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The House on 92nd Street (Fox Film Noir)

William Eythe , Lloyd Nolan , Henry Hathaway    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Amazon.ca

The House on 92nd Street has solid claims to a place in film history, and not just as an engrossing true-life counter-espionage movie. Its working title was "Now It Can Be Told," and its story--about the F.B.I. smashing a Nazi spy ring in New York--involved the stealing of atomic secrets. That surely upped the topical ante for 1945 audiences (who, we may assume, had a lot less ambivalent feelings about the F.B.I. than latterday viewers).

Of more lasting significance, the movie pioneered a salutary postwar trend in American filmmaking: forsaking the Hollywood soundstages and back lot to tap the freshness and palpable authenticity of real-world locations. Shot mostly in New York City, House was a collaboration between 20th Century–Fox and Louis de Rochement, the documentary producer renowned for his "March of Time" newsreels. The working formula of House and its successors was to fully incorporate documentary techniques into the storytelling, and to "film where it actually happened." That included using some nonprofessional performers, sometimes people who had been involved in the case. Fox went on to embrace this aesthetic in not only the de Rochement–produced 13 Rue Madeleine and Boomerang! but also the gangster movie Kiss of Death, the journalistic detective story Call Northside 777, and another F.B.I. case history, Street With No Name. Even the storybook fantasy of the studio's 1947 Miracle on 34th Street was charmingly validated by setting Kris Kringle down amid real New Yorkers and real Gotham grittiness.

Noiristes should stand advised that House on 92nd Street, a key influence on film noir, is not quite a true noir itself (whereas Anthony Mann's T-Men is noir to the max). Even as a German-American double agent, hero William Eythe is unburdened by neurosis or doubt, and the stylistic keynote is documentary gray, not black--though a murder in a railroad yard and the final showdown are memorably stark and dark. --Richard T. Jameson

Product Description

A stentorian narrator tells us that the USA was flooded with Nazi spies in 1939-41. One such tries to recruit college grad Bill Dietrich, who becomes a double agent for the FBI. While Bill trains in Hamburg, a street-accident victim proves to have been spying on atom-bomb secrets; conveniently, Dietrich is assigned to the New York spy ring stealing these secrets. Can he track down the mysterious "Christopher" before his ruthless associates unmask and kill him?

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Cold War Begins Here May 2 2000
Format:VHS Tape
The House on 92nd Street was one of the first Hollywood films to incorporate a semi-documentary edge to the noir/crime genre. The film's technical accuracy is authenticated by actual FBI archive footage of Nazi subversives and location shooting at FBI headquaters in Washington. For the first time ever, J. Edgar Hoover's dictatorial organization is depicted as an organized, structured, and efficient government institution whose existence and purpose is to preserve and protect national security. Hoover allowed director Henry Hathaway unprecendented access to film FBI secret equipment such as: two-way mirrors, video surveillance cameras, wire tapping lines, and a demonstration of the immense fingerprinting tracking system. Hoover gave his stamp of approval since the film justified the Bureau's stand and actions against possible covert foreign operations infiltrating America's military, political, economic, and educational systems. The film was released in 1945, weeks after the atomic bombing of Japan and the plot revolves around Nazi spies and their quest for information about ultra-secret plans dubbed Project 97. Project 97 obviously refered to the Manhattan Project which was the actual government code name given for the construction of the atomic bomb. Dark European mannerisms flood the film, as evidenced by Hathaway's judicious choice in casting. Swedish actress Signe Hasso is nefariously convincing as the Nazi spy ring's mastermind. With the exception of Leo G. Carroll, the remaining subversives are undertaken by unknown players. Their anonymity to the average American film buff heightens their deviousness and subterfuge. Lydia St. Clair is absolutely chilling in her small but malevolent role as a Nazi loyalist. Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saving Atom Bomb Secrets Jan. 23 2001
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
This 1945 film showed how the FBI prevented the secret of the atomic bomb from falling into enemy hands. Aside from the main characters, all of the background persons were members of the FBI. The opening scenes show J.Edgar Hoover and an associate. The "house on 92nd Street" in Manhattan was the local safe house for the Nazi spy ring and Gestapo. It tells how a double agent was able to infiltrate their ranks and gather details on all the spies. (It did not explain how they knew who would be recruited.) This was done by forging a typewritten microfilmed document. About 20 minutes from the start Lloyd Nolan asks that this document be changed to require contact with all the spies; it is done quickly. A few years later in the Hiss Trial they claimed it was impossible to forge typewritten documents! Yet it was known and done circa 1936 by British Intelligence in South America. Read "The Quiet Canadian" for more details on this, and other activities in the US. I wonder what can be done nowadays with ink jet and laser printers?
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3.0 out of 5 stars Run of the mill FBI crime drama with WWII Spys Aug. 12 2013
By Big Bill TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Another entry in the Fox Film Noir lineup , which isn't quite film noir. This is an FBI rah-rah we caught em movie with
German spys as the bad guys , who are trying to steal Manhatten Project details. One agent infiltrates undercover
and brings em down. Rather predictable period piece of no real note.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine WWII suspense/espionage/thriller Nov. 2 2001
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
The treacherous villainous woman in this thriller is really excellent around which the film twists. She will surprise you guaranteed and for the gents, she's quite a looker too.
Great supporting cast, high suspense espionage and just what your looking for. Based on documentary intelligence records and really excellent first of the realism photoed movies shot on actual locations. First of the post WWII noir-based genres. Good curling-up entertainment with Lloyd Nolan also who is good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Original Docu-Drama Sept. 10 2005
By I. Martinez-Ybor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I have always had a soft spot for this flick. To my knowledge it was the first to combine documentary and dramatic action in what is today done routinely, often cheesely, on cable channels. There are no relationships established or explored (not one kiss), no characters developed, this is all exposition, expertly and classily done. What acting there is, is sharp, to the point, and full of conviction. What a pleasure to see Lloyd Noland and Signe Hasso, projecting absolute integrity as the unambiguously good and the irredeamably bad, both equally effective at what they do. One would have no problem trusting such a cop or fearing such a spy. The movie is obvious FBI propaganda, even J.Edgar Hoover makes an appearance, but neither message nor method is ever offensive. The country was cheerily victorious in 1945 and one has to be truly morally stingy to deny its secret police a movie-screen cheer for its assistance in securing victory. The movie is also interesting as a historical artifact: it reveals tricks of the trade c. 1945 such as two-way mirrors, invisible writings, IBM card-file match machines, filming of suspects, encrypted postage stamps, micro-film credentials. Were audiences surprised by these back then?

The DVD transfer is of a very high quality.

Historically, German espionage in America was rather inept. Far more interesting, we now know, from Venona intercepts and USSR archives, were Soviet schemes to penetrate the Manhattan Project and the highest levels of American foreign policy making. Stalin already knew of the success of Trinity when Truman shared it with him and Churchill in the Potsdam conference in 1945. The misdeeds of Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and the like could provide fodder for interesting movies now that we have firmer grasp of what went on.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Cold War Begins Here May 2 2000
By Vincent Tesi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
The House on 92nd Street was one of the first Hollywood films to incorporate a semi-documentary edge to the noir/crime genre. The film's technical accuracy is authenticated by actual FBI archive footage of Nazi subversives and location shooting at FBI headquaters in Washington. For the first time ever, J. Edgar Hoover's dictatorial organization is depicted as an organized, structured, and efficient government institution whose existence and purpose is to preserve and protect national security. Hoover allowed director Henry Hathaway unprecendented access to film FBI secret equipment such as: two-way mirrors, video surveillance cameras, wire tapping lines, and a demonstration of the immense fingerprinting tracking system. Hoover gave his stamp of approval since the film justified the Bureau's stand and actions against possible covert foreign operations infiltrating America's military, political, economic, and educational systems. The film was released in 1945, weeks after the atomic bombing of Japan and the plot revolves around Nazi spies and their quest for information about ultra-secret plans dubbed Project 97. Project 97 obviously refered to the Manhattan Project which was the actual government code name given for the construction of the atomic bomb. Dark European mannerisms flood the film, as evidenced by Hathaway's judicious choice in casting. Swedish actress Signe Hasso is nefariously convincing as the Nazi spy ring's mastermind. With the exception of Leo G. Carroll, the remaining subversives are undertaken by unknown players. Their anonymity to the average American film buff heightens their deviousness and subterfuge. Lydia St. Clair is absolutely chilling in her small but malevolent role as a Nazi loyalist. The cast is rounded out by newcomer William Eythe and the dependable Lloyd Nolan who is perfectly cast once again as the paternal figure for American justice. The disappointment is Eythe whose lines are delivered blandly. The film's cinematography is true noir. Shadows seem to move between every contrast of black and white. This is a must see for all classic noir lovers.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a Noir, Not a Documentary, But A Great Film June 25 2006
By Beth Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
"The House on 92nd Street" -- the first film made with the cooperation of the FBI -- tells the story of the FBI's bust of a Nazi spy ring who'd tried to steal the plans for the atomic bomb. The hero, Bill Dietrich, is an American of German ancestry who was approached by the Nazis to spy for their regime. Instead, he volunteers his services to the FBI and becomes a double-agent. After training at a Nazi school in Hamburg, Dietrich returns to the US as paymaster and radioman for the Nazi spy faction operating in New York. This group, run by the hard-as-nails Elsa, controls other agents and informants and, in turn, is controlled by the mysterious "Mr. Christopher". The intriguing and fast-paced story leads to a surprise ending that does not disappoint.

This film was the first-ever "semi-documentary." It has aspects of a documentary: true-life footage inside FBI headquarters, genuine footage of Nazis in the US and their arrests, and G-men playing for the screen the same roles they took in solving the actual crime. The plot is interrupted, now and then, by documentary-like stentorian narration. It is, however, a dramatization and the screenwriters took minor liberties with the facts (i.e., certain of the actual villains were married.) It can also be seen as a commercial for the FBI, and 1945 audiences no doubt were left with a gee-whiz feeling when they saw the footage of the largest file room in the United States, with its millions of fingerprints; the detailed files on all potentially-troublesome foreigners (supposedly rounded up in one day); the FBI's one-way glass mirrors; the elaborate shortwave radio set-ups and the like. Those who have seen episodes of "The FBI" have seen this sort of thing before, but it was designed to awe (and reassure) the film's post-war audience and jolt America's enemies.

The DVD includes erudite commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller. As Muller points out, this film is not an actual noir. Rather than focusing on one individual and his reactions as events close in on him (think "Sorry, Wrong Number," or "Crossfire") this is a straightforward account. Indeed, much of the plot is driven by the desire to show off the technology. That does not mean that the plot is not extremely engaging -- it is. The actors, including the minor actors, do a terrific job. It is very easy to overplay evil spies so that they almost become caricatures (there is a "we have ways of making you talk" scene) but overall, they do a fine job with the material. And the direction and photography are first rate.

Watch the film once through, then watch it with the insightful commentary. Take a look at the press book (included) and the photos. I recommend it highly.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The House on 92nd Street by Henry Hathaway Nov. 12 2005
By FilmFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
This film is interesting to me for the following two reasons:

1. It takes off from the portrayal of two of the main characters and becomes a character study of them within the context of a police spy thriller and war film,as well as a historical documentand a picture of my city,New York,right after WWII when I was growing up.

2. The film becomes an Expressionist film noir in the last few minutes, with the death of the female leader of the German Nazi spy ring who is shot accidentally by one of her own henchmen, while trying to escape from the FBI who have surrounded the house.Photographed in a cloud of tear gas,starkly lit in light and shade in a half-darkened house, the ambiguous figure of the "transvestite" female spy is heightened and moves the picture momentarily into another realm.

The second story running besides the one of the double agent,played by William Eythe working with the FBI agent,Lloyd Nolan,to crack the spy ring run out of a house (actually on 93rd St.originally,not 92nd St.)is the study of the two curious Nazis,Signe Hasso,a Swedish actress playing Elsa, a German spy posing as a dress designer who is leading a double life dressing as a man to facilitate her movements around the city and the English actor Leo G. Carroll,playing Colonel Hammersohn,who recites his important distinguished romantic background to William Eythe when they first meet, as a spy during WWI,evidently unapprehended,and who dresses in the manner of someone from around 1910,carries a walking stick and has stylized gestures and is the one who is at least partially responsible for saving's Eythe's life at the end of the film. Who are both of these people?

These two finely thought-out characters,plus the intensity given in the portayal of the fine supporting cast of Nazi collaborators, particularly Lydia St.Clair as a fierce Gestapo agent are part of what makes "The House on 92nd St."really interesting in its attempt to give dramatic and well-written frames for some of its more fantastic characters and their twisted reasons for doing what they do. That they have lives outside of the film to speculate upon only gives more depth to an unsual motion picture.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The rooting out of Nazi espionage by the FBI Dec 20 2005
By Cory D. Slipman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
"The House on 92nd Street", a wartime propagandized docudrama is a microcosm of the counter espionage techniques used by the FBI in what was known as the Christopher case. It was discovered that precious secrets concerning the construction of the atomic bomb were being earmarked for transmission to Germany.

The FBI led by chief investigator Briggs played by Lloyd Nolan, recruit and implant a mole with the homeland Nazi spy hierarchy. This man Bill Dietrich, an engineer played by William Eythe gains the confidence of an espionage network headed by Elsa Gebhardt, a dress designer, played by Signe Hasso. The ring operated out of a brownstone on 92nd St., which was a safe haven for U.S. based German agents and was under constant FBI surveillance. Eythe is responsible for establishing a communication center with a direct hook up to Hamburg.

With persistence the FBI manages to trace the tendrils of this spy operation to thwart this threat to national security,

Director Henry Hathaway using actual FBI film footage, some featuring the esteemed J. Edgar Hoover, effectively conveys the bailiwick of this sensitive operation.
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