While books, films, movies, and radio programs told all sorts of high-flying adventure and espionage stories during World War II, these were almost entirely fiction. Yet, as the war came to an end, many stories could at last be told. The House on 92nd Street was one of the earliest of these to make it to film.
The film starts before the U.S. entered World War II, when a chance traffic accident sets the FBI, led by Inspector George Briggs (Lloyd Nolan), onto a Nazi spy ring operating with support from the German Consulate in New York. While they have enough information to capture some members of the spy ring, they can’t identify the leader, a mysterious Mr. Christopher. A college student (William Eythe) who had been recruited by the Germans contacts the FBI, and they encourage him to play along with the Germans and go undercover to help round up the entire spy ring.
The House on 92nd Street was a ground-breaking film, and one of the earliest to utilize the sort of documentary style that would become popular in so many films based on true incidents in the latter part of the 1940s, such as The Naked City and He Walked by Night. Reed Hadley has the perfect voice of authority for a narrator. The story has some very nice, authentic touches. Real FBI agents appear in many agent roles in the film. The rest of the cast is made up of talented character actors. While there are some recognizable names in the cast (Nolan and Gene Lockhart stand out), all are well-suited to character roles and deliver believable performances. The film also features real secret footage of Nazi agents coming and going from the German consulate before Pearl Harbor.
Despite the authentic touches, the film takes its share of liberties with historic events, most of which seem to have been changed to make a more compelling and exciting film experience. And in that, it certainly succeeds, with some great camera work, tense music, and an exciting finale and big last-minute reveal.
House on 92nd Street is a real gem of a film. If you’re interested in World War II, or love a good 1940s thriller or spy story, this is a must-see film. It’s an intriguing film that takes real events and tells a story in a grounded yet compelling way.
Rating 4.5 out of 5
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