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on 26 June 2013
Fritz Lang's 1928 silent espionage thriller, Spione (Spies) is one of his very best films and one of the best silent films period. Masters of Cinema present it here in a terrific pin-sharp Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung restoration which runs the full 145m and does full justice to Lang's terrific visual sense, Fritz Arno Wagner's astounding photography and Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht's top art direction. The film is presented with an electronic score by Donald Sosin (not the original Werner R. Heymann and Artur Guttmann score used for the premiere) which drives the narrative forward superbly. Some might want a more 'natural' symphonic score, but the electronic effects are completely in tune with Lang's modernist project. The scoring for the build up to the train crash I found especially gripping. There are few of the extras one has come to expect from this source, but the Jonathan Rosenbaum review 'Inside the Vault' is interesting as is the production gallery of photographs on the DVD itself. There is no commentary, but this isn't as damaging as the lack of one for the Eureka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler release which I recently reviewed. There, some knowledge of Weimar Republic history is essential for a full appreciation (perhaps that is provided by David Kalat in the commentary for the more recently-released MoC complete Mabuse edition which I haven't seen). Spione, however, is remarkable for lacking any of Dr. Mabuse's social critique, existing completely divorced from the socio-economic conditions of the time. I would certainly welcome a commentary telling us more about Lang's superb editing, his extraordinarily innovative use of off-screen space, the striking narrative ellipses and (in a film where the camera rarely moves) the terrific sense of movement present in almost every frame. We all have eyes I suppose, so my advice is simply watch carefully and discover the film's astonishingly effective precision story-telling for yourselves. If you want a close analysis, then I recommend the chapter on Spione in Tom Gunning's excellent book, Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity.

Viewed casually Spione doesn't seem to be 'Ein Fritz Lang Film' at all. Gone is the gloomy-doomy politico-socio-economic analysis of post-war Germany of Dr. Mabuse. Gone too, are the utopian architectural visual effects and fastidious crowd-control of Metropolis. And gone (apart from the odd scene or two) is the explicit Expressionism which informs Die Spinnen, Der mude Tod as well as Mabuse and Metropolis. New for Lang is a fresh obsession with close-up framing, a liberal splash of (very effective) comedy, an extraordinarily rapid cutting style, the afore-mentioned stunning use of off-screen space, a sentimental love story, and even a happy ending. In Spione Lang threw all his established film know-how up into the air and reformulated what would become through M the recognizable Lang style of the best films of his American years even if he never again recaptured this film's effervescence. Above all else in Spione is a sense of sheer joy at playing with the essentials of film-making (camera, editing, story-telling, acting) as if for the first time. Anybody dismissive of Lang as being a cold, manipulative purveyor of Teutonic gloom should view this and think again.

Spione may bring fresh technique to Lang's cinematic style, but look beneath the glittering surface of plots and counter-plots in this spy yarn, and the film is as Langian as any he ever made. First and foremost, the film is the second of his master criminal movies (if we exclude the slightly different Die Spinnen) and a useful way into it is a simple comparison with Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. The similarities are startling. Both films have Rudolf Klein-Rogge as their master criminals, Mabuse and Haghi respectively. Both films utilize similar framing devices. Both start with murder and the stealing of documents leading through extensive montage to pictures of the master criminals relaxed, job done. Mabuse's face is shown super-imposed over the empty stock exchange floor, a 'Master of the Universe'. The forceful opening montage of explosive action in Spione ends with a police detective asking the rhetorical question, 'who is behind all this [mayhem]?' and the huge close up of Haghi's face and the title, 'I am'. Both films end on policemen breaking into buildings. Dr. Mabuse stages a last stand gunfight as he defends his house while Haghi lets loose gas to stop the Haghi Bank from being breached. Both films end with codas. Mabuse escapes to his counterfeiting factory where he goes mad while Haghi reverts to disguise as Nemo, the clown, finally killing himself on stage having been cornered by the police. The framework is similar, but Lang inserts important differences. Mabuse is introduced in his dressing room, leafing through various possible identities and is connected with the theft and murder by various technologies, the stop watch, the telephone, the train and the car. He prevails because he has control over technology and the process is closely (one could say 'laboriously') charted by Lang. Mabuse has to make the effort of fielding phone calls, disguising himself as the Russian diplomat and then the stockbroker before going to the stock exchange in person to effect his master-plan. Haghi operates on an altogether more sinister, unseen level. The theft and the murders are shown at such pace and with such breath-taking efficiency that we are blown away by the sheer control over technology Haghi commands, but without even seeing him do anything. Lang is suggesting here that the new technological surface evidenced in Spione is much more advanced, more efficient, more abstract with Haghi seemingly behind all evil all of the time. The endings of both films also show Haghi finishing with the advantage. Mabuse ends up mad, out of his mind. Haghi ends up dead, but he has absolute control over everything we see in the film right until the end. He has lost his power, but he can still manipulate events on the screen right up to the final curtain which he brings down himself.

Fritz Lang's vision of modernity as consisting of a pattern of interlocking technological systems which feed one another is crucial for understanding how his films developed. These systems overlook and control mankind to the extent that in a Lang picture the protagonist is never in charge of his own fate. He is always locked into a 'destiny machine' (Tom Gunning's term) which determines his direction. All of Lang's films show characters trapped and manipulated by powers beyond their control so that fate, paranoia and fear of surveillance are the dominant forces that propel his narratives. At the beginning of both films, Mabuse and Haghi are locked into a destiny machine sending them towards complete omniscience. Later on, jolts in the relative workings of the interlocking systems of modernity puts a second party in control of the machine, dooming our master criminals to destruction. Mabuse is doomed when the detective chasing him (von Wenk) finally makes the connection between Sandor Weltmann, the conjuror, the elderly gambler who tricked him earlier and the psychoanalyst, Dr. Mabuse. He knows who Mabuse is and from that point he is in the driving seat. The core of the film's narrative rests on parallels drawn between Mabuse and von Wenk, master detective and master criminal who both use the same methods. With Haghi however, the destiny machine controling him changes course when his agent Sonja Baranikowa (Gerda Maurus) falls in love with ace secret agent, Number 326 (Willy Fritsch). It is the intrusion of desire, especially as magnificently spelled out in the train wreck when Sonja's love token (a Madonna and child amulet) falls on 326 waking him up and saving him from death, that spells out Haghi's demise. This is the first time in Lang's films that erotic desire has featured so prominently in disrupting the destiny of the main protagonists. This theme became even more important for Lang in America, especially with his trilogy of desire, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street and Secret Beyond the Door..., except by that time the Hollywood studio production code and Siegmund Freud had combined to ensure erotic desire was viewed as destructive rather than liberating.

The sheer abstraction of the new technological surface in Lang's vision of modernity is rendered by the director in a number of ways. The action of the film is driven by a series of telephone messages, telegrams, overheard conversations, wire taps and coded communications, all of which intersect on Haghi's desk, behind which he sits (in a Dr. Strangelove-like wheelchair!), presiding over the world. He has complete control of surveillance and so can manipulate the multiple sub-plots that the film charts - the blackmailing of Lady Leslane (Hertha von Walther) to provide information in return for Haghi not exposing her opium addiction, the manipulation of Colonel Jellusic (Fritz Rasp) by Sonja into selling military secrets, the theft by Kitty (Liene Dyers) of a treaty signed by Japanese diplomat Matsumoto (Lupu Pick) which would influence the Far East political situation. We never know why Haghi needs the information. His identity is never revealed. Lang later said he had Trotsky in mind. Others have suggested Lenin. The only certainty is that he represents 'the threat to world peace', whatever that may be exactly. In fact we don't even know what country we are situated in (another contrast with Dr. Mabuse where we are never allowed to forget we are in Weimar Germany). Haghi seemingly 'lives' in Haghi Bank, but behind the main office is a bizarre set (the only Metropolis-like monolithic construction in Spione) which consists of a huge cage with metal passageways and stairs running in all directions with people rushing to and fro to suggest - what exactly? A spy factory? A prison? A hospital? The set is deliberately abstract to suggest Haghi's extraordinary command over the new technology. This is a command rendered by complete control of surveillance with characters being clearly defined ('marked for death' if you like) by surveillance photographs taken of them, and often just by abstract numbers. Note the photographs of agents and criminals which the police commander Jason (a very funny performance by Craighall Shaw) shows 326. All are of dead (or soon to be dead) people and are marked by numbers. Lang deliberately gives his hero a number for a name (326) while the double agent is simply '719'. Other numbers to appear are Jellusic's claim check number at the telegraph office (the ridiculous square root of 37083+6), Morrier's prison number (37), 326's hotel room number 119/120 and Sonja's address (24 Parkstrasse), and most clearly of all the number of the train car (LDZ 33 133 no.8) in which Haghi dooms 326 to death. The build up to the train crash is remarkable in the way the number (first seen by Sonja on Haghi's desk) reverberates in her brain (and in the film's editing), finally revealing that quite opposite to Haghi's promise of letting her go with 326 in exchange for her taking secrets out of the country, he is actually arranging 326's death. Spione is structured like a huge jigsaw puzzle with Haghi placing the pieces one by one to further his ultimate plans (whatever they may be). Love erupts to abrubtly change this plan so that it is Haghi who is trapped at the end with 326 and Sonja's erotic desire dissolving his power.

Another distinctly Langian angle in Spione is the way characters tend to double each other. The powerful master criminal/master detective dialectic in Dr. Mabuse is reversed in Spione as Haghi's opposite number here (Jason) is deliberately played for fun by Lang. Haghi's complete mastery is mirrored you could say by Jason's complete absurdity. In the same way the film suggests the love of power (Haghi) mirroring the power of love (Sonja and 326's erotic attachment). In fact the film features two almost pornographic scenes which parallel each other. There's the scene where 326 meets Sonja in her apartment wherein he declines everything he is offered to be met by the question 'well, what DO you want?'. The camera cuts away as they hold hands and the series of images Lang gives us (including the first shop window to appear in a Lang film) lampoons the censorship controls of the time. When we go back to the couple they are still holding hands in the same position, but the time of day has obviously changed. We KNOW they have just made love even if Lang is not allowed to show it. Sonja's eventual spurning of 326 as she is called away to deal with Jellusic finishes with 326 finding her apartment completely empty. His (for the moment) loss of love is mirrored by Matsumoto's loss of love when he learns that Kitty has stolen the important treaty from his case in the afterglow of their love-making. That scene where Kitty throws herself at Matsumoto sees her barely able to stay in the provocative kimono she wears for the occasion. Earlier in the film Lang even has 326 and Matsumoto meet in the Olympic Hotel and it is obvious that they are meant (destined) to be doppelgangers. Over-riding the whole film of course is the doubling of Haghi with Lang himself. Haghi's mysterious absolute control over all events portrayed mirrors exactly the reality of Lang's complete control over making the film even down to the fact that it's the first product of 'Fritz Lang GmbH', his own production company. Rosenbaum points out the doppelganger relationship between Klein-Rogge and Lang as the actor had been the partner of Thea von Harbou before she took up with Lang. Further complicating matters is the fact that Spione is based on a book by von Harbou which she wrote concurrant with the film and that also during the film Lang had a supposedly sado-masochistic sexual relationship with Gerda Maurus. Reality does impinge on the fancy of Spione's multiple sub-plots even if it wasn't the socio-economic reality of the time.

Finally, there's Spione's huge influence on films and books - everything from Graham Greene to Ian Fleming and even Thomas Pynchon. Rosenbaum mentions Gravity's Rainbow, but the Pynchon book it most influences is V. This opens up the debate over Fritz Lang's place in the post-modern movement. If Spione (with it's paranoid world view which accepts abstraction and even confusion as a definition of the modern world) is a post-modern work, then that makes it an astonishingly prescient work of art for 1928. Just staying with film history, Spione certainly does bridge the gap between Louis Feuillade's serial-inspired works (especially Fantomas and Les Vampires) and Hitchcock's early spy thrillers. The 39 Steps is especially indebted to Spione from its depiction of paranoia in the world of spies to its direct allusion to 'the master criminal in charge of it all', and from its overt use of theatricality even down to its stealing of certain devices and motifs, like the bullet stopped by a book, except that in Spione it's stopped by a thick wad of cash! Then there is Spione's relationship to Metropolis which compares with North by Northwest's relationship to Vertigo. Spione and North by Northwest were deliberately meant as commercial rebounds to counteract the failures of the films that preceded them and both films' obsessions with spies and spying (a beautiful blonde serving as a pivot in both) make for obvious similarities. All in all, Spione is a remarkable film and it is amazing that it still seems to be languishing in neglect. I note the small number of reviews here on Amazon compared with those for Metropolis and even for Lang's next film, Woman on the Moon. This is crazy to me as Spione knocks both into a cocked hat. Buy this superlative MoC release and see what I mean.
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on 6 July 2017
The Blu ray is beautifully made, only one thing I'm missing.
It would have been nice, if the shorter international version had also been included.
The uncut version is really to long and once finished watching it I had the feeling cutting 30min or so, would be a good idea.
Reading the booklet I discovered the US version was cut at its time for abouth 50min resulting in a 100min version.
In my opinion this would be a lenght the story could hold well, the 150min version really repeats things too often and somehow newer gets a real rythm...
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on 30 September 2014
What follows is a review of the first DVD edition of Spione that Masters of Cinema released. I thought I'd post it here as well because I want to give this new release all the help it can get. Fritz Lang's 1928 silent espionage thriller is one of the greatest films ever made and I want to urge all film lovers to buy this new edition. Not only is this a duel edition with Blu ray as well, but there is a new documentary and a much fatter booklet with more information. I should correct Amazon's length as published above. The film is 145 minutes long and hasn't been cut in any way (I checked at the MoC site).

Fritz Lang's 1928 silent espionage thriller, Spione (Spies) is one of his very best films and one of the best silent films period. Masters of Cinema present it here in a terrific pin-sharp Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung restoration which runs the full 145m and does full justice to Lang's terrific visual sense, Fritz Arno Wagner's astounding photography and Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht's top art direction. The film is presented with an electronic score by Donald Sosin (not the original Werner R. Heymann and Artur Guttmann score used for the premiere) which drives the narrative forward superbly. Some might want a more 'natural' symphonic score, but the electronic effects are completely in tune with Lang's modernist project. The scoring for the build up to the train crash I found especially gripping. There are few of the extras one has come to expect from this source, but the Jonathan Rosenbaum review 'Inside the Vault' is interesting as is the production gallery of photographs on the DVD itself. There is no commentary, but this isn't as damaging as the lack of one for the Eureka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler release which I recently reviewed. There, some knowledge of Weimar Republic history is essential for a full appreciation (perhaps that is provided by David Kalat in the commentary for the more recently-released MoC complete Mabuse edition which I haven't seen). Spione, however, is remarkable for lacking any of Dr. Mabuse's social critique, existing completely divorced from the socio-economic conditions of the time. I would certainly welcome a commentary telling us more about Lang's superb editing, his extraordinarily innovative use of off-screen space, the striking narrative ellipses and (in a film where the camera rarely moves) the terrific sense of movement present in almost every frame. We all have eyes I suppose, so my advice is simply watch carefully and discover the film's astonishingly effective precision story-telling for yourselves. If you want a close analysis, then I recommend the chapter on Spione in Tom Gunning's excellent book, Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity.

Viewed casually Spione doesn't seem to be 'Ein Fritz Lang Film' at all. Gone is the gloomy-doomy politico-socio-economic analysis of post-war Germany of Dr. Mabuse. Gone too, are the utopian architectural visual effects and fastidious crowd-control of Metropolis. And gone (apart from the odd scene or two) is the explicit Expressionism which informs Die Spinnen, Der mude Tod as well as Mabuse and Metropolis. New for Lang is a fresh obsession with close-up framing, a liberal splash of (very effective) comedy, an extraordinarily rapid cutting style, the afore-mentioned stunning use of off-screen space, a sentimental love story, and even a happy ending. In Spione Lang threw all his established film know-how up into the air and reformulated what would become through M the recognizable Lang style of the best films of his American years even if he never again recaptured this film's effervescence. Above all else in Spione is a sense of sheer joy at playing with the essentials of film-making (camera, editing, story-telling, acting) as if for the first time. Anybody dismissive of Lang as being a cold, manipulative purveyor of Teutonic gloom should view this and think again.

Spione may bring fresh technique to Lang's cinematic style, but look beneath the glittering surface of plots and counter-plots in this spy yarn, and the film is as Langian as any he ever made. First and foremost, the film is the second of his master criminal movies (if we exclude the slightly different Die Spinnen) and a useful way into it is a simple comparison with Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. The similarities are startling. Both films have Rudolf Klein-Rogge as their master criminals, Mabuse and Haghi respectively. Both films utilize similar framing devices. Both start with murder and the stealing of documents leading through extensive montage to pictures of the master criminals relaxed, job done. Mabuse's face is shown super-imposed over the empty stock exchange floor, a 'Master of the Universe'. The forceful opening montage of explosive action in Spione ends with a police detective asking the rhetorical question, 'who is behind all this [mayhem]?' and the huge close up of Haghi's face and the title, 'I am'. Both films end on policemen breaking into buildings. Dr. Mabuse stages a last stand gunfight as he defends his house while Haghi lets loose gas to stop the Haghi Bank from being breached. Both films end with codas. Mabuse escapes to his counterfeiting factory where he goes mad while Haghi reverts to disguise as Nemo, the clown, finally killing himself on stage having been cornered by the police. The framework is similar, but Lang inserts important differences. Mabuse is introduced in his dressing room, leafing through various possible identities and is connected with the theft and murder by various technologies, the stop watch, the telephone, the train and the car. He prevails because he has control over technology and the process is closely (one could say 'laboriously') charted by Lang. Mabuse has to make the effort of fielding phone calls, disguising himself as the Russian diplomat and then the stockbroker before going to the stock exchange in person to effect his master-plan. Haghi operates on an altogether more sinister, unseen level. The theft and the murders are shown at such pace and with such breath-taking efficiency that we are blown away by the sheer control over technology Haghi commands, but without even seeing him do anything. Lang is suggesting here that the new technological surface evidenced in Spione is much more advanced, more efficient, more abstract with Haghi seemingly behind all evil all of the time. The endings of both films also show Haghi finishing with the advantage. Mabuse ends up mad, out of his mind. Haghi ends up dead, but he has absolute control over everything we see in the film right until the end. He has lost his power, but he can still manipulate events on the screen right up to the final curtain which he brings down himself.

Fritz Lang's vision of modernity as consisting of a pattern of interlocking technological systems which feed one another is crucial for understanding how his films developed. These systems overlook and control mankind to the extent that in a Lang picture the protagonist is never in charge of his own fate. He is always locked into a 'destiny machine' (Tom Gunning's term) which determines his direction. All of Lang's films show characters trapped and manipulated by powers beyond their control so that fate, paranoia and fear of surveillance are the dominant forces that propel his narratives. At the beginning of both films, Mabuse and Haghi are locked into a destiny machine sending them towards complete omniscience. Later on, jolts in the relative workings of the interlocking systems of modernity puts a second party in control of the machine, dooming our master criminals to destruction. Mabuse is doomed when the detective chasing him (von Wenk) finally makes the connection between Sandor Weltmann, the conjuror, the elderly gambler who tricked him earlier and the psychoanalyst, Dr. Mabuse. He knows who Mabuse is and from that point he is in the driving seat. The core of the film's narrative rests on parallels drawn between Mabuse and von Wenk, master detective and master criminal who both use the same methods. With Haghi however, the destiny machine controling him changes course when his agent Sonja Baranikowa (Gerda Maurus) falls in love with ace secret agent, Number 326 (Willy Fritsch). It is the intrusion of desire, especially as magnificently spelled out in the train wreck when Sonja's love token (a Madonna and child amulet) falls on 326 waking him up and saving him from death, that spells out Haghi's demise. This is the first time in Lang's films that erotic desire has featured so prominently in disrupting the destiny of the main protagonists. This theme became even more important for Lang in America, especially with his trilogy of desire, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street and Secret Beyond the Door..., except by that time the Hollywood studio production code and Siegmund Freud had combined to ensure erotic desire was viewed as destructive rather than liberating.

The sheer abstraction of the new technological surface in Lang's vision of modernity is rendered by the director in a number of ways. The action of the film is driven by a series of telephone messages, telegrams, overheard conversations, wire taps and coded communications, all of which intersect on Haghi's desk, behind which he sits (in a Dr. Strangelove-like wheelchair!), presiding over the world. He has complete control of surveillance and so can manipulate the multiple sub-plots that the film charts - the blackmailing of Lady Leslane (Hertha von Walther) to provide information in return for Haghi not exposing her opium addiction, the manipulation of Colonel Jellusic (Fritz Rasp) by Sonja into selling military secrets, the theft by Kitty (Liene Dyers) of a treaty signed by Japanese diplomat Matsumoto (Lupu Pick) which would influence the Far East political situation. We never know why Haghi needs the information. His identity is never revealed. Lang later said he had Trotsky in mind. Others have suggested Lenin. The only certainty is that he represents 'the threat to world peace', whatever that may be exactly. In fact we don't even know what country we are situated in (another contrast with Dr. Mabuse where we are never allowed to forget we are in Weimar Germany). Haghi seemingly 'lives' in Haghi Bank, but behind the main office is a bizarre set (the only Metropolis-like monolithic construction in Spione) which consists of a huge cage with metal passageways and stairs running in all directions with people rushing to and fro to suggest - what exactly? A spy factory? A prison? A hospital? The set is deliberately abstract to suggest Haghi's extraordinary command over the new technology. This is a command rendered by complete control of surveillance with characters being clearly defined ('marked for death' if you like) by surveillance photographs taken of them, and often just by abstract numbers. Note the photographs of agents and criminals which the police commander Jason (a very funny performance by Craighall Shaw) shows 326. All are of dead (or soon to be dead) people and are marked by numbers. Lang deliberately gives his hero a number for a name (326) while the double agent is simply '719'. Other numbers to appear are Jellusic's claim check number at the telegraph office (the ridiculous square root of 37083+6), Morrier's prison number (37), 326's hotel room number 119/120 and Sonja's address (24 Parkstrasse), and most clearly of all the number of the train car (LDZ 33 133 no.8) in which Haghi dooms 326 to death. The build up to the train crash is remarkable in the way the number (first seen by Sonja on Haghi's desk) reverberates in her brain (and in the film's editing), finally revealing that quite opposite to Haghi's promise of letting her go with 326 in exchange for her taking secrets out of the country, he is actually arranging 326's death. Spione is structured like a huge jigsaw puzzle with Haghi placing the pieces one by one to further his ultimate plans (whatever they may be). Love erupts to abrubtly change this plan so that it is Haghi who is trapped at the end with 326 and Sonja's erotic desire dissolving his power.

Another distinctly Langian angle in Spione is the way characters tend to double each other. The powerful master criminal/master detective dialectic in Dr. Mabuse is reversed in Spione as Haghi's opposite number here (Jason) is deliberately played for fun by Lang. Haghi's complete mastery is mirrored you could say by Jason's complete absurdity. In the same way the film suggests the love of power (Haghi) mirroring the power of love (Sonja and 326's erotic attachment). In fact the film features two almost pornographic scenes which parallel each other. There's the scene where 326 meets Sonja in her apartment wherein he declines everything he is offered to be met by the question 'well, what DO you want?'. The camera cuts away as they hold hands and the series of images Lang gives us (including the first shop window to appear in a Lang film) lampoons the censorship controls of the time. When we go back to the couple they are still holding hands in the same position, but the time of day has obviously changed. We KNOW they have just made love even if Lang is not allowed to show it. Sonja's eventual spurning of 326 as she is called away to deal with Jellusic finishes with 326 finding her apartment completely empty. His (for the moment) loss of love is mirrored by Matsumoto's loss of love when he learns that Kitty has stolen the important treaty from his case in the afterglow of their love-making. That scene where Kitty throws herself at Matsumoto sees her barely able to stay in the provocative kimono she wears for the occasion. Earlier in the film Lang even has 326 and Matsumoto meet in the Olympic Hotel and it is obvious that they are meant (destined) to be doppelgangers. Over-riding the whole film of course is the doubling of Haghi with Lang himself. Haghi's mysterious absolute control over all events portrayed mirrors exactly the reality of Lang's complete control over making the film even down to the fact that it's the first product of 'Fritz Lang GmbH', his own production company. Rosenbaum points out the doppelganger relationship between Klein-Rogge and Lang as the actor had been the partner of Thea von Harbou before she took up with Lang. Further complicating matters is the fact that Spione is based on a book by von Harbou which she wrote concurrant with the film and that also during the film Lang had a supposedly sado-masochistic sexual relationship with Gerda Maurus. Reality does impinge on the fancy of Spione's multiple sub-plots even if it wasn't the socio-economic reality of the time.

Finally, there's Spione's huge influence on films and books - everything from Graham Greene to Ian Fleming and even Thomas Pynchon. Rosenbaum mentions Gravity's Rainbow, but the Pynchon book it most influences is V. This opens up the debate over Fritz Lang's place in the post-modern movement. If Spione (with it's paranoid world view which accepts abstraction and even confusion as a definition of the modern world) is a post-modern work, then that makes it an astonishingly prescient work of art for 1928. Just staying with film history, Spione certainly does bridge the gap between Louis Feuillade's serial-inspired works (especially Fantomas and Les Vampires) and Hitchcock's early spy thrillers. The 39 Steps is especially indebted to Spione from its depiction of paranoia in the world of spies to its direct allusion to 'the master criminal in charge of it all', and from its overt use of theatricality even down to its stealing of certain devices and motifs, like the bullet stopped by a book, except that in Spione it's stopped by a thick wad of cash! Then there is Spione's relationship to Metropolis which compares with North by Northwest's relationship to Vertigo. Spione and North by Northwest were deliberately meant as commercial rebounds to counteract the failures of the films that preceded them and both films' obsessions with spies and spying (a beautiful blonde serving as a pivot in both) make for obvious similarities. All in all, Spione is a remarkable film and it is amazing that it still seems to be languishing in neglect. I note the small number of reviews here on Amazon compared with those for Metropolis and even for Lang's next film, Woman on the Moon. This is crazy to me as Spione knocks both into a cocked hat. Buy this superlative MoC release and see what I mean.
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on 24 January 2016
Frankly this was one of the dullest Lang films I've seen. It has been described by the director as "a small film, with lots of action". But the opposite is true: it's 150 min long and the action mostly comes in the second half, with a thrilling train ambush sequence. Till then it's a prosaic lower tier rehash of Dr. Mabuse mixed with a corny romance. My rating is mainly for the quality of this blu-ray which is excellent. Eureka's blu-ray gives a solid image with oftentimes amazing clarity and detail although the 1928 film is understandably not pristine. I saw the film with the Donald Sosin score, which is nicely done. There's a 70 min documentary on the making of the film.
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on 10 May 2010
This Lang gem was languishing unrated and unreviewed so I thought I'd give it some well deserved praise.

This is a stunning spy yarn from Lang with a breathtaking opening sequence that's well worth the money on it's own. From the editing to the production design the film is flawless and there's plenty to consider in terms of underlying themes, for the discussion of which you can turn to the excellent booklet.

The film sets off at a cracking pace and in spite of the convoluted plot, and a myriad of fascinating characters, it continues to draw you in for a staggering 145 minutes. Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays Haghi the mastermind spy leader with several persona, using all manner of modern technological high jinks, murder and blackmail to obtain government and financial secrets. Interestingly, there seems to be no particular goal to Haghi's elaborate schemes other than the fact that he has the means and the desire to cause them to happen.

There are plenty of fantastic set pieces and special effects to keep you happy, including a room filling up with water while the protagonists try to make their escape.

Another great restoration package from the Masters of Cinema series. If you like Lang and you haven't already got this, what's stopping you?
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on 24 June 2017
Everything Was Perfect
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 July 2015
The influence of Fritz Lang’s 1928 silent film Spione ('Spies’) has been widely acknowledged, from the espionage classics of Alfred Hitchcock (the 'MacGuffin’ here – a ‘Japanese secret treaty’ – making me think immediately of The 39 Steps) through to the James Bond films. But, Spione is not only a fast-moving mix of comedy, romance, subterfuge and criminal megalomania, but it is also a prime example (perhaps the prime example that I’ve seen) of Lang’s mastery of the art of silent era story-telling – full of subtle plot pointers and oblique motifs and references (blink and you’ll miss them – which is why Spione requires multiple viewings for full appreciation) – a talent Lang was to further exploit throughout his career, perhaps most compellingly in his masterpiece, M. The other particularly notable elements about Lang’s film are its focus (as noted by Jonathan Rosenbuam in his excellent essay on the film in the Masters of Cinema version) on the criminal side of the 'good vs. evil’ divide – here, the scenes between Rudolf Klein-Rogge’s criminal mastermind, the audacious (Dr Strangelove-like) wheelchair-bound Haghi, and Gerda Maurus‘ coerced spy, Sonya Baranilkowa, are (for me) easily the most engaging – and the film’s (for the time) risqué sexual content (I’m sure the sight of Sonya writhing, BDSM-style, on Haghi’s 'restraining chair’ would certainly never have made it through the US censors of the time!).

Of course, as well as being a film whose success is heavily dependent on its (admittedly rather convoluted!) plotting, characterisations and acting performances, Spione also provides another stunning (and prescient) sensorial treat for cinema-goers. In addition to the skilful translation of the evocative art design of Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht (Haghi’s underworld labyrinth, time passing during No. 326 and Sonya’s 'mutual seduction’, the boxing ring-cum-nightclub, the hallucinatory world of Lupu Pick’s Japanese diplomat, Dr Masimoto, the spectacular train crash, the criminals’ chase to the Hotel Atlantic, etc) into the often stark visual imagery of the restored MoC film version, cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner follows the tradition of Lang’s visual collaborators with some lingering facial close-ups (again, particularly of Haghi and Sonya) accentuating the film’s emotional punch – and promoting Lang’s unerring eye for the idiosyncratic beauty of the female form, here particularly Maurus and Lien Deyers (the latter as seductress, Kitty, of Dr Masimoto), Margarete Schon and Hanna Ralph from Die Nibelungen, and, from Lang’s US period, the likes of Sylvia Sidney, Joan Bennett and Gloria Grahame. For me, the other outstanding feature of the MoC version of the film is Donald Sosin’s original score – a mix of piano and ‘electronic music’ – mirroring the film’s moods, characterisations and plot to perfection and guaranteeing Spione a five star rating from this viewer (I have not heard the film’s original score by Werner R Heymann, but doubt that it could surpass Sosin’s).

There are, of course, many other dimensions to, and features of, Lang’s film – Willy Fritsch’s endearing, at times Chaplinesque, performance, as No. 326; the skilful interweaving of the film’s disparate, and apparently 'random’, plots; the obsession with numbers and embryonic technology (and, more generally, the technical mechanics of the 'world of spies’ – miniature cameras, invisible ink, etc) – which have been written about extensively elsewhere, all of which contribute to what is a highly entertaining, technically accomplished and visionary piece of cinema.
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on 10 June 2017
not damaged
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Fritz Lang's penultimate silent film, 1928's Spione, saw him returning to more modestly budgeted and overtly commercial fare after the costly box-office 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.

Like their UK PAL DVD (included on their dual format set) Eureka's UK Blu-ray is the original two-and-a-half hour German version with the original German title cards and easily readable English subtitles in an improved transfer. Where the DVD only offered a brief stills and poster gallery and a 20-page booklet, the Blu-ray includes a 71-minute documentary, A Small Film But With a Lot of Action and two alternate scores.
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on 28 December 2014
"Spies" (german: Spione) is another great EUREKA! Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Release (Region Code B/2) of a german SILENT movie, which is a kind of pre-suspense/crime/action-movie by Fritz Lang who made the famous (but not really successfull "Metropolis") and "Dr. Mabuse".

"Spies" is a kind of mix of different movies/characters of Fritz Langs previously released movies. Otherwise, the international spy ring, headed by Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) which uses modern technology, threats, and murder to obtain government secrets - can be see as also as Dr. Mabuse.

His enemy (No. 326) is played by later UFA-Star Willy Fritsch. In a supporting role as Butler/Chauffeur can be seen a young Paul Hoerbiger who became later also very famous in german/austrian movies in the 1930s-60s.

The blu-ray contains the movie with two different scores (1. original scory by Donald Sosin, 2. optional piano score by Neil Brand), the DVD contains only the original score by Donald Sosin). The movie contains the original GERMAN INTERTITLES with optional english subtitles and runs 150 min (full-lengiht restored by FWMS, presented in 1080p on BluRay)

BONUS: Very interesting always are the Booklets in the BR/DVD Sets by EUREKA!
This Blu-Ray contains also a 71min Documentary/Making Of with Interviews of Willy Fritsch's son Thomas Fritsch (who is also a wellknow actor/voice-actor in germany) and Gerda Maurus daughter.

THE BLU-RAY'S PICTURE QUALITY: I wouldn't call it perfect but still very good. Damages have been removed etc.

TRIVIA: watch the documentary/Making Of!!!

FAZIT: I call the movie entertaining, interesting.

GERMAN/Deutsch-Review:

EUREKA! präsentiert einen weiteren deutschen Klassiker in einer tollen Blu-Ray/DVD-Combo-Release (nun, gut - wer BR hat braucht nicht unbedingt die DVD) und in einer sehr ansprechenden Bildqualität. "Spione"/"Spies" wurde restauriert und aus verschiedenen Elementen (so weit verfügbar) wieder in seiner usprünglichen Form zusammen gesetzt, welche nun eine Länge von 150 minuten hat. Die Ursprüngliche Fassung soll allerdings 170 minuten betragen haben.

Ein internationaler Spionage-Ring wird mittels (damals!) modernster Technologie von Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) angeführt bzw, benützt diese, um Verräter auszuschalten um sein Geheimnis von dessen Verbrechen und seiner Person zu bewahren. Tatsächlich könnte ihm Nr. 326 (toll, Ufa-Star Willy Fritsch) gefährlich werden.

Die Bildqualität ist nicht ganz perfekt aber immer noch sehr gut, in anbetracht, dass der Film verloren geglaubt zu sein und man aus verschiedenen internationalen Fassungen den Film wieder hergestellt hat.
Auf der Blu-Ray ist zusätzlich zum original Score von Donalds Sosin auch alternativer Piano Score von Neil Brand enthalten. Der Film enthält die deutsche Fassung (sprich: deutsche Zwischentitel/Texttafeln) mit optionalen/zuschaltbaren englischen Untertitel.

Wieder, wie bei EUREKA! Release ist ein 52-seitiges (!!!) booklet zur Entstehung etc. beigelegt. Als wahres Schmankerl gibt es allerdings eine sehr interessante 71 minütige Dokumentation/Making of zur Entstehung des Films mit Einblick zur Restauration und mit Interviews mit Willy Fritsch's Sohn Thomas Fritsch und der Tochter von Gerda Maurus.

Der eine ohne andere wird beim betrachten des Films in zwei Szenen womöglich einen versteckten Verweis entdeckt haben, aber spätestens in der Dokumentation aufgeklärt werden.

FAZIT: ein recht gut gelunger Action/Suspense Film aus den letzten Stummfilmtagen von Fritz Lang, die in dieser Aufmachung (Booklet/Dokumentation) sehr gelungen ist. Einmal mehr zeigt das britische Label EUREKA ein Feingefühl das deutsche Kino welches im eigenen Land so willwürlich missachtet wird.
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