Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Return of THE WHITE SPIDER (1963)

Last night I decided to refresh my memory of THE WHITE SPIDER (Die Weisse Spinne, 1963), one of several adaptations of early pulp crime novelist Louis Weinert-Wilton (1875-1945) made in response to the success of Rialto’s popular Edgar Wallace franchise in West Germany. It may seem a flagrant intrusion given that the film's producers hired nearly all of Rialto’s star players (Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor, Werner Peters, etc), had Rialto’s star composer Peter Thomas score the film, and handed its reins to director Harald Reinl, who had initiated the Wallace series with its first few films - but in fact the two franchises were not in literal competition, both being manufactured for distribution through the same company, Constantin Film. All four of the Weinert-Wilton adaptations are now available on Blu-ray in Germany (alas, without English audio or subtitles), but I was able to find the English dubbed version of THE WHITE SPIDER (prepared for Canadian television) over at YouTube, where at least one other of the Weinert-Wiltons (SECRET OF THE BLACK WIDOW) is available in its English dub.

Halfway through THE WHITE SPIDER, I realized I was grooving on the atmosphere rather than following its story, but it wasn’t hard to catch up. Dor plays a destitute widow trying to claim her rightful inheritance after the apparent death of her husband, a gambling addict whose good luck talisman was a decorative white spider on his keychain, likenesses of which are turning up as signatures at various murder scenes, causing Scotland Yard to doubt his demise. The murderings by lasso were subsequently adopted by Rialto for their two Wallace MÖNCH ("Monk") movies (known here as THE MYSTERIOUS MAGICIAN and THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS). The fine cast shines somewhat less here than elsewhere, but this outing also boasts Horst Frank and SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES’ Dieter Eppler, who steals the picture as the titular criminal master of makeup, modeling various disguises à la Fantômas. It’s not as well produced as the Rialto Wallaces but it's fairly eventful even at its more generous running time (about 103 minutes) and still worth seeing. At several points, one realizes that Dario Argento’s greater influence was from films like this, rather than the works of Bava or Freda.

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.