On the list of Fritz Lang’s silent two-part German adventure epics, The Spiders ranks fourth behind the mighty Die Nibelungen, the milestone Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, and the Lang-scripted The Indian Tomb (directed by Joe May). Still, it’s worth a look.
Made before Mabuse and Nibelungen and clearly influenced by the French serials of Louis Feuillade, this is a rather static yet vigorous creation about a tall lantern-jawed hero (Carl de Vogt) and the vamp (Ressel Orla, now in feathers, now in jodhpurs) who dogs his heels, loving and hating him amid adventures that range from a lost Inca city where the princess (Lil Dagover, later the heroine of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) is supposed to conduct human sacrifices if only she doesn’t fall in love with the victim, to the search for a precious diamond that seems to have a Buddha’s head. It was stolen from India and its return should herald throwing off the yoke of foreign rule, but nobody in the plot is motivated by that. The Spiders refers to a shadowy criminal organization, its tentacles everywhere (if spiders have tentacles), of the type that would be perfected in Mabuse.
While there’s enough cross-cutting to pick up the pace in a story both breathless and ramshackle (the links between scenes aren’t always obvious), the film also emphasizes the sets and the spectacles thereon. This 1990s restoration doesn’t come close to the stunning clarity of Kino’s releases of Metropolis and Nibelungen and probably couldn’t. This film will intrigue those already intrigued by this era of film history, while the general viewer will skip it.