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20th Century Fox presents
The House on 92nd Street (1945)

"We know all about you, Roper. We've traced you back to the day you were born. We even know the approximate hour that you're scheduled to die."
- George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: September 07, 2005

Stars: William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, Signe Hasso
Other Stars: Gene Lockhart, Leo G. Carroll, Lydia St. Clair, William Post
Director: Henry Hathaway

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, gun play
Run Time: 01:27:45
Release Date: September 06, 2005
UPC: 024543191094
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-BB+ B+

DVD Review

Not your stereotypical noir, The House on 92nd Street instead stands as one of the earliest examples of documentary-styled noir. Based on actual events, the film is more interested in following the FBI investigation, and eventual trapping, of a nest of Nazi agents shortly before and during World War II, rather than any noirish look at haunted private eyes or criminals.

Like its successor The Street With No Name, the movie is an ode to the FBI, lovingly detailing the Bureau's machinery and technology in capturing those who would seek to sabotage the USA. That attitude results in an unambiguous tone, in which no one has conflicting motivations or emotions, everything is literally black and white, cut and dried. It leaves us with a movie that really has no conflict or suspense, dragging us along by the throat to the bitter end.

In a more straightforward noir, our main character would be William Dietrich (William Eythe), a recent college graduate, all around success story, and, being of German descent, someone whom the Nazis would love to recruit. But after the Nazis visit him, Dietrich immediately reports in to the FBI, who, like the Nazis, see him as someone they can use, but this time for the cause of good. Dietrich agrees to serve as a double agent, undergoing spy training in Germany, after which he'll be a payoff man for a group of spies Stateside. Except of course that Dietrich will be feeding everything he gets to FBI agent Briggs (Lloyd Nolan, who would reprise his role in Street With No Name), who is heading the operation. The Nazis want the most precious secret of American defense efforts: the atomic bomb.

Director Henry Hathaway blends the dramatic scenes with documentary-styled scenes of the FBI doing what they do best, which gives the picture a bit of a split personality. It would have been far more interesting to focus on Dietrich and what made him tick, along with some of the Nazi ring that he works with (especially with great character actors playing them), but the script keeps everyone at arm's length, running them through the motions. The script was based on two actual FBI cases, and the film proudly mentions that actual FBI personnel play the real FBI folks, aside from the main roles. We also get to see the FBI's immense fingerprinting records room, FBI scientists working on new spy gear, and so on. The real-life locations from the original cases were also used where possible.

This all must have been quite unique for audiences in 1945, unused to seeing such events presented in a factual manner onscreen, but it comes across as rather old hat nowadays. This is not to say it isn't interesting viewing, especially from a historical standpoint, but it's not the most riveting of pictures. Arguably, it isn't even noir, but that's for the individual viewer to judge.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: For most part, this looks pretty good. On occasion there are fluctuating black levels, and the footage of actual FBI surveillance looks fairly bad, with blurriness and damage apparent, but that isn't to be held against the film overall. Still, this is a fairly nice image.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English mono track sounds just fine, with little hiss or distortion present. An English 2.0 stereo track is included as well as a Spanish mono track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Somewhere in the Night, Street With No Name, Where the Sidewalk Ends, No Way Out
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Noir expert and writer Eddie Muller
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Reproduction of the film's press book
Extras Review: Noir expert and writer Eddie Muller is our commentator this time out, and he provides a range of interesting information about the making of the film, the actors, and the background of producer Louis de Rochemont, whom Muller credits about as much as director Henry Hathaway in how the film came out. It's an easy-going, accessible track, worth listening to. The film's press book is reproduced, with the excellent feature of selectable sections for zooming in upon if desired. A slide show of photos set to music from the film is also included.

One note on the subtitles: despite information on the back of the box, the only English subtitles I could view while watching the film are closed captions. Spanish subtitles are provided also.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

This documentary-styled espionage film still holds some interest due to its place within noir timeline, but as a dramatic piece, it is somewhat lacking. It's entertaining enough, but had the potential to be far more than what it is. The DVD adds a good commentary to a generally good-looking transfer.

 


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