Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Iris Meredith, Warren Hull, Richard Fiske and Kenne Duncan
THE SPIDER'S WEB (15 chapter Columbia serial/1938). Directors: James W. Horne; Ray Taylor.

The Spider was a pulp character, a take-no-prisoners vigilante, who appeared in a great many action-packed, gruesome, and hard-hitting novels in the thirties. The Spider was actually criminologist Richard Wentworth (Warren Hull of The Green Hornet Strikes Again), and he was aided in his work by his fiancee Nita (Iris Meredith of Caught in the Act), and his associates Ram Singh (Kenne Duncan), Jackson (Richard Fiske), and even his butler Jenkins (Donald Douglas). Wentworth is good friends with Police Commissioner Kirk (Forbes Murray), who can't help but notice that Wentworth and the Spider are often in the same place at the wrong time. His suspicions of Wentworth often led to some tense sequences in the novels, and this situation develops at least once in this serial.

The Octopus contacts his men
The villain of the piece is a hooded man named the Octopus, who has a group of helpmates who all wear black robes. He is out to attack all transportation in his city and across the United States, not just for money but for power, and he doesn't care who dies when trains derail and terminals collapse. At one point he brings out a ray gun which can be used to bring down planes. Wentworth is planning to retire as the Spider and marry Nita when the Octopus begins his wave of terror, and love and marriage must wait until the threat can be eliminated. The Spider dons his mask and cape with the spider insignia and we're off ...

Lester Dorr and Warren Hull as "Blinky"
The Spider and his associates nearly die on several occasions. A cable lowering Wentworth and Nita from a skyscraper nearly plunges them to their deaths; a room in which several of the cast members are chained to a wall floods with water even as the Spider must contend with a deadly gas in another room; our hero is nearly bashed by a falling arc light and almost cut in two by an electric gate; and so on. Handsome Warren Hull is perfect as the less intense movie version of the Spider, and the other cast members are all quite adept. Hull is especially good when he impersonates "Blinky McQuade," an underworld character, so that he can mingle with other criminals. An amusing moment occurs when Hull has trouble getting his arm into the sleeve of his coat and ad libs "Can't see very well."  Byron Foulger plays a nice guy who is killed off rather early, and Lester Dorr [Hot Rod Gang] and Marc Lawrence are effective as members of the Octopus' gang.

Iris Meredith and Warren Hull
Columbia's The Spider's Web, while perhaps not quite on the level of the best of the Republic serials, is an exciting and worthwhile serial even if you aren't familiar with the pulp novels. One wishes that the climax, the final encounter between the Spider and the Octopus, which the viewer has sat through 15 chapters waiting for, wasn't so abrupt, and that the annoying musical score was much darker, given the subject matter. Otherwise, this is snappy stuff for devotees. Followed by The Spider Returns.

Verdict: Thrilling and action-packed. ***. 


angelman66 said...

This one looks good...I wonder why The Spider is not more well known today?
- C

William said...

Well, the novels are available in paperback, and there have been some recent comic book series, but there's been no big-screen or cable adaptation. Maybe if Marvel comics had chronicled his exploits ... ?