Sunday, February 3, 2008

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--you can tell, the 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 except for the always-natural Lloyd Nolan stick out because they're at ease and have better hair-styles. Real surveillance footage of the German Embassy during the war is used in this story of a Quantico-trained double-agent tracking a Nazi plot to discover the secrets of The Manhattan Project (or "Project 97," as its called in the movie--it was made in 1945, after all). It's a stunt-film, a propaganda document, an early film-noir (without the noir stylistics). And the blend of styles 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.

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