Thursday, May 27, 2010

The House on 92nd Street

A few weeks back, I mentioned actor Reed Hadley as having provided the voiceover in Fox docudramas such as The House on 92nd Street. That particular docudrama is airing again, tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The setting is sometime not terribly long before the US entered World War II. Although the Nazis weren't officially at war with us, they used front organizations such as the Bund to get information, including intelligence, about America back to Nazi Germany. The Americans knew this was going on, and to try to stop it, the FBI recruited German-Americans loyal to their new country to go back to Germany, take Nazi training, and then work in counterespionage.

Here, all-American boy Bill Dietrich (William Eythe) gets recruited by FBI agent Briggs (Lloyd Nolan). On Dietrich's return from Germany, he's supposed to work as a low-level drone for a Nazi cell being run out of a fashion house in New York. However, the FBI, being Dietrich's real masters, have gotten Dietrich's instructions, and changed them to make Dietrich out to be a much higher-level man. They've given him the task of figuring out who the real, normally unseen head of the cell is, and who in America outside the cell is supporting them. (One of those supporters happens to be Leo G. Carroll.)

The House on 92nd Street is relatively standard for the police/FBI docudrama genre, but that doesn't mean it's bad by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it's one of the first movies in the genre, and that fact alone makes it interesting. There are also some looks at the old-fashioned technology of intelligence gathering, such as the punch card computers, and an early use of the two-way mirror for clandestine recording. (In the movie, it's actually referred to as an X-ray mirror.) The acting is acceptable, and the story will keep you in suspense until the end. The only real problem might be the voiceovers, with a rah-rah style that might seem clichéd today. But then, this was one of the originals, so the whole technique of using voiceovers and a "now it can be told" style was new.

The House on 92nd Street has been released to DVD, and is well worth watching.

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