Part 1: The Golden Sea
I watched this in college on bootleg VHS for an ill-fated report on Lang’s cinema, and remembered pretty much nothing. A story in two parts, initially set in America with rival adventurers Kay Hoog and Lio Sha. These are meant to be American names? Kay is rich as hell, going after Peruvian gold despite Lio’s gang The Spiders warning him away. Even this early, Lang was into surveillance tech – Lio has an electric mirror showing a view of the next room: a webcam 100 years ahead of its time.
Kay in foreground, Lio being molested at the tables, Georgia flag in Mexican cantina:
Our teams travel to Mexico, hop a balloon over Chile, Kay parachutes out and immediately rescues the Princess of the Sun from a snake. Lio is safely captured, is to be sacrificed, while the Princess swoons for Hoog in her secret waterfall cavern. I love that the drama is less that a girl is gonna get sacrificed and her nemesis is launching a reluctant rescue mission, it’s that the Princess performing the sacrifice doesn’t wanna but her dad says she has to. A chaotic rescue, they find and steal the gold on their way out, then the spiders start killing each other in a frenzy over the gold, and also light the “holy candle” which is a bomb fuse, flooding the cave. The movie opened with a message in a bottle, and nearly ends with Hoog and rescued/kidnapped Princess adrift in a basket. It actually ends back at the Hoog Mansion when he runs out for an errand, returns to find his princess dead with a toy spider on her.
Princess Dagover in over her head:
The servants get into the wine:
Part 2: The Diamond Ship
Lio seeks a stone for a Chinese client. The opening robbery is filmed at an angle that just doesn’t work, not high enough, very un-Lang. Kay aims to stop the Spiders, still miffed that they killed his princess. With a single edit, Kay jumps off a plane onto a rooftop, hmmm. He hangs out in an opium den to scout for clues, spots Lio and takes her hostage, but they drop him through a trap door into a flooding pit from which he improbably manages to escape. I would’ve been happy watching Kay Hoog continue to escape from implausible scenarios, but the movie feels compelled to set up a big score for us, team Spider swimming in their full black bodysuits (with shoes and masks) to a diamond-laden boat. Somehow this leads to a final fight in a poison cave in the Falkland islands, a four-fingered villain and another kidnapped daughter, but it’s hard to pay attention whenever Kay isn’t falling through trap doors. Ultimately the plastic spiders and the Kay Hoog t-shirts weren’t selling, so the series was cancelled before they made a third episode.
Kay was Carl de Vogt, who worked long enough to appear in a 1960’s Mabuse. His arch-nemesis Lio Sha’s real name was the just-as-unlikely Ressel Orla. A Jew in Berlin, she escaped the holocaust by dying of illness in the early 1930’s. Lil Dagover (of Lang’s Harakiri the same year) played the Princess of the Sun, and part two’s Diamond King (with the kidnapped daughter) was Rudolf Lettinger (in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the same year).
Caligari Man with Kidnapped Daughter:
Ben Model’s music seems fine, but after five minutes I realized I could be playing Zorn’s Nostradamus: The Death of Satan instead, so I did… then The Ninth Circle… so, the Simulacrum crew of Hollenberg / Medeski / Grohowski, and adding Marsella in the second half of The Golden Lake. For part two I played Harriet Tubman’s The Terror End of Beauty. If you keep falling asleep, resuming the movie where you left off the next night but starting the album over, Harriet Tubman is like the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights. But ultimately the movie is too long, so I moved on to their previous LP Araminta feat. Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.
Dave Kehr says it best, as usual:
Fascinating … though it no longer plays particularly well. Already at this primitive stage in his development Lang was conjuring vast international conspiracies and drawing his hapless heroes into intractable webs of fate. The form is here, the meaning would come later. The visuals too are stamped with Lang’s personality; no one carved up screen space with his precision and expressiveness.