The House on 92nd Street (1945) is a personal project of Darryl F. Zanuck – something of a prestige film for the studio. Combining stock footage shot in and around Washington D.C. with traditional sets constructed back in L.A., the tale is that of Bill Dietrich (William Eythe), an all-American college athlete of German extraction who is approached by Nazi sympathizers with a plot to overthrow western government.
Being a good little American, Bill reports the ring of spies to the state department, headed by George A. Briggs (Lloyd Nolan). Shortly thereafter, Dietrich becomes a double agent, seemingly in cahoots with the Nazis, all the while feeding the U.S. state department news of their activities. However, on a routine trip to Hamburg, Dietrich begins to suspect that his Nazi cohorts have figured him out. The plot escalates into a dangerous game of cat and mouse, whereby Dietrich is racing against time to learn the whereabouts of a high ranking Nazi official before his loyalties to the state department are uncovered.
Clearly, director Henry Hathaway and Zanuck were interested in making this film as close to a documentary or testament of espionage circa 1939-40 as possible. The intrusive narration is designed to instill a sense of documentary film making into the fictional proceedings. But instead of augmenting the narrative it interrupts and even stalls the story, offering obvious bits of information such as “Bill turned over his findings to the state department” even as we are observing Bill doing just that on the screen. Honestly, is there any reason why an audience couldn’t figure at least two thirds of the storyline out without this play by play commentary?
Fox’s DVD transfer is just above average. The gray scale has been sufficiently rendered but there is an excessive amount of grain in the location shots that doesn’t bode well with the more pristine elements photographed inside sets. A slight bit of shimmering is also present. Age related artifacts abound, but are more obvious in the stock footage. Whites are rarely clean. Black levels are not particularly deep. The audio is represented at a fairly audible level. Echo effects seem a tad overly pronounced. There’s also a slight hiss during quiescent scenes. The only extra of merit is an audio commentary and press book that is informative.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)