Monday, September 7, 2009

Spies (Fritz Lang) ****

Director: Fritz Lang

Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Hertha von Walther, Fritz Rasp

Story: Secret agent no. 326 (Fritsch) is assigned to bust up a spy network led by the ruthless Haghi (Klein-Rogge) and ends up falling in love with one of the spies (Maurus).

Background: Coming on the heels of the legendary sci-fi classic Metropolis, Fritz Lang turns to the world of spies, once again calling on author Thea Von Harbou to adapt another of her novels. Rudolf Klein-Rogge was a Lang regular by this point, playing the mad scientist in Metropolis and the title role in the two Dr. Mabuse films.

Thoughts: Here we have a movie made in 1929 that is as exciting as any action movie today. Just as he's done in previous films like Destiny and Metropolis, Lang knows how to keep a story moving like no one else. The opening sets the mood right away, with a flurry of astonishing sequences that lead to one of the best screen introductions ever, a close-up of Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the menacing Haghi. The story unfolds at such a breakneck pace that you wonder if it can possibly hold up for the 2 hour, 23 minute running time, but aside for a few moments where Lang lets you catch your breath and digest the complexities of the story, this thing is on full tilt for the whole ride. Klein-Rogge (so wonderful as the mad scientist in Metropolis) goes for a more controlled sinister performance here and creates a memorable villain, while Willy Fritsch invents the handsome secret agent role that undoubtedly inspired Ian Fleming. The incredible ending contains a shocking, but nonetheless satisfying denouement.

Postscript: Lang would return to sci-fi (and reteam with Fritsch and Maurus) later that year with Woman on the Moon. His most notable film after this would be 1931's M, and he would make three more Dr. Mabuse films (two with Klein-Rogge). Fritsch and Maurus would have successful careers in German film.

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