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-accid... more »ent 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?« less
"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.
The Cold War Begins Here
Vincent Tesi | Brick, New Jersey | 05/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Not a Noir, Not a Documentary, But A Great Film
Beth Fox | Los Angeles, CA USA | 06/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""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."
The House on 92nd Street by Henry Hathaway
FilmFan | Manhattan,NYC | 11/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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. "
The rooting out of Nazi espionage by the FBI
Cory D. Slipman | Rockville Centre, N.Y. | 12/20/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""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."