Fritz Lang’s 1928 espionage fantasy Spies (Spione), the film he made after Metropolis, plays this weekend on Turner Classic Movies. I wrote an essay on the film for the website.
In the late 1920s, Fritz Lang was the star director of Germany’s Ufa Studios, the biggest film studio outside of Hollywood, and one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the world for such ambitious epic visions as Destiny (1921), the Die Nibelungen (1924) films and especially Metropolis (1927), his allegorical science fiction classic that is still considered one of the great films of the silent era.
His 1928 thriller Spies (Spione) belongs to a different tradition, one that came out of the rapid-paced adventure and crime serials of the twenties that were inspired primarily by the hugely successful (and at times surreal) pulp crime serials of Louis Feuillade in France, such as Fantomas and Les Vampires. Early in his career, Lang (with Thea von Harbou) developed the exotic cliffhanger thriller The Indian Tomb (1921), which was directed by Joe May; Lang also wrote and directed Spiders (1919) and the popular two-part Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), both of which focused on a criminal empire headed by a mysterious, diabolical mastermind. After the grandiose sweep and imagery of Metropolis, Spies was a return to such pulp entertainment, but with the technical virtuosity and exacting perfectionism he had developed in the intervening years. It was also his first production as an independent producer through his short-lived company Fritz-Lang-Film GmbH. Metropolis was a critical success but a financial failure and it precipitated Lang’ split with Ufa, though he didn’t go far. Ufa continued to distribute and promote his independent productions.
Read the complete feature here. Plays Sunday, November 7 on TCM. Also available on DVD from Kino.