Saturday, March 10, 2018

The House on 92nd Street

The House on 92nd Street (Henry Hathaway, 1945) Another of those neo-realist films, filmed in the locations in which they occurred. But this one goes a step further--except for the lead actors, everybody's a real FBI agent--and you can tell, their line readings are merely that, line readings. ("Bob, let's get this over to the Cryptanalysis boys to see what they think." "O-kay, Wendell!") And the actors, mostly unknowns (you've heard of top-liner William Eythe, have you?), except for the always-natural Lloyd Nolan and the ever-officious Leo G. Carroll, stick out because they're at ease before the camera and have better hair-styles. Real surveillance footage of the German Embassy during the war is used in this story of "The Christopher Case"—based on the last words of a German courier who is run down in the street and his briefcase lifted before anybody notices. The agent's personal effects are gone over with every analytical equipment known to man at the time before it's determined that an appropriate plan of action is to be done with feet on pavement.
The FBI's Identification Department—Yikes!
A Quantico-trained double-agent (Eythe) "Bill Dietrich" is assigned to track a Nazi plot to discover the secrets of The Manhattan Project (or "Process 97," as its called in the movie--it was made in 1945, after all). All the German's (except for one FBI agent) squint threateningly and speak with German accents in full flower with nary a "w" un-v'd or an umlaut Americanized. Why, one even cross-dresses as a disguise—that one got by any censorship by FBI director  J. Edgar Hoover for some reason. It's a stunt-film, a propaganda document, an early film-noir (without the noir stylistics). And the blend of styles almost—almost—gives it a documentary feel. Henry Hathaway does some ingenious work making this all work together, at the cost of making the staged segments feel extremely staged in a D-budget sense.

At least, we are reassured at the end that "the FBI remains the implacable foe of enemies of the United States."

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