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The House on 92nd Street (Fox Film Noir) (Bilingual)
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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?
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 CenturyFox 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 Rochementproduced 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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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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