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Movie Natters: February 28, 2008 Archive

"The House on 92nd Street" shows another view of surveillance

Posted at 2:59 PM on February 28, 2008 by Euan Kerr

A copy of "The House on 92nd Street" plonked into our mailbox the other day, the result of a months old whim addition to the mail order dvd queue rising to the top. By another quirk of fate, it arrived in the days just before before Diablo Cody took the best screenplay Oscar, an honor "The House" received some 60 plus years earlier

And what a strange little film it is.

Made in the waning days of World War II, it tells the true story of how the FBI infiltrated a German spy ring in New York City. It's part film noir, part documentary.

And a whole lot of propaganda, which is part of what makes it so fascinating..

The film was made with the full co-operation of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover appears in the introduction, and the producers used real FBI agents in many of the scenes. There is even real surveillance film which the FBI shot of the outside of the German Embassy before the US entered the war. Senior diplomats present the Nazi salute as they enter the building.

The publicity materials of the time claim the movie was shot in the run-up to the dropping of the atomic bomb. As the story involves spies trying to find out those very secrets, actors were not allowed to know many details of the plot while they shot the film.

The resulting film, directed by Henry Hathaway, seems a little stilted now, and the way it displays a gleeful delight about the internment of thousands of Germans and German-Americans would never fly today.

"The House on 92nd Street" is clearly a product of another time, but it's well worth watching as the movies about the conflicts and surveillances of our own time begin appearing.

February 2008
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