Fritz Lang's penultimate silent film, 1928's Spione, saw him returning to more modestly budgeted and overtly commercial fare after the costly failure of Metropolis with a potboiler that more or less takes the view that espionage is a form of gang warfare for the upper classes where what they fight over is probably less important than keeping the war going. Which makes it sound a bit more interesting than it actually is, since much of the first half of the film gets bogged down in a romantic subplot that eclipses the spy games but at least raises the stakes in the second half. Not that it doesn't get off to a rip-roaring start, with a breakneck series of assassinations, robberies and dirty deeds, all perpetuated by a master villain with his own uniformed private army in his hidden lair with its own self-destruct button, which certainly must have given Ian Fleming, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman a few ideas a couple of decades later, as did the hero referred to only by his code number (number 326 rather than 007) and the gadgets both sides use (watch out for the gas bomb cocoanuts). We know he's despicable and utterly immoral because he owns a bank and boasts "I'm richer than Ford, Lady Leslane, even if I pay significantly less in taxes."
The Maguffin for the latest round in the ongoing battle is an Anglo-Japanese treaty, with Willy Fritsch's 326 (and the narrative) distracted by Gerda Maurus' Russian exile to give the rotten banker (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) time to set his plans in motion. Naturally she falls in love with him for real, turning down offers of valuable necklaces to betray him ("Whose blood am I to wear around my neck?") only for Klein-Rogge to use her love against the object of her affection. Cue the odd chase, a train crash in a tunnel and a siege in a gas-filled bank where the heroine is tied up in a secret chamber before Lang and the villain literally bring the curtain down in a neat little postscript. It's pure melodrama, and rather overlong at two and a half hours - it could do with being at least a half hour tighter (and was in the American version, which also rearranged the chronology in places). But if there's not much substance, there are still some striking visual moments like the boxing ring that turns into a ballroom the moment the knockout punch is delivered or the Japanese spymaster haunted by the ghosts of the dead couriers he used as decoys and there's some effective crosscutting, not least when he cuts away from a ritual suicide to the Mata Hari who led the man to his end enjoying her reward. There's even plenty of humour on display, from the comic cutaways to the drunken and abusive parents one femme fatale pretends to have to one spy hiding his superior's reading glasses while he searches for them during a briefing (there's even the odd injoke like the Metropolis posters on the streets).
Eureka's UK PAL DVD is the original two-and-a-half hour German version with the original German title cards and easily readable English subtitles in a mostly very good transfer that suffers from some shark's tooth jagged edges on some shots if viewed on a larger screen TV. The only extras are a brief stills and poster gallery and a 20-page booklet.