Spy 100, #31: Spies

The oldest film on the list, Fritz Lang’s Spies (1928) is a silent film, which adds to the challenge of following its plot contortions. Clearly on the list for historical interest, I found it pretty difficult to enjoy. The story involves a banker named Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) who secretly runs a spy organization. Haghi wants to steal the details of a secret Japanese treaty. But first he needs to contend with agent No. 326 (Willy Fritsch), who’s seeking to shut him down. To that end, he sends his agent Sonya (Gerda Maurus) to seduce and betray him. But Haghi’s plans are thwarted when the agents fall in love.

Plus, uh, a lot of other stuff happens. At two-and-a-half hours, Spies is a long, slow haul, painfully thin on exposition; I could have used a lot more dialogue cards. The music for the restoration attempts to recapture the old, live piano feel of silent pictures, but unfortunately the keyboard sounds go in distractingly electronic directions. It was at least intriguing to see some early runs at classic spycraft tricks and tropes, from invisible ink to honey traps, and it is interesting to see how inventive film-making could be this early in the medium’s history. But by and large, I watched this one out of duty more than enjoyment. I can do old films, I can do slow films, I can even do boring films; but Spies is an old, slow, boring, silent film, which may be one strike too many. For Lang historians and novelty-seekers only.

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