Spione (Fritz Lang / Germany, 1928):

New terrors for new technologies, the double-edged sword of surveillance holds sway in Fritz Lang's espionage Möbius strip. "Throughout the world... strange events transpire." The tremendous opening montage (safecracker's gloved hand at work, low-angled view of grinning getaway biker, moving-car assassination, messenger silenced by bullet) is a master class in compression, a kaleidoscope of modernist alarm, and an introduction to the kingpin glowering at the camera—Haghi the banker (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), surrounded by cables like plugged-in tendrils. His business is a front for a bustling spy ring, his control extends from the top of the broadcast tower to the cyanide capsule in the operator's mouth. By contrast, the government's secret service is mocked in newspapers and bugged with miniature recorders, though it does have Number 326 (Willy Fritsch), the hobo-agent who cleans up nicely. Rival networks on an abstract grid, through it floats the ladylike Russian vamp (Gerda Maurus) no longer mollified with jewelry: "Whose blood am I to wear around my neck, Haghi?" Lang's bravura system of trapdoors is a fearsome advance even upon Metropolis, the world between wars is here a world where war never really ends and relationships are laid out in terms of conspiracy and infiltration. (If Fleming is born here, then so are Pynchon and le Carré.) Coconuts explode, ink disappears on paper, a smoky boxing ring turns into a ritzy ballroom—characters traffic in multiple lives and even multiple deaths, phantoms demand retribution when the courtly Japanese diplomat (Lupu Pick) is undone by the viper-nymphet (Lien Deyers). The train wreck is a bedrock sequence for Hitchcock and Frankenheimer, Beckett's "superfine chaos" in the building search goes into M. In the midst of all these double-crosses and narrow escapes, the lingering image of two lovers' hands under a spotlight (cf. Resnais' Coeurs). "You are hardly the first to fall in the trap." The malevolent artist's line between puppet-master and clown is drawn in the brilliantly excoriating finale, skewering the sensation-hungry Weimar zeigeist in an acrid coup de théâtre that leaves only a pierced cranium and thunderous applause. Cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner. With Louis Ralph, Craighall Sherry, and Fritz Rasp. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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