Occupy Fritz Lang

There is a secret conspiracy that rules the world.

This hidden power can make or break a fortune at a moment’s whim.  It decrees the rise and fall of nations.  It chooses who lives, and who dies.

There are some—like the heroic British spy with a number for a name, or the alluring Mata Hari-like international woman of mystery he keeps running into—who think they can use the tools of surveillance, cryptography, and overall spookcraft to expose this obscure force and save the world.

Wanna know a secret?  This secret power—he’s a banker.  You can Occupy Wall Street all you want: the Great Banker is the spider at the heart of this massive web, and he will outlast you all.

So, yeah, for a silent movie made in Germany in 1928, there’s a lot going on here.  You can play along at home if you want when TCM runs this later tonight.


Spies is in some ways Fritz Lang’s “forgotten classic.”  It’s not Metropolis, it’s not M, it’s not Dr. Mabuse or The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, it isn’t The Nibelungen—and when you’re the kind of prolific genius who can generate masterpieces at that volume during just the first phase of your storied career, then reboot and start all over again somewhere else, it can be hard for all the masterpieces to get their due.

But in just 3 hours (Spies is a trifle on the long side), Lang invented James Bond and created a template that Alfred Hitchcock would stripmine for years to come.


Oh yeah, Hitchcock.

There was a professional rivalry between Lang and Hitchcock that in hindsight seems awfully silly.  When Fritz Lang came to Hollywood in the early 1930s, he arrived with an outstanding pedigree of accomplishments that put him in the first tier of cinematic pioneers and artists, but nearly all of the films for which history would revere him were already in his past.  He bounced around from studio to studio, trying to earn his creative freedom, and pined for the glory days of the past.

When Alfred Hitchcock came to Hollywood in 1940, he arrived with an outstanding pedigree of box office success and proven popular appeal.  Although his 1930s British films include some genuine blockbuster hits in their own context, the fact is his best days lay ahead—and the films for which he would be best remembered would be made in Hollywood, with his unchallenged creative control.

That’s enough to make anyone jealous—but since the jealous party here happened to be the misanthropic paranoiac Fritz Lang, he became fixated on the ways in which (he believed) Hitchcock’s success came from poaching Lang’s best bits.


For example, the siege and shootout that climaxes the original Man Who Knew Too Much closely mirrors the siege and shootout that climaxes both Dr. Mabuse and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  The scene in The 39 Steps where the hero is spared from a potentially fatal gunshot because the bullet lodged in the Bible in his breast pocket, first appeared in Spies.  Almost the entirety of Secret Agent feels like a Lang film (doubt me?  Tune in tomorrow—I’m filling in for Pablo on Sunday and we’ll be Hitchcocking our way through Secret Agent).  The phenomenon wasn’t limited to Hitchcock’s British period, either—one of these days I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain with Lang’s Cloak and Dagger.  Go on, Charlie Tabesh—run those two as a double feature and I’ll write it up!

When asked directly about these parallels by Francois Truffaut (a man who knew his film history and didn’t let such details pass by him unnoticed), Hitchcock demurred that he didn’t really remember seeing Lang’s films in question.  Meanwhile, Lang tried to cook up his own PR handle to counter Hitchcock’s Master of Suspense brand name—how’s about “The Father of the Thriller?”


If Lang’s goal was to compete head to head against Hitchcock on his own turf, it was a losing proposition.  Hitchcock came of movie age a decade later than Lang, and it made all the difference.  He was the beneficiary of a variety of improvements in film technology, distribution, and marketing practices that made his success both easier to achieve and bigger when it was achieved.  Lang was never the beneficiary of any developments in the film industry—the road is always rougher for the bloke who has to go first.

But let’s ignore original context.  We’re in 2014 now.  Massive numbers of movies both old and new now coexist in the same ecosystem—Lang’s and Hitchcock’s films need no longer compete.  They can sit side by side on the same DVD shelf, be streamed by the same service, or even shown back-to-back by the same classic movie cable channel (Mr. Tabesh, are you listening?)


4 Responses Occupy Fritz Lang
Posted By Jonathan Barnett : April 19, 2014 7:44 am

What needs to be done is a comparison between the TV edit of TOP SECRET and CLOAK AND DAGGER.

Posted By Arthur : April 19, 2014 12:42 pm

Thanks for the heads up. Will look out for these parallels. BTW I believe Hitchcock and Wells borrowed freely from each other.

Posted By Doug : April 19, 2014 2:48 pm

This is fun-so you could say that Hitch was the hungry upstart who benefited from competing with auld Lang.
Competition does drive people to excel,and we benefit some 80 years later from that rivalry.
“Spies” sounds great-if it’s quality is anything near to “Metropolis” three hours should shoot by fast.

Posted By swac44 : April 21, 2014 11:32 am

It’s like comparing Elvis and the Beatles, or Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. At least those younger upstarts were more magnanimous. “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” said John Lennon, and Dizzy’s comment on Louis was, “No him, no me.”

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r * is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more:
See more:
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies