Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gerda Maurus, Willy Fritsch, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Craighall Sherry, Louis Ralph, Lien Deyers, Paul Hörbiger, Hertha von Walther, Lupu Pick, Fritz Rasp
Written by: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, based on a novel by Thea von Harbou
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 144
Date: 03/22/1928

Spies (1928)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Under Cover

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Fritz Lang's Spies, our hero, known only as agent No. 326 (Willy Fritsch), first appears disguised as a drunken derelict. During an assignment, he accidentally falls in love with a rival spy, Sonja (Gerda Maurus). Sonja in turn works for Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the evil head of a huge international spy network, who anonymously runs his empire from a wheelchair.

Everyone knows that he exists, but no one knows who he is. The only thing that's clear is that he is a nearly invisible, uncatchable supervillain who is capable of stealing secret documents at a whim. In this world of spies spying on spies, even the director of the secret service doesn't realize that one of his own men is really spying on him.

Thea Von Harbou again wrote the screenplay, as well as the novel of the same name. Lang's beautiful expressionist touches are on display throughout, especially during the staccato opening sequence, which demonstrates the supervillain's ultimate power. But at the same time, Lang attempts a new stark emptiness, notably in Haghi's headquarters. The supervillain sits alone at his desk in the middle of a bare-walled room that's far more sinister than any kind of highly-decorated dungeon.

Kino released the great DVD, as part of the "Fritz Lang Epic Collection." Donald Sosin provides a new piano score for this gorgeous digital restoration. Extras include a photo gallery, a trailer for the Metropolis re-release and a note on the restoration.

In 2016, a Blu-ray from Kino Lorber followed; I have heard complaints about issues of stretching (the picture incorrectly formatted), but I find this stretching to be forgivable. The new score by Neil Brand is terrific, and a 72-minute documentary "Spies: A Small Film with Lots of Action" is included.

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