score from Ben Model that is presented in LPCM 2.0 format. Sound quality is quite good, with plenty of depth and resonance to the compositions. The score is nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion. The intertitles in the film are presented in German with English subtitles and are clean, clear and easy to read.Extras:
There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
The Spiders is great entertainment, but so too is it impressive on an artistic level. Those who appreciate pulp style action and adventure will get a big kick out of this but as you watch it you can't help but be taken in by the scope of the film and all the detail and fantastic ideas that Lang manages to get up on screen. Kino's Blu-ray comes up empty in the extra features department but it looks and sounds very good, especially when you consider the age of the material. Recommended.