Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 11/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SPIES appropriately marks the beginning of the modern spy thriller as we know it today. It features an intrepid hero, a beautiful woman with divided loyalties and a cunning and diabolical villain. There is also international intrigue, bedroom politics, gadgets galore and spectacular stunts. What raises it above the ordinary is Fritz Lang's passion for detail and the emphasis on the principal woman character.
Women are the central focus of Lang's films during the 1920's from Kriemhild in DIE NIBELUNGEN to Maria in METROPOLIS and Friede in WOMAN IN THE MOON thanks to scriptwriter Thea von Harbou (Lang's wife at the time) whose stories concentrate on the power of love to redeem or destroy. Sonja in SPIES is no exception. Everything revolves around her. Put all this together and you have a film that is as compelling today as it was 75 years ago.
Rudolf Klein-Rogge (the inventor from METROPOLIS) stars as Haghi, the head of a powerful criminal network whose specialties are blackmail and espionage. Trying to catch him is Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch) of the German State Police where no one has a name only a number. Things are complicated by Haghi's #1 spy Sonja Barranikowa (Gerda Maurus) who is great at obtaining secrets but is haunted by her past. How these characters interact and how the plot resolves itself is what makes SPIES so captivating. There's also a real doozy of an ending.
The restoration work is remarkable adding more than 50 minutes to previous existing versions and the picture quality is superb. Add Donald Sosin's new score and you have a real winner on your hands. Even if you don't know or don't like silent films you'll be entertained. And if you do like them then you can't afford to miss out on this new release from Kino."
One of Fritz Lang's best!
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 11/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's probably impossible to top "Metropolis", but "Spies" must surely rate as one of Fritz Lang's best films, and this brilliant KINO video DVD clearly shows why. Restored from the best footage from various sources to almost 2 1/2 hours in length, this epic can be watched again and again without ever a dull moment. This is mainly due to quite a complex and fast-moving storyline which demands considerable attention, but well worth the effort and it keeps getting better the more you watch it. Although a lot happens all around in the spy world, the focus is on two individuals who fall in love while assigned to spy out each other's network and activities. The criminal matermind whose spy network undermines the government has become the classic spy movie theme, and watching "Spies" reminded me of James Bond more than once. It is sophisticated and must have been cutting edge in its time, but it still packs a punch even today - much like Fritz Lang's previous great achievement, "Metropolis", of which "Spies" often reminded me. Besides excellent picture quality and easy-to-read intertitles, the musical score is simply brilliant and really caught my attention, such as authentic Japanese music accompanying the scenes of the Japanese head of Secret Service, while other parts feature nice orchestral and piano accompaniment. It is never overbearing however, and always perfectly suited to the mood of each scene, adding to the overall impact of the film. For a busy story with action, suspense, intrigue and an unexpected ending, you can't do much better than this restored version of "Spies"."
FRITZ LANG'S EPIC THRILLER LOOKS GREAT
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 12/20/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Fritz Lang's great looking 1928 SPIES (Kino) has been restored from various 35mm elements discovered in mostly European archives. At 143 minutes, this version is more than 50 minutes longer than any previous home video release. Lang's action-filled, super-spy thriller stars Rudolf Kleine-Ragge as Haghi, the head of a complex criminal empire. Willy Fritsch is the undercover agent assigned to topple the crime lord from his throne. The plot is greatly enhanced by focusing on two individuals who fall in love while spying on each other.
Loaded with sexual intrigue and high-tech gadgets, "Spies" remains surprisingly contemporary, even 76 years after its premier. Once again, composer-performer Donald Sosin delivers an intuitively brilliant score that rises organically from Lang's artfully melodramatic scenes. For fans of Lang's "Metropolis," this terrific film is a must.
The Original Master of Suspense
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 07/10/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Though he never admitted it, Alfred Hitchcock borrowed quite a few stylistic elements from Fritz Lang. The German filmmaker's 1928 journey into deceit has individual moments that Hitchcock utilized in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "The 39 Steps." However, Lang's world was far more expressionistic. In "Spies," characterization takes a back seat to suspense and intrigue. With the exception of Rudolf Klein-Rogge's mysterious criminal mastermind, the heroes and villains are forgettable. Despite this drawback, Lang stages plenty of serial-style action with cinematic bravado. "Spies" does not rank as high as the director's "M" (1931) and "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" (1933), yet it remains among the silent era's most exciting thrillers.
James Bond's Grandfather
wiredweird | Earth, or somewhere nearby | 03/22/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you simply take the movie at face value, it's an exciting story from the silent era. This came out during that nervous time between the World Wars. People remembered Russia's recent actions in WWI, and remembered Japan's war with Russia, a few decades past, as a clear indication of a force affecting the West. Weimar Germany represented another unstable force. Soviet infighting was also recent news, as the Trotsky-esque bad guy reminds us. Fiction about international intrigue had plenty of fact to work with - so Lang produced this remarkable work. The modern music suits the movie beautifully. Although other instruments appear, solo piano carries most of the musical narration. Even though it's not synchronized to the imagery on screen, onomatopoetic passage trill to a ringing phone, syncopate to the staccato of Morse Code, and hammer out gunshots, when not simply voicing the general mood of the scene.
Amid the excitement that must have been high-budget in its time, we see the origins of the modern spy-movie staples we see today: elaborate and fallible plots on the good guy's life, the bad guy's lair coming down around his ears in the end, chases, a babe who's not just there to be saved, and a little moral ambiguity. Sonja wasn't 100% on the good guys' side, at least to start, even if she came around in the end.
Anyone with the Bourne movies or Mission Impossible in mind will find the pacing sleepy at best, the effects ineffectual, and the acting as stylized as Kabuki theater. Today's movies learned from this one, though, and from the eighty more years of development between then and now. Taken by itself or as the progenitor of modern spy flicks, it remains an important and engrossing movie.