Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
Get the Poster
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Carl de Vogt, Ressel Orla, Georg John, Lil Dagover
Written by: Fritz Lang
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 173
Date: 03/19/2013

The Spiders (1919)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Treasure Finding

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fritz Lang made a great career out of dark themes, such as obsession and fate, and the idea that bad things can happen to good people for no reason. However, at the tail end of his career, he made a pair of terrific, full-blooded adventure movies -- perhaps just for fun -- The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959). And precisely forty years earlier, he made the template for those movies.

Lang's earliest existing movie, The Spiders (1919), has now been re-issued on a gorgeous, newly spruced up DVD, from Kino. The earlier DVD, released by Image in 1999, ran 137 minutes, and this new release runs 173 minutes. As near as I can tell, no new footage has been restored; rather, the frame rate has been adjusted to a more comfortable speed.

The young Lang had originally been set to direct The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but was re-assigned to this instead. Clearly influenced by Louis Feuillade's adventure serials of the same period, like Fantomas, Les Vampires, and Judex, The Spiders also has a Western influence, as the story begins in San Francisco; it was possibly an attempt to spread German cinema into the world market. However the originally planned four-part serial was eventually capped at just two episodes.

The movie is packed with goodies, though. A yachtsman named "Kay Hoog" (Carl de Vogt) discovers a message in a bottle that leads to a lost Incan civilization filled with treasure. The evil organization "The Spiders" (similar to "Les Vampires") gets wind of it and tries to beat Hoog to the treasure. But Hoog finds something more valuable: a princess who falls in love with him. Unfortunately, the leader of the Spiders, Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) has also fallen for Hoog. Heartbroken, she takes her revenge.

In the second chapter, both Hoog and the Spiders search for the valuable Buddha's Head Diamond. A wealthy diamond man's daughter is kidnapped, and finding the diamond is the only way Hoog can get her back. The trail leads Hoog into a secret underground city and a booby-trapped cave.

This is clearly the work of a director that was still learning his craft. The storytelling is there, but the pacing and suspense are not as tight as they could be, or would be on future Lang productions. Nevertheless, The Spiders has the kind of imaginative thrills that Indiana Jones would pick up on decades later. (Thankfully, "Indiana Jones" has a much better ring to it than "Kay Hoog.")

It's apparent that Lang was enjoying himself on this production, and the fact that he returned to the genre forty years later is also telling. Maybe he spent his entire career thinking about adventure, and found he was only able to make films about disappointment?

Kino's DVD looks amazingly good for a film that was once thought to be lost. It has been digitally cleaned up and brightened, with scratches removed, so that it looks like a high-class, high-definition video. (Too bad about the lack of Blu-Ray... maybe soon?) The only extra is a stills gallery, which is quite wonderful in itself.

Update: The DVD was released in 2012, and in 2016 we have a Blu-ray. Weirdly, the quality of the DVD was so good that the Blu-ray seems like only a nominal upgrade. The picture is a teensy bit brighter, but the downside is that it does not come with the stills gallery. I'd say that if you already own the DVD, the Blu-ray isn't terrible essential, but it depends on how much you love this movie.

CD Universe
Movies Unlimtied