BLU-RAY REVIEW: SPIONE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: FRITZ LANG / SCREENPLAY: THEA VON HARBOU, FRITZ LANG / STARRING: RUDOLF KLEIN-ROGGE, GERDA MAURUS, WILLY FRITSCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Even the world’s biggest directors have to scale down once in a while – after making iconic sci-fi epic Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s studio asked if he wouldn’t mind losing a zero or two from the budget sheets next time around, and thus was born Spione (it’s German for ‘Spies’, don’t you know), a rich and compelling thriller which laid the groundwork for many spy movies to come, and which is now receiving a fresh Blu-ray release thanks to the Masters of Cinema series.
When government agent 326 (Fritsch) encounters the beautiful Sonja (Maurus), pursued by the police for a crime she was forced to commit, she convinces him to hide her away, but little does he know she’s one of those eponymous Spione, out to get him. And if 326 is a proto-007, his nemesis and Sonja’s employer is a proto-Blofeld: Haghi (Klein-Rogge), a bank director (boo, hiss) who secretly leads a sinister espionage organisation and plans to steal a vital Japanese treaty in order to bring about war (even more boos and hisses).
If you’ve seen Metropolis, Spione may initially strike you as less visually decadent. There are no sweeping futuristic cityscapes here, no enormous and imaginative sets – don’t expect proto-Blofeld to have a proto-volcano lair – and some of the longer office-set sequences may test a modern viewer’s patience across the two-and-a-half-hour running time. But Lang really is a master of imagery, and there are some amazing sequences – both action scenes, such as a motorcycle chase of a sophistication you really wouldn’t expect from a 1920s film, and inventive settings for subtler espionage to take place and for Lang to make jabs at the opulence of the richer classes – 326 and Sonja visit a nightclub with its own boxing match; when the match finishes, the dancers swoop into the ring. Oh, and there are some real top-quality moustaches on show.
There’s also great drama between the three leads – OK, 326 is a little bland, but Sonja is wonderfully tough, throwing herself into the action to save him from a railway crash when your typical damsel in distress would sit around crying. And Haghi, though not as iconic as the Dr. Mabuse character Klein-Rogge would later portray, is a compellingly nasty creation, manipulative and dangerously intelligent, with the arrogance to declare himself “richer than Ford, though I pay less taxes”. Cue yet more booing and hissing.
Spione may not be Fritz Lang’s finest film, but it is a surprisingly exciting thriller, visually rich despite not having Metropolis’ budget, and nicely critical of the wasteful rich in a time of Great Depression – all in all, further proof if ever it was needed that Lang truly was a Master of Cinema.
Special Features: Choice of soundtracks from Neil Brand & Donald Sosin / 69-minute documentary / 40-page booklet
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