The Spider’s Web
A crime fighter known as The Spider battles a villain called The Octopus, who is out to sabotage America and install his own government.
The Spider’s Web is a 1938 Columbia Pictures movie serial based on the popular pulp magazine character The Spider. The first episode of this 15-chapter serial was double-length and directed by serial and western specialist Ray Taylor and by comedy and serial veteran James W. Horne; it was the fifth of the 57 serials released by Columbia.
The serial was wildly successful when first released in 1938; it was the most popular serial of that year, according to a tally published in The Motion Picture Herald, and was such an exhibitor favorite that Columbia used it to launch a series of reissues in 1947. A sequel, The Spider Returns, was released in 1941; of the Spider’s Web principal actors, only Warren Hull and Kenne Duncan returned in their original roles for the sequel.
“The Octopus,” a masked crime lord, is bent on crippling America with a wave of terror. He demands tribute from railroad magnates and other captains of industry. Richard Wentworth (Warren Hull), an amateur criminologist who is friendly with the police and is secretly “The Spider,” a masked vigilante, is equally determined to destroy the Octopus and his gang. Pleasant and smiling in civilian life, Wentworth is frequently ruthless as The Spider, using his two .45 semi-automatic pistols against any public enemies who attack him. The Spider uses a knotted rope to swing about similar to Marvel Comics Spider Man will years later.
Wentworth also masquerades as affable underworld lowlife Blinky McQuade. Disguised as McQuade, Wentworth can infiltrate gangland as a hired gun or getaway-car driver and keep current on the mob’s illegal activities.
The only people who know Wentworth’s various identities are his assistants Jackson (Richard Fiske) and Ram Singh (Kenne Duncan), his butler Jenkins (Don Douglas), and his fiancée Nita (Iris Meredith).
The Octopus was a pulp villain written by Norvell Page, who also wrote most of The Spider pulp novels. He is garbed completely in white and is only ever seen by his henchmen while sitting in his throne-like chair. Unlike the pulps, where The Spider is dressed in an all black cape, mask, suit, and wide-brimmed fedora, in the serial he is garbed in a black suit and fedora, but with white web-like markings on his lightweight cape and full face mask. The serial follows the standard formula of fights, shoot-outs, Wentworth’s friends being kidnapped at various times and needing to be rescued. Each chapter ends with The Spider or his friends in deep trouble, often about to be killed, but the effect is spoiled by a trailer for the next episode which follows, showing them rescued and continuing to fight the villains. The secret headquarters of The Octopus is found by The Spider in the final chapter; he has unwittingly given himself away to Wentworth and realizing this, Wentworth must now die; but as The Spider, Wentworth is triumphant in the end, unmasking The Octopus and ending his national reign of terror.
During the serial The Spider (like Marvel Comics much later Spider-Man) uses his web line a number of times to get out of trouble. Commissioner Kirk (changed from Kirkpatrick in the pulps) suspects that Wentworth is The Spider during one chapter. The Octopus’ gang, like their boss, wear robes when they gather together in his presence. The Octopus ruthlessly executes all who failed him; in case of trouble, The Octopus always uses a false arm and hand, which allowed him to conceal a pistol in his real hand hidden beneath his robes.
Warren Hull as The Spider/Richard Wentworth/Blinky McQuade
Iris Meredith as Nita Van Sloan
Richard Fiske as Jackson
Kenne Duncan as Ram Singh
Forbes Murray as Commissioner Stanley Kirk
Don Douglas as Jenkins (butler)
Marc Lawrence as Steve Harmon
Charles C. Wilson as Chase
John Tyrrell as Grafton (henchmen)
Eugene Anderson Jr. as Johnnie Sands
Ann Doran as Mason’s secretary
Paul Whitney as Gray (banker)
Beatrice Curtis as Kate Sands
Gordon Hart as J. Mason
Byron Foulger as Allen Roberts