20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, Signe Hasso, Gene Lockhart, Leo G. Carroll
Extras: Commentary Track, Photo Gallery, Press Booklet
In their "Film Noir" line of DVD releases, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has now prepared the 1945 spy thriller "The House On 92nd Street." With high hopes I checked out the film but soon found that it has aged so badly that it is hard to watch.
From a technical standpoint the DVD is without blame. The black and white image is sharp and well defined and shows good shadow delineation, with soft gradients and black, gray and white. The transfer is absolutely free of speckles or dust and doesn't even show notable signs of registration errors, rendering a very stable and clear image. No edge-enhancement mars the image and the compression is absolutely without flaws.
It is the story, its pathos and its style that make "The House On 92nd Street" difficult to view. Large portions of the movie feature narration. The type of narration that is so monotonous that you fell you're watching a newsreel. The narration itself is glorifying all things American, how great the FBI was in discovering all German spies before they even became active. How the FBI was so super-efficient and organized like no one else in the world. And so forth. One has to bear in mind that this movie was made in 1945 at the end of World War II, and the US certainly had a right to be proud of its anti-spy operations and intelligence. At the same time however, it makes the film difficult to swallow and dates it horribly as a piece of propaganda.
The story revolves around how the FBI had planted an operative inside the German spy circle during the War. They infiltrated their spy structure in order to derail the Germans' plans to get ahold of blueprints for the first atomic bomb.
The audio on the release is clean but suffers from a narrow frequency response, which makes the narration rather jarring and dialogues a bit harsh. Still, it is a great presentation of this vintage film that is without technical problems.
As an extra the DVD contains a commentary track by film noir historian Eddie Muller. The track is pretty scholarly and not very animated, befitting the film, but not making for a lot of entertainment.
A photo gallery and a digital version of the original press booklet for the film, which allows you to browse through snippets, photos and news reports on your DVD.
For $14.95 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is once again dishing out a solid release of an old movie here. The film itself may no longer be everyone's bag, but for fans of spy movies of the era, this release is definitely a gem.