THE SPIDER’S WEB (1938)
Article #1317 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-22-2004
Posting Date: 3-21-2005
Directed by James W. Horne and Ray Taylor
Featuring Warren Hull, Iris Meredith, Richard Fiske
Richard Wentworth uses his secret identity of The Spider to do battle with an archfiend known as the Octopus who is bent on industrial sabotage.
Fantastic content: Other than some hints that imply that the Octopus may not be entirely human, the main piece of fantastic content is that the bad guys end up developing one of those big ray guns that can kill the engines of airplanes. I would be exaggerating if I said that every serial has one of these, but not by much.
For one fleeting episode I thought this serial was going to be something special; it looked as if it was going to have both an interesting hero and an interesting villain. The hero is a master of disguise whose most famous persona is that of the Spider, a vigilante crimefighter who is distrusted by the police, since they believe he is responsible for the very crimes he is preventing (if our hero displayed the slightest degree of angst over this dilemma, we’d have an early version of Peter Parker here). The Octopus also starts out promising; he is seemingly crippled (he hobbles to his seat behind the desk) and apparently has a third hand with which he can shoot people unexpectedly. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out quite as well as I hoped. The hero remains fairly interesting, but he really only uses one other disguise extensively (that of a petty thief named Blinky McQuade), and though that’s a fun character, I think they could have come up with a lot of other disguises as well.
The Octopus becomes very boring however; his trick with the third hand (which you should be able to figure out long before the serial is over) is the only trick he really has, and once he’s behind that desk, he spends the whole movie there just barking orders. I really would have liked him to take part in the action more; unfortunately, the serial decides to go the route of making the villain someone who we encounter in his real identity elsewhere in the story. If he became more active, he’d probably give himself away; unfortunately, since we really don’t care which of the secondary characters he really is (not a one of them has any personality to speak of), this would be a small loss.
The serial also has an irritating way of segueing into each episode; a narrator goes into an elaborate and confusing summary of the whole basic plot of the serial while the events that lead up to the cliffhanger pass by on the screen. The trouble is that the narration and the events don’t have anything to do with each other, so we don’t know whether to watch the action or listen to the narrator.
In summary, the serial largely works on the strength of Warren Hull and the Spider character. At the time I write this, it is sitting with an 8.9 rating on IMDB which seems to indicate that it’s well loved. Myself, I’m afraid I found it a bit of disappointment overall.