Part 1. Der goldene See ("The Golden Sea"):
Harvard anthropologist Fred Johnson has been captured by an ancient Incan tribe. He is to be a human sacrifice to the sun. He escapes long enough to write a quick note. He puts it in a bottle and tosses it into the sea. A message in a bottle. The bottle is picked up by sportsman and adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) when he is returning on his yacht to San Francisco. The note tells of a treasure that is hidden below the Incan’s temples and of a gold mine.
Kay is scheduled to participate in a yacht race the next day. He goes to his club and informs everyone that he will not be participating in the race. Instead he is on his way to find the Incan tribe and the treasure. Among the crowd listening are members of a crime syndicate called The Spiders (Die Spinnen). The main spider is Lio Sha (Ressel Orla). She and her minions decide to send their own expedition and try to beat Kay to the treasure. They steal the map from Kay and start off on their own. Kay manages to steal the map back and along with it a message in code that references a diamond ship.
When Kay gets to the Incan territory he ends up saving the life of the Inca priestess Naela (Lil Dagover). Lio is captured and is to be sacrificed to the sun but her minions save her. Kay and Naela escape and Kay takes Naela to San Francisco. Lio shows up looking for the coded message about the diamond ship and professing her love for Kay. Kay’s not buying it and tells Lio that he’s in love with Naela. Kay gets called away from the house on business. When he returns he finds Naela dead with a spider next to her. Kay knows that Lio killed his love and he vows revenge.
Part 2. Das Brillantenschiff ("The Diamond Ship"):
The criminal cabal known as the Spiders is searching for a large diamond that is shaped like a Buddha’s head. The stone is reported to have special powers. Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) is one of the main leaders of the Spiders. Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) is in possession of a coded message that references the Buddha diamond. In his search for the diamond, and his thirst for revenge of Lio for killing his love, Kay follows a trail that leads him to Chinatown and a secret underground city, a ship called the Storm Bird and to England where he talks to John Terry (Rudolph Lettinger).
It is Terry’s family that was the last known owners of the Buddha diamond. When Terry’s daughter Ellen (Thea Zander) is kidnapped by the Spiders Kay and Terry scour an old log book belonging to the Terry family. One sentence causes Kay to look closer at a picture of the Terry pirate ancestor responsible for creating the family fortune. In the picture Kay finds a map hidden in the painting. Kay follows the map to the Falkland Islands but the Spiders and Lio Sha are right behind him.
“The Spiders” was released in 1919 and 1920 and was directed by Fritz Lang. It is a two part German silent film. The feature was intended to be a four part serial type film with each part feature length, however, only parts one and two were ever completed. It is a mystery action adventure. The other two parts that were never done were to be called: Part 3. “The Secret of the Sphinx.” Part 4. “For Asia’s Imperial Crown.” At one time “The Spiders” was considered a lost film. A mostly intact print was finally discovered in the 1970’s. Restoration of the film was completed in 1978 and released on DVD in 1999.
The film got great reviews and is still considered a masterpiece to some. I felt the movie was a little over hyped. I was far more impressed by other films that Fritz Lang did. Even as a regular film it was fine but nothing overwhelming. Perhaps if Lang had the chance to do the other two installments it might have been more striking but as is it was average. The plot seems to wander all over the place and the editing is a little choppy. To be fair there are supposed to be some snippets of footage missing so that could account for some of the plot seeming to shift to another direction before completing the previous one. The quality of the print is iffy at times but that too is a result of issues with the only available print. Keeping that in mind the restoration is as good as it’s going to get.
For the most part the films do have a lot of action and scenic locations but they also have a lot of characters, and with all those plots points, have nothing in the way of character development. Some of the plot points go nowhere and some only have intertitles to explain what is going on. I did enjoy the second part more than the first part. It was more interesting but harder to follow.
Still we are lucky to have what we have of the film. It may not be my favorite but having it available to watch gives us an opportunity to see more of Fritz’s earlier work and the development of his craft. If you love all things Lang than this is one you’ll want.