“Almighty God… what power is at play here?” Spione
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I’ve decided to write about Fritz Lang’s Spione (1927) again. After all, I have written more about this great super spy thriller than probably any other film in the past decade. The reason for this? There are many reasons to be honest, but one key factor is that I still believe the film isn’t celebrated enough, if it is celebrated at all. Even now, after a very successful commercial release by Masters of Cinema, Spione is still eclipsed by the films Fritz Lang made before (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis) and shadowed by the ones he made after (Frau im Mond, M, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse).
So why am I flying the flag once again for Spione? And why now? Well, it’s all down to the fact that a member of British Intelligence is returning for his 24th cinematic outing this month, apparently his name is Bond, James Bond or something!
Anyway, with the release of Spectre (2015) not only do we see the return of Bond we also see the long awaited return of that most devious of devious criminal and terrorist organizations: ‘the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion’, or, better known in short, SPECTRE (the clue of a return is in the title of the film, btw). And with that we could (I say could) see the return of SPECTRE’s head honcho Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It is worth briefly noting at this point that EON Productions have not publicly stated that Blofeld is actually in SPECTRE, but, throughout the publicity campaign one particular character seems to be singled out as a possible candidate for the cat-stroking-Mao-suited super villain. But, I am not planning to name names here – after all, I’m supposed to be writing about Spione!
Now, when it comes to Spione’s wheelchair bound villain, Haghi (played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and Blofeld there does seem to be a connection, a feeling that these two characters are almost cut from the same cloth. To be honest, they aren’t really villains; they’re more like super-villains in my eyes. And, when you watch Spione, you will begin to notice the connection as well. Both characters are always ahead of the game when they battle our heroes and they usually have the final say… most of the time.
But let’s not get too serious here. Both characters are great fun to watch and continually dominate their scenes. Haghi, with his Lucifer looks and full black suit, and Blofeld (depending on which actor you are thinking about) with his trademark white cat and Mao suit are most certainly well-groomed visually for the cinema – so well-groomed, in fact, that their characteristics continue to shine through even today.
For instance, Blofeld has had his fair share of mimics over the years, from the Austin Powers films to Police Academy (that’s Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989) for all the nerds out there) and God only knows how many times Blofeld’s trademarks have appeared on television depicting a villain of sorts; even Alan Partridge gets his shoe-in (that’s Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge for the even bigger nerds). All of the above shows the popularity of a character like Blofeld, not bad for a character who has appeared on-screen for nearly forty years. But could this be because of the continuing success of the Bond films?
In Haghi’s case, to my knowledge, his persona only appeared in Walter Forde’s Would You Believe It (1929), Britain’s most successful British comedy of the 1920s; however, it is a clear indication of how popular the Haghi character had become within the year of Spione’s release.
But while Haghi is very much forgotten by most cinephiles today, his influence can still be seen in modern-day cinema; he is almost a template for later cinematic super villains such as Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, Se7en’s John Doe, Darth Vader, The Joker or even more recently Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007).
So the next time you sit down and watch a Bond film, preferably one with Blofeld in, don’t forget that he is part of a pantheon of super villains which goes way back to a film like Spione, from a time when the villains didn’t really need white cats!
Written by James Harrison of South West Silents for 20th Century Flicks.