Spione [ˈʃpi̯oːnə] (English title: Spies, under which title it was released in the United States) is a 1928 German silent espionage thriller directed by Fritz Lang and co-written with his wife, Thea von Harbou, who also wrote a novel of the same name.[1] The film was Lang's penultimate silent film and the first for his own production company; Fritz Lang-film GmbH.[2] As in Lang's Mabuse films, such as Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays a master criminal aiming for world domination.[3]

Spione
Spioneposter.jpg
Directed byFritz Lang
Written byThea von Harbou
Fritz Lang
Produced byErich Pommer
StarringRudolf Klein-Rogge
Gerda Maurus
Willy Fritsch
Georg John
Lien Deyers
CinematographyFritz Arno Wagner
Music byWerner R. Heymann
Distributed byUFA
Release date
  • 22 March 1928 (1928-03-22)
Running time
Original: 178 min. (16 frame/s)
Restoration (2003-04) & DVD: 143 min.
CountryWeimar Republic
LanguagesSilent film
German intertitles

Spione was restored to something short of its original length by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung during 2003 and '04. No original negatives survive but a high quality nitrate copy is held at the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague.[2]

Plot summaryEdit

Germany, 1927: Beautiful Russian spy Sonja Baranikowa (Gerda Maurus) seduces Colonel Jellusič (Fritz Rasp) into betraying his country (an unnamed eastern European one) for her employer, Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a seemingly respectable bank director who is actually the diabolical mastermind of a powerful crime organization. Herr Jason (Craighall Sherry), head of the German Secret Service, gives the task of bringing the mysterious Haghi down to a handsome young agent known only as Number 326 (Willy Fritsch) who believes his identity is a secret. Haghi is well aware of him and assigns Sonja to worm her way into 326's confidence; Sonja convinces him that she has just shot a man for trying to rape her and he hides her from the police.

Haghi does not anticipate that the couple will fall in love. Unwilling to betray 326, Sonja quietly slips away after they spend the afternoon and evening together. He trails her to Jellusič, whom he mistakes for her lover (she is actually paying him off). Haghi suspects Sonya's feelings for 326 and when she refuses to act against him, Haghi confines her to a room in his secret headquarters.

Haghi seeks to steal a secret Japanese-British peace treaty, which will prevent "war in the East" unless exposed, before it reaches Tokyo. He blackmails Lady Leslane (Hertha von Walther), an opium addict, into betraying what her husband knows of the negotiations. Akira Masimoto (Lupu Pick), the Japanese head of security responsible for the treaty's safekeeping, crosses paths with 326. When 326 seeks out Sonya, he finds her apartment stripped bare; Masimoto finds him drowning his sorrows in a bar and informs him that he would have arrested the woman as a spy.

Masimoto gives three couriers a sealed packet each to deliver to Tokyo; he informs them that a copy of the treaty is inside one of them. Haghi obtains all three packages and finds only newspapers but he has one more card up his sleeve. Masimoto pities Kitty (Lien Deyers), a young woman he finds huddling in a doorway during a rainstorm and takes her in. When he prepares to leave for Japan with the treaty, she begs him to spend a few hours with her. He gives in, attracted by her beauty but when he wakes up later, she is gone with the treaty; disgraced, he commits ritual suicide.

326 tracks Jellusič down in his home country, but is too late: Haghi has already betrayed him and when confronted by his superiors, Jellusič shoots himself. 326 wires the serial numbers of the bank notes used to pay Jellusič, which Jason passes on to agent No. 719, working undercover as a circus clown named Nemo, to trace. On a train trip out of the country in pursuit of the stolen treaty, 326 is nearly killed in a trap set by Haghi. While he is sleeping, his car is detached and left in a tunnel. He awakens just before another train smashes into it. Sonya, who had been tricked into being the one to smuggle the treaty out of the country by Haghi's promise not to harm 326, learns of the crash, races to the site and is reunited with her love.

326 gives orders for Haghi's bank to be surrounded, then sends Sonya away with his trusted chauffeur, Franz (Paul Hörbiger), while he and his men search for Haghi. Haghi captures Sonya and Franz and sends 326 an ultimatum: clear the building within 15 minutes or Sonya will die. Defiant, 326 continues searching, even after incapacitating gas is released. Franz is able to free himself and hold off Haghi's assassins until 326 can find them. Haghi's minions are captured, but there is no sign of the mastermind himself. A clerk interrupts to complain to 326 and Jason that the serial numbers he was given to trace do not match the bank notes. The two realize that 719 and Haghi must be one and the same man. When Nemo/719/Haghi goes on stage to perform his clown act, he sees that he is surrounded by armed agents and shoots himself in the head. The audience, believing it is all just part of his act, applauds.

CastEdit

ProductionEdit

According to Robert Osborne, Lang was having an affair with Maurus during filming, even as his wife Thea von Harbou was involved writing the screenplay. Lang had earlier stolen the affections of Harbou from her first husband, Klein-Rogge, who played Haghi. In spite of this, Klein-Rogge worked with Lang and Harbou on various notable films, including Destiny (1921), Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), Die Nibelungen (1924) and Metropolis (1927). Spione was the screen debut for young Dutch actress Lien Deyers, who caught Lang's attention after winning a screening contest in Vienna. During the shooting of the movie, Lang developed a strong dislike for Deyers.[4] Regarding the casting of Agent 326, Lang surprisingly went for the upcoming teenage idol Willy Fritsch, whom he had seen in one of his by then typical juvenile lover parts in the silent film The Last Waltz. Fritsch, who had just achieved some international success especially in the US by Parufamet distributed films, took the chance to escape from his image and was able to gain his final breakthrough with this film. Lang then also cast him for the leading part of his follow-up Woman In The Moon (1929).[5]Spione was made at a substantially reduced budget as the studio looked to cancel Lang's contract following the poor commercial return of his previous film, Metropolis. Despite this, the third act train crash in particular is considered an extraordinary technical feat which belied budgetary restraints.[6]

ReceptionEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 16 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 9.2/10.[7]

Philip French of The Guardian wrote that the film "weaves together recurrent Lang themes of fate, fear, power and paranoia into a dynamic conspiracy thriller."[8] Timeout described its tone as "somewhere between true pulp fiction and pure expressionism."[9] Matthew Thrift of the British Film Institute meanwhile singled out the opening sequence as "a marvel of narrative economy in montage."[6]

RestorationEdit

A 143 minute version was restored in 2003-04 by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Shiftung. The lab work was carried out by L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna. It is available on a DVD from Kino International Corporation.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Wagner, Brigitta B. "Profile". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Spione". DVD Times. Retrieved 6 January 2007.
  3. ^ Jeavons, Clyde. "Spies (Spione)". London Film Festival. Archived from the original on 29 September 2006. Retrieved 6 January 2007.
  4. ^ A. Stahlecker, Nederlandse acteurs in de Weimarrepubliek en nazi-Duitsland, The Hague, 2005
  5. ^ Heike Goldbach: Ein Feuerwerk an Charme. Willy Fritsch. Der Ufa-Schauspieler. Über eine große Filmkarriere in wechselhaften Zeiten. (German Edition). tredition, Hamburg 2017, S. 67f, ISBN 978-3-7439-1292-2.
  6. ^ a b "10 great spy films". British Film Institute. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Spione (The Spy) (1928) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Flixer. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. ^ French, Philip (7 December 2014). "Spione review – Philip French on Fritz Lang's groundbreaking spy thriller". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  9. ^ "Spione". Time Out London. Retrieved 7 July 2020.

External linksEdit