Silent Sunday: Spione (1928)

And now for something completely different. I recently found some very rare early Fritz Lang films online, and I’ll get to those in due course; first, though, I wanted to revisit one of his slightly later but perhaps similarly obscure works, Spione. Indeed, this essay by Adrian Martin hails it as “among the least analysed and least celebrated of Lang’s great films”, perhaps largely because it resists deep interpretation. Maybe, but I’ve seen even really low-grade examples of this sort of film score fairly deep analysis (whether merited or not is another matter). Who knows. Anyway, this was Lang’s first independent production and his first film after Metropolis, both of which were significant considerations; he needed something that would be rather less epic than that in terms of production scale and cost, and that would be a bigger hit. He seems to have scored on that front, at least, with the film being nearly as long as Metropolis. Although the film mostly circulated in the 90-minute American cutdown (again, just like the earlier film), I’ve actually only ever known it in the long version on the DVD (though this is a new restoration, SBS played it sometime in the mid-90s), and I wonder if, given what sort of film it is, the shorter version might not be more effective. Or maybe it’d just be too compressed, cos it’s not like the long version isn’t chock full of stuff already; it actually took me a while to really piece together everything that was going on in the first couple of reels (that opening montage kind of sets the tone). What we have here is, basically, a pulp thriller (like Lang’s Mabuse but shorter; Martin invokes the Mission Impossible series as a neat comparison), and as I’ve said before that’s fine, nothing wrong with that sort of thing, especially not when it’s done well. And there’s no denying Lang does this sort of thing extremely well here; that last half hour especially is surely as good as anything comparable being done today.

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