One of my all time favorite films is the Fritz Lang directed, Thea Von Harbou written 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis. This film was incredibly influential in so many ways, including serving as a visual inspiration to designs in Star Wars and Blade Runner.
Incredibly, director Lang and von Harbou would follow that very influential film with a film that is THE great-grand daddy of all spy films, Spione (aka Spies). If you want to see what is essentially a James Bond film made over thirty years before the release of Dr. No, look no further, for Spione features such by now familiar spy tropes as…a dashing, handsome hero known by his number rather than name (in this case, 326 versus 007), a villainous head of a vast criminal enterprise confined to a wheelchair, seductive femme fatales -one of which falls for our hero!-, world peril, secret documents, hidden listening devices, disappearing ink, globe trotting (to a degree) adventure, an extended chase scene, and, of course, danger danger danger!
Having said that, those looking forward to a proto-James Bond film should also realize this is a very old film and there will be things about it modern audiences will no doubt have trouble understanding and/or appreciating. The acting, for example, is at times quite overwrought. This is not an uncommon element in silent films, as emotions had to be conveyed without actual dialogue.
The story itself features a McGuffin at the central of its plot, and this McGuffin, unfortunately, winds up being not as well thought out as it could have been. Basically, the Japanese and the Germans are working on some kind of treaty and the movie’s villain wants to get his hands on the signed paper before it leaves Germany, thus provoking war…or something. The movie gives the impression there is only one copy of this treaty heading out, and for a treaty the movie conveys as being so important, that seems rather absurd. You would think multiple copies of this treaty would exist and the fellows signing it would keep in touch with their respective superiors via some other form of communication instead of relying on getting that one copy of the treaty to their homeland safely.
Still, if you can look past these elements and appreciate the film as the time capsule it is, you will have plenty to admire. Again, the most astounding things present in this film are the James Bondian elements. One comes away from this wondering just how familiar author and creator of James Bond Ian Fleming and the makers of the Bond films were with Spione.
But they weren’t the only ones!
Remember this scene, from Blade Runner?
Starting from roughly the 1:38 mark, where Sebastian “finds” Pris, this scene is strikingly similar to one in Spione, where during a rainstorm the sympathetic Japanese agent Masimoto (who is in charge of the treaty our villain wants to get his hands on) “finds” a soaking woman at a doorway who he feels sympathy for and, like Sebastian, takes in…only to be betrayed by her later on.
So, if you’re in the mood for a prototypical James Bond film, give Spione a whirl. While parts of it may be dated and the story may be a little absurd, you will nonetheless be astonished by how many elements of this film found their way to modern spy features.