The Film (5/5)
Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch) is given the assignment to stop an evil spy ring that is stealing government secrets. The ring is led by banker Haghi (Rudolf Klein- Rogge) and it quickly causes chaos in the city. Little does 326 know that Haghi is on to him and has sent a Russian spy (Gerda Maurus) to seduce him. But when the two actually start falling for one another, Haghi has different plans for them.
Spies is an important film in Fritz Lang’s filmography. The movie, while not the first movie to deal with espionage, did reshape the genre and its influence can be seen in everything from Alfred Hitchcock’s Secret Agent and The 39 Steps to the James Bond franchise. The supervillain Haghi is an improved version of Lang’s earlier Dr. Mabuse (also played by Rudolf Klein- Rogge). Haghi is threatening with his almost emotionless manner and deep eyes. The first time he is introduced is a sudden close up on his face staring deep into the audience. Also in the scenes with his nurse remind me of the spy commander Dragon in Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction (1975). Haghi can be seen in other supervillains like Dr. No in the 1962 movie with the same name.
As for the rest of the cast, Willy Fritsch is a likeable hero who goes from disguised as a bum to a stylish gentleman. Gerda Maurus is a gorgeous female agent who can more than handle herself in action scenes. She can keep up in the chase scenes and in a good set piece she keeps kicking a henchman while tied to a chair.
Spies is packed with action scenes that were ahead of their time. The biggest highlight is the gigantic train wreck. The car and motorcycle chase scenes are extremely thrilling where it looks like the actors could fall out of their seats at any moment. The sharp focus and quick camera movements really suck you into the picture.
Spies seems not to be discussed as much as the two films that this one is sandwiched between, Metropolis and Woman in the Moon, which is a shame because it really is underrated. Spies has a lot to offer as an exciting spy adventure as well as an important part of Spy fiction history.
Since this is a silent movie, the audio is actually just a soundtrack. The soundtrack is a wonderful 2.0 stereo piano score by Neil Brand. The soundtrack is clear and sounds beautiful. The movie is in full 1080p with German intertitles with easy to read English subtitles. The movie has never looked better and there’s almost no film burns. The movie has light film grain and the black levels are razor sharp. The detail is so impressive that you can actually see layers of dirt on rocks on the road and in an in-joke posters of Lang’s Metropolis on walls in an alley.
The main extra feature is a 72-minute documentary on the making of the film, called Spies: A Small Film with lots of action. The documentary was made by Guido Altendor and Anke Wilkening and covers every aspect of the production. There’s plenty of clips from other German crime films of the period (Sajenko the Soviet (1928)) and Lang’s work (The Spiders (1919)), as well as interviews with Thomas Fritsch (son of Willy) and Dhiline Maurus (Daughter of Gerda). Also included is the original German theatrical trailer.
Kino gives Spies a stunning release with an excellent documentary. The movie is an excellent spy thriller and a key piece of spy film history. Highly Recommend.