"Throughout the world... strange events transpire." Thus reads the title card at the opening of Fritz Lang's great 1928 thriller Spies. Proof that the card is true arrives immediately afterward onscreen: we watch as a gloved hand removes a cache of official documents from a safe in the French Embassy in Shanghai. The documents are then whisked away by a cackling agent on motorcycle, and news of their theft is beamed from radio towers around the world. Next the Minister of Trade, riding in an open coupe, is fired upon from a passing vehicle, and we learn from a headline that he's died from his wounds. "What force is at play here?" another intertitle reads. And what could they hope to attain?

The answer, in Spies, is arrived at so pleasurably that it puts all but the very best of the cloak and dagger genre to shame. The plot follows the efforts of a handsome undercover agent named only No. 326 (Willy Fritsch) to prevent a treaty with the Japanese from leaving his homeland (Germany, one assumes, although it's never specified) despite the efforts of an evil mastermind named Haghi (the wonderful Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to see that it does. A secret agent, as we all know, leads a life of danger, and so it is that No. 326 is distracted in his efforts by the beautiful Sonia (Gerda Maurus), herself a spy in Haghi's employ. No. 326 falls in love with Sonia; will he learn the truth in time? Sonia may have fallen in love with No. 326; has she? And, if so, will she follow her heart or her oath to see the treaty across the frontier?

Continue reading: Spies Review