The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) is Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of the Jorge Luis Borges story The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero; Death and the Compass (1992) is Alex Cox’s adaptation of the story Death and the Compass by the same author; Spiderweb (1977) is an earlier adaptation of Death and the Compass which is both shorter than Cox’s film, and also a more successful Borgesian drama.
Borges’ story plays Kabbalistic games with the familiar shapes of detective fiction, creating its frisson by the tension between an elaborate murder mystery and the intellectual puzzle which leads to its solution. In Cox’s extended version this is presented in an overbearing style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam at his most exasperating; despite a decent cast it’s also rather poorly directed in places. By contrast, Paul Miller’s adaptation runs for 30 minutes and conveys the story very smartly and efficiently. The setting is “Borghesia” rather than Argentina but the general style is that of a Hollywood detective story, American accents and all. The always reliable Nigel Hawthorne plays the cerebral detective Erik Lönnrot. Considering this was a graduation film it’s an excellent piece of work which the director himself has made available on YouTube. Watch it here.