Spione dual-format DVD & Blu-ray

Monday, 17 November 2014 00:00 Written by 

Spione - out on dual format Blu-ray and DVDAustrian director Fritz Lang followed up the iconic "Metropolis" with this espionage thriller about a criminal mastermind's plan to intercept a peace treaty to trigger a devastating war. A forerunner to James Bond, "Spione" ("Spies" in English) features all the elements we expect from a modern spy movie including chase scenes, covert operations, damsels in distress and high-tech gadgetry, and is all the more impressive for having been directed in 1928.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge ("The Testament of Dr. Mabuse") plays the evil genius Haghi, whose base of operations is secreted away in the basement of a bank he uses as a front for his dastardly activities. Tracking him down is Number 326 (Willy Fritsch - "Frau im Mond"), a daring secret agent masquerading as a pauper. Caught between them is Sonja (Gerda Maurus - also "Frau im Mond"), a loyal Russian agent working for Haghi but who falls for 326.

As with "Metropolis" and "Die Nibelungen", Lang's work here is eminently accessible and entertaining. Although the imagery is generally not as striking as in those two previous films (partly because of the smaller budget and subject matter), there are some incredibly ambitious action scenes that must have been cutting-edge for the era and given the film-making technology available to them.

As with the Bond novels and movies, the narrative ebbs and flows as each side battles to outwit and undermine the other to get the upper hand. The two hour 30 minute running time is a little stretched for this genre, and some scenes do drag a little as the audience waits for the next action sequence to arrive. The majority of them are stacked towards the end of the film as events come to a head, but this does mean that there is a sense of building momentum and the story finishes with a real bang.

Having witnessed Klein-Rogge's terrific, scowling, black-eyed performance, I am convinced that Gary Oldman based his look on Haghi when he played Zorg in "The Fifth Element". As is often the case in these kinds of films, the wheelchair-bound baddie steals the show, commanding his staff to do his bidding with economical hand gestures, and ruthlessly dispatching allies as soon as they endanger the mission or have no further value. He could so easily be a relation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld's!

Eureka present an impressively remastered version of the film with a choice of two soundtracks; I plumped for the synth-orchestral one by Donald Sosin as it seems to more successfully capture the playful, relatively light tone of the film, and deftly makes up for the dearth of on-screen dialogue captions by helping to convey the action. Rarely has a silent, black and white film been so colourful.

Special features include:

  • New high-definition 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
  • Original German intertitles, with optional English subtitles
  • Documentary about the film – 69 minutes run time
  • 40-page booklet including new and exclusive writing by critic Murielle Joudet and an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum

“Spione” (1928) is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-ray (two discs), courtesy of Eureka. The main feature has a running time of 153 minutes approx., carries a 'U' certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 11:06

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