Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 29th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: Germany, 1928
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Lien Deyers, Louis Ralph, Craighall Sherry, Willy Fritsch, Paul Hörbiger, Hertha von Walther
BluRay released: February 23rd, 2016
Approximate running time: 150 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.28:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo (German Intertitles)
BluRay Release: Kino Lorber
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $29.95
Spies was co-written and directed by Fritz Lang, a filmmaker who is most remembered as one of key contributors to German Expressionism. Notable German films directed by Lang include, Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, Metropolis, Woman in the Moon and M. Notable Hollywood films directed by Lang include, Scarlet Street, Clash by Night and The Big Heat.
The cinematographer on Spies was Fritz Arno Wagner whose other notable films include, Nosferatu and Diary of a Lost Girl. The screenplay was co-written and adapted from a novel written by Thea von Harbou (Fritz Lang’s wife when this film was being made). Their collaboration would span twelve years culminating with the film The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse.
Fritz Lang follows ups Metropolis his most ambitious and grandiose film with Spies a more intimate and scaled down production. Spies also marked a return to the espionage thriller genre for Lang who breakthrough film Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is widely considered the blueprint for such films.
From a production stand point though Spies is more scaled down production than its predecessor. The end result is something that almost rivals Metropolis. And nowhere is this more evident than is how Lang adapts to the restrictions which were imposed upon him by UFA (the studio he made films for). With one of this film’s greatest strengths being its inventive use of cinematography. Where his previous film Metropolis is most remembered for the epic scale of everything that appears in the frame. Spies is the antithesis of its predecessor with its more intimate visuals.
Another strength of this film is how the narrative keeps things moving forward. And at two and half hours there are no lulls along the way. Also the film is wonderfully paced so that each new revelation has just the right amount of time to fully resonate.
Performance wise the entire cast are very good in their roles. With this film’s standout performance coming from Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler) in the role of Haghi, the diabolical mastermind behind the ring of spies stealing government secrets. Another performance of note is Gerda Maurus (Woman in the Moon) in the role of Sonya Baranilkowa.
Spies comes on a 50 GB dual layer (44.3 GB) BluRay. This release has been flagged for progressive playback and the film is presented in a 1.28:1 aspect ratio. Spies was restored in 2004 Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden and 35mm master negative that was created from that restoration is the source for this releases 2k transfer. The image looks crisp, contrast and black levels remain strong throughout. Also print debris is very minimal, there are no issues with compression and DNR is kept in check. Considering the age of this film, this transfer far exceeds expectations.
Extras for this release include original German theatrical trailer (5 minutes 14 seconds, German Intertitles with English subtitles) and an insightful documentary about the film titled ‘Spies: A Small Films with Lots of Action’ (72 minutes 27 seconds, in German with English subtitles).
This is a thorough documentary that covers every area of this film’s production. Other topics include the differences between the German and English versions of the film and the demands UFA imposed on Lang after the financial issues related to Metropolis.
Overall Spies gets an excellent release from Kino Lorber.
Note: This film is also being released by Kino Lorber on DVD.