Spies
Filmfest 2008

Spies opens in an orgy of excess, the visceral excitement of onscreen chaos and death paralleling the headiness of Weimar-era Germany. While banks are robbed and bureaucrats assassinated, pencil-pushers bug their eyes and rip out their hair (as only German silent-film characters can) amid stacks of paperwork that topple at the lightest touch. A drive-by shooting occurs so suddenly it is nearly subliminal — even now, after nearly eight decades, the audience gasps for breath. Immersed in the rush of violence and intrigue we may miss that split-second when a bullet breaks through an embassy window, silencing its target (the first of the film's many spies) with brutal efficiency. As one character's query ("Who is responsible?") becomes ours, an answer comes in the form of a mocking intertitle: "I!" As Spies' conflicted operative Sonia, the luminous Gerda Maurus (with whom Lang, then involved with scenarist Thea von Harbou, had a passionate affair) is perhaps the most complex of the director's virginal leading ladies." Keith Uhlich, slant magazine Throughout the bewildering mass of scenes in SPIES, there is always something to intrigue the eye, despite the fact that it is impossible to make head or tail of the story. Its principal attributes are excellent photography and cleverly designed scenic effects. Its episodes are like a nightmare. People turn up from other lands and match wits with the evil genius of Haghi, who makes his headquarters in London. Strange things happen in the course of this espionage adventure. There is a remarkable "shot" of two pugilists in a ring and it seems at the moment as if the man in the projection booth had made a mistake and put in a reel of another picture. But no, the camera draws back and one perceives the scene widen. The boxers go to their corners and the space surrounding the ring is filled with dancing couples. Mr. Lang handles his camera like a wizard and it is presumed he gave some suggestions to the designers of the settings. It would have been a good idea, however, if Mr. Lang had constructed his picture in a less muddled fashion, for after all a story counts for something. Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, 5. 3. 1929

tags: Feature film

Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Lien Deyers, Louis Ralph

Credits

Director: Fritz Lang