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Film / Spies

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Spies (Spione) is a German silent film from 1928, directed by Fritz Lang. Lang's next-to-last silent film, it tells the story of a nefarious spy ring headed by Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge, one of Lang's regular actors), who masquerades as a banker (with his spy ring as the bank). One of Haghi's operatives, the beautiful Russian spy Sonia, has compromised an Army officer, Col. Jellusic, and is buying secrets from him. At the same time, Haghi's group is trying to obtain a copy of a secret treaty between Great Britain and Japan.

An agent from the Secret Service known only as Number 326 (Willy Fritsch) is hot on the trail of Haghi's spy ring. However, Haghi knows all about him, and assigns Sonia to seduce him and compromise him. This plan goes awry when Sonia falls in love with #326. Meanwhile, another of Haghi's pretty female spies is worming her way into the household of the Japanese ambassador who is about to sign the treaty.

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Tropes:

  • Action Prologue: The opening sequence is a montage of all the bad things Haghi's group is up to, like breaking into office safes, murdering diplomats, and stealing documents.
  • All Part of the Show: The Secret Service figures out that Haghi is Nemo the clown, and surrounds the stage while Haghi is giving a performance as Nemo. Haghi shoots himself. The audience applauds.
  • Answer Cut:
    • Early on, a high official asks rhetorically who the power is behind the stealing of the government documents. Cut to a close-up on Haghi's face followed by a Title Card reading "I".
    • #326 asks if his identity is still a secret. His supervisor, Jason, assures him that it is. The film then cuts to Haghi, who has a complete dossier on #326, including photos.
  • Beard of Evil: Haghi's goatie, though it turns out to be fake.
  • Blackmail: Haghi gets intel on the secret treaty by blackmailing a diplomat's wife who has a heroin habit.
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  • Bloodless Carnage: No blood is seen throughout the film including Haghi's headshot which is surprisingly clinical.
  • Buy Them Off: Lady Leslane tries to buy Haghi off so he would not expose her secret but it's useless since he has Money to Burn.
  • Car Chase: There's a motorcycle/car chase.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Agent #719, aka Nemo the clown, who is seen conferring with Jason and #326 in one scene, turns out to be Haghi himself.
    • The little boy who notices Sonya leaving the restaurant. He later reappears to sell his knowledge to #326.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Sonya puffs one at Haghi's after she had to flee from #326.
  • Code Name / No Name Given: #326 is called only that over the course of the movie; his real name is never mentioned.
  • Curtain Camouflage: At Hotel Olympic, when the inspector searches #326's suite for Sonia, Franz looks concerned at the curtains. The inspector smells something and takes a look behind the curtains but Franz's face reveals that he was just pranking the old man.
  • Cyanide Pill: One of Haghi's operatives takes poison after he is arrested by the Secret Service.
  • Damsel in Distress: During the climax, Sonja is tied to a chair and needs to be saved by #326.
  • Dating Catwoman: #326 starts up a relationship with Sonia, an enemy spy.
  • Decoy Convoy: A Japanese diplomat hands three people identical envelopes to deliver, one of which supposedly contains a treaty. In reality, the diplomat has the actual treaty; all three envelopes are decoys.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: #326 does this after Sonia cleans out her apartment and disappears.
  • Enter Stage Window: #326 seems to be using the hotel suite's window for entering and exiting in order to sustain his secret identity.
  • Evil Cripple: Haghi is bound to a wheelchair—although, as the ending reveals, he's faking it.
  • Flashback Cut: When Sonya realizes where she has seen the number 33-133 before there is a quick flashback to Haghi with the note at his desk.
  • Gun Struggle: A fight over a pistol enfolds in the climax between Franz and a mook.
  • Held Gaze: There are long gazing moments between Sonya and #326 during their first encounters.
  • Heroic BSoD: #326 is devastated when seeing Sonya with another man and finding out that her home was only staged. He can hardly walk at that moment.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn / Defecting for Love: Sonia, sent to spy on #326, falls in love with him instead, and eventually works for the good guys against Haghi.
  • His Name Is...: One of the Secret Service agents goes into his superior's office, says "I saw the man—", and is promptly shot by a sniper through the window.
  • Honey Pot: Sonia was intended to be this for #326, but she undergoes a High-Heel–Face Turn and works for the good guys. The woman who seduces Matsumoto and steals the treaty is a straight example.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Gentleman-like, #326 kisses Sonia's hand when they meet again at her place.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: Sonya makes this gesture after #326 leaves her home.
  • Invisible Writing: Used by one of Haghi's men to cover his tracks at the post office.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: After Haghi exposes Col. Jellusic as a spy, his superiors do this with Jellusic. He shoots himself.
  • MacGuffin: Here it's the Japanese secret treaty that Haghi is determined to get information about.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: How Haghi gets rid of people who can identify him. #326 is shown a photo album with contacts who died under questionable circumstances like suicide, car accidents or a hotel fire. Same was supposed to happen to #326 later in he movie when Haghi orders him to die in a train tunnel accident.
  • Man Bites Man: Sonya bites Morrier's hand and escapes in the train tunnel.
  • The Mole
    • When reporting to his superior's office, #326 spots that his superior's aide has a Spy Cam. The aide is promptly arrested.
    • The ending reveals that agent #719, who is working undercover as Nemo the Clown, is actually Haghi himself.
  • Nebulous Evil Organization: The Haghi Bank is really this. They appear to be into espionage for profit.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: One of Haghi's men decides to pull out a hand grenade which eventually blows a hole into the wall, leading #326 to the captives and thus foiling Haghi's plan.
  • Opium Den: Where Lady Leslane likes to spend time.
  • Pocket Protector: The guy that Sonia shoots in the hotel reveals a book with the bullet inside. Since the whole incident is a ruse to arrange a Meet Cute with #326, it was all staged.
  • Regional Riff: The soundtrack changes to Asian instruments whenever a Japanese characters is on screen. There is also a Russian riff when Sonya invites #326 into her home.
  • Seppuku: Matsumoto sends out three couriers to take the treaty back to Japan. All three of them are killed by Haghi, who gets all three of their diplomatic parcels—which contain shredded newspaper. Matsumoto, who has kept the treaty in his office while sending out three decoys, then winds up letting the honey pot that's been living with him steal the treaty. After hallucinating the ghosts of the three couriers, Matsumoto kills himself.
  • Shout-Out: One scene shows an alleyway strewn with posters for Lang's previous film, Metropolis.
  • Spy Cam: One of Haghi's spies is taking pictures at the police station with a mini camera hidden on his coat.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Martini Flavored subtype, with the dashing agent #326, the sexy honeypots, the evil lair, etc.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Kitty, the girl Matsumoto picks up on the street, tells him that her father used to whip her.
  • Tasty Gold: The little boy in front of the restaurant probes the coin that #326 gave him for his service.
  • Traitor Shot: Kitty's expression after getting pushed away by Matsumoto who is still resisting her advances.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: The girl Matsumoto finds abandoned in the street in pouring rain.
  • Writing Indentation Clue: #326's message at the post office is secretly copied this way.
  • Yellowface: Matsumoto, the Japanese diplomat, is played by Romanian Lupu Pick.

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