Sunday, September 25, 2016

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter Eight: WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS

The Spider lay unconscious between two closing electrified gates as Chapter Seven ended. As Chapter Eight begins he effects a clever escape by waking up, standing up and stepping out of the way.  He may have been embarrassed by getting kayoed by one of The Octopus's goons, but he counts the night a victory because he prevented the gangsters from breaking into the vault. Fair enough.

In his civilian identity, criminologist Richard Wentworth is convinced that The Octopus is receiving information from the inner circle of business leaders with whom Wentworth and Police commissioner Kirk regularly consult. To test the hypothesis, he has Kirk invite the men to a dinner at which Wentworth will announce new tools and tactics in the war against The Octopus. Once he relates that a demonstration will take place at the airport, the Octopus's man (we don't see his face) rather blatantly punches holes in a dinner role and has a waiter take it away. The roll is conveyed to a driver outside who recognizes the punch patter as a coded signal directing the Octopus gang to the airport -- where the police are waiting for them. Updated by radio, Wentworth informs the diners that the airport has already been attacked, in vain, but neither he nor Kirk noticed the business with the roll. Still, their task becomes much easier now. Kirk can put tails on all the business leaders rather than flail all over town looking for leads.

The Octopus makes another attempt to draw The Spider into the open, spreading a rumor that his top henchman Steve Harmon (Marc Lawrence) has defected and is on the run. As Blinky McQuade, Wentworth learns where Harmon is holed up. As The Spider, he calls Harmon and negotiates a meeting. Mutual distrust realistically prevails, but each man is willing to take a chance on a meeting in the park. Each also hedges his bets. Wentworth plants a dummy Spider on a bench for Harmon to shoot, while Harmon has men in hiding for when the real Spider shows up -- in a tree. The encounter proves inconclusive as Harmon shoots his way free. Harmon's pretty smart for a serial goon but he doesn't use his head after all this to investigate how The Spider got his number.

Meanwhile, Kirk recruits Nita Van Sloan, Wentworth's girlfriend and The Spider's henchwoman, to help shadow the business leaders, since she has innate society connections to their circle. The Octopus strikes preemptively, driving Kirk's car off the road and snatching the dazed commissioner. Nita jumps free before the wreck and witnesses the kidnapping. She hops on the running board of the kidnap vehicle, and that's the last we see of her this chapter.

Despite the debacle in the park, the Spider still wants to bring in Harmon, and The Octopus orders the doubtful Harmon to arrange another meeting, albeit with plenty of backup. Harmon is now to meet The Spider on a double-decker bus in broad daylight. In one of the serial's most ambitious stunts. The Spider makes the meeting by swinging from the roof of a fairly tall building onto the open top of the bus. Unfortunately, from there we cut to Marc Lawrence and a stuntman fighting on an immobile bus against a process shot. It's a fairly elaborate set-up that involves a car driving alongside the bus, into which The Spider tosses Harmon before diving on board himself. Harmon fights for control of the car but only manages to drive himself, The Spider and the hapless driver into the ocean, ending an eventful chapter that has more than one cliffhanger if you also count what's become of Kirk and Nita. The Spider will survive, of course, but come back next time to see if this was Steve Harmon's last stand.

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