House On 92nd Street, The
Released by: Kino Studio Classics
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Cast: William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, Signe Hasso, Gene Lockhart
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Henry Hathaway’s The House On 92nd Street is part spy thriller and part F.B.I. recruitment film. Made in conjunction with the Federal Bureau Of Investigation and approved by none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself, the big draw for this picture was the fact that it purported to bring you inside the day to day operations of those out there fighting the good fight to keep the U.S.A. free and safe from German spies. And in a way, it did just that.
An opening series of text cards tell us how what we’re about to see is based on actual cases, involves actual F.B.I. employees and was, when possible shot on location where these events took place. From there we meet William Dietrich (William Eythe), a young man of German descent. When he’s approached by some of his ancestor’s countrymen in hopes that they can recruit him to send back national secrets to Deutschland, he rats them out to F.B.I. agent George A. Briggs (Lloyd Nolan). Briggs sees an opportunity here, however – he wants Dietrich to work both sides, to take on the role of a double agent. The theory here is that Dietrich will be able to get in with the Nazi’s and report back to Briggs just what it is that they’re up to and what they’re hoping to uncover.
Dietrich agrees, and soon enough he’s made his way to a house on 92nd Street where top German spy by Elsa Gebhardt (Signe Hasso) runs her operation. Before long, Dietrich learns that they’re out to steal anything that they can relating to Process 97 – the code name for a secret operation wherein the Americans are trying to rush development on an atomic bomb. Dietrich knows full well that he can’t let this material fall into the wrong hands – but are the German’s getting wise to his game?
Set in a pre-war America, there’s a lot of very cool footage in here showing the F.B.I. doing what they do. It makes their work look important, it makes their work look interesting and it makes their work look exciting. Around all of this footage, Hathaway weaves an interesting if somewhat predictable story. We want Dietrich and his American associates to win the day and get those Nazi’s behind bars or six feet under where they belong, so it doesn’t take much to get us to invest in the plot. When viewed through modern eyes, much of this is positively quaint. Everyone on the side of the ‘good guys’ is wholesome and very white bread, while the ethnicities of the ‘bad guys’ is played up to the point of becoming almost a giant caricature. It’s not just the cinematography that is black and white, it’s the film’s world view. Lots of flag waving here, but for good reason.
The movie also works well as a time capsule, doing its part to document various tactics of espionage that is very much of the era in which the movie was mad (or, in certain spots, provide dramatic re-enactments). The location photography, however, is pretty legitimate and as such we get nice footage shot in New York, Washington D.C. and a few other locales.
Performances are all right, if a little ham-fisted at times. William Eythe has charisma, he’s a fine leading man. Handsome, capable, smart and of course very patriotic we want him to win the day. Lloyd Nolan is a lot of fun as the top agent in charge while Swedish born actress Signe Hasso is great as the German in charge of the spy ring.
The House On 92nd Street is presented on a 25GB Blu-ray disc in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe. While detail and texture show a lot more than we've seen previously on home video the way that the movie incorporates archival footage, footage shot from the back of an F.B.I. surveillance truck, location footage and other sources means that not every shot is as crystal clear as the next. By and large, however, things do look quite good here. The 1.33.1 framing appears to be the proper aspect ratio. There is very little print damage here to note despite the presence of some small white specks throughout. Otherwise, the picture is very clean. There are no signs of edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression artifacts to complain about and the upgrade in picture quality this release offers compare to the old DVD release from Fox is considerable.
The only audio option for the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English. No alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine.
The extras for this release start off with an audio commentary from film historians Eddie Muller that is quite an interesting dissection of the picture in which he basically says that he doesn’t see this picture as a film noir in the true sense despite the fact that it is often labelled as such. He gives us plenty of background information the film’s origins, how the F.B.I. really was involved in the making of the film (many of the extras and bit part players featured in the film are actual F.B.I. employees) and some interesting insight into the way that different races and nationalities are portrayed in the film. There’s also some interesting discussion as to the location footage that was shot for the picture, how the filmmakers went about getting this in the first place, when and where the film takes liberties with its ‘what you see is real’ aspect and, of course, plenty of information director Henry Hathaway, producer Louis De Rochemont and his background in making military propaganda films, and plenty of the cast and crew members.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is an animated montage of images that is basically a still gallery and bonus trailers for a few other vintage crime/noir pictures available from Kino (though no trailer for the feature itself), static menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
The House On 92nd Street’s status as an entry in the film noir cannon is certainly debatable but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or entertaining. The film has some solid scenes of suspense, a lot of location footage and a really interesting premise behind it that drives some fine direction and a very game cast. Kino’s Blu-ray presents the movie in excellent shape and the commentary track from the ever reliable Muller is up to his typically high standards. Great stuff!
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