New On Blu-ray: The Spiders by Fritz Lang

3CR-thespidersThe Spiders (1919 - 1920), directed by Fritz Lang, was once believed to be a "lost film." It is in many ways the precursor for the action / adventure genre we know today. Considering when this German silent film was made 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 of The Spiders, 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, to 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," a secret criminal organization, 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 at and finds himself in a hidden cave, surrounded by his would-be killers. The viewer must ask, 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. In this movie's case, that would by the Inca priestess Naela (Lil Dagover). 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 and Juliet and the basis for so many movie romances, many of which The Spiders beat to the punch. Although movie serials 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. And that is part of what makes The Golden Sea so much fun to watch. It is endlessly creative, throwing one idea after another at us, one dangerous adventure sequence after the next. Then there are the massive sets created for the movie, which may not recall Lang's own films, but instead one of his American filmmaking contemporaries, 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 (once again played by Carl de Vogt) attempting to dismantle The Spiders organization and kill Lio (with Ressel Orla reprising her role). 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 as we watch each daring cliffhanger and wonder who will find the treasure first.

Still both movies are compact with action and espionage (in fact Lang would direct a movie called Spies (1928), which did much for secret agent movies) so the viewer is never bored, although The Diamond Ship, which runs approximately 30 minutes longer, isn't filled with as many cliffhangers, taking a different approach, one that attempts a bit more realism, as Kay hunts for clues. In one of the best sequences in The Diamond Ship, Kay discovers a key to an underground city, beneath the Chinatown district, and faces the fear of being exposed by someone from The Spiders.

The Golden Sea was Lang's third movie as a director (he began his career as a writer) however his first two films are considered lost, making The Spiders the best examples of Lang's earliest work for audiences to see Lang's emerging style.

For movie fans unaware Fritz Lang would go on to make highly influential silent films in Germany, the most famous among them is the science-fiction classic Metropolis (1927) which was followed by another sci-fi film, Woman in the Moon (1929), and the bold (for the times) thriller M (1931) about a child murderer. When he arrived in America, in the mid-1930s, his style shifted to more psychological film noir. Some of these movies are considered classics today but Lang never found great success in America as he did in Germany. For example, to this day, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has not awarded him a lifetime achievement award, as they have done for so many great artists who never won an Academy Award during their active careers.

The Spiders has been previously made available on DVD but now KINO Classics will be releasing the movie on Blu-ray, available August 23. As may be expected the image isn't always crisp, as scratches are visible now and then, but overall the movie is in fine shape, especially when you consider it was once thought to be lost.

The Blu-ray contains no bonus features. Silent with English intertitles. Total running time 137 minutes.

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Alex Udvary