The House on 92nd Street (1945)

88-89 mins | Documentary | October 1945

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Now It Can Be Told , Private Line to Berchtesgaden and Hamburg Seven, Seven, Seven . After the opening credits, a written prologue reads: "This story is adapted from cases in the espionage files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Produced with the F.B.I.'s complete cooperation, it could not be made public until the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. The scenes in this picture were photographed in the localities of the incidents depicted--Washington, New York, and their vicinities; wherever possible, in the actual place the original incident occurred. With the exception of the leading players, all F.B.I. personnel in the picture are members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
       Numerous contemporary sources note that J. Edgar Hoover gave approval for the film's production, and a 13 Sep 1945 NYT article reported that "one of Mr. Hoover's three principal assistants supervised the production to assure its authenticity." Hoover appears briefly at the beginning of the picture, which contains shots of his office and the Bureau's headquarters. According to a studio press release, the Bureau's cooperation included providing the production crew with a special surveillance vehicle from which they could film street scenes on location in New York City without attracting a crowd. A studio press release announced that before filming began, actors Lloyd Nolan and William Eythe spent a week at the F.B.I. Academy in Quantico, VA, where they attended classes with student agents and underwent basic physical training.
       As noted in the film's prologue, the picture was largely shot on location in New York City, Long Island and ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Now It Can Be Told , Private Line to Berchtesgaden and Hamburg Seven, Seven, Seven . After the opening credits, a written prologue reads: "This story is adapted from cases in the espionage files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Produced with the F.B.I.'s complete cooperation, it could not be made public until the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. The scenes in this picture were photographed in the localities of the incidents depicted--Washington, New York, and their vicinities; wherever possible, in the actual place the original incident occurred. With the exception of the leading players, all F.B.I. personnel in the picture are members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
       Numerous contemporary sources note that J. Edgar Hoover gave approval for the film's production, and a 13 Sep 1945 NYT article reported that "one of Mr. Hoover's three principal assistants supervised the production to assure its authenticity." Hoover appears briefly at the beginning of the picture, which contains shots of his office and the Bureau's headquarters. According to a studio press release, the Bureau's cooperation included providing the production crew with a special surveillance vehicle from which they could film street scenes on location in New York City without attracting a crowd. A studio press release announced that before filming began, actors Lloyd Nolan and William Eythe spent a week at the F.B.I. Academy in Quantico, VA, where they attended classes with student agents and underwent basic physical training.
       As noted in the film's prologue, the picture was largely shot on location in New York City, Long Island and Washington, D.C. and contains much documentary footage, shot for this film, of federal agents at work in the Bureau's headquarters. The Bureau's fingerprint department is shown, as well as numerous scientific methods of analyzing evidence. The footage of employees entering and exiting the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. was also taken from Bureau photographic files. According to information in studio records, the Appleton laboratory scenes were shot at the Nassau Plant in Great Neck, Long Island. The plant was a top-secret war defense laboratory, and the film crew and cast had to be cleared by military authorities. The Time review noted that some sequences were shot at the California Institute of Technology. Footage of Hamburg, Germany, was taken from a film entitled City of Hamburg , which was in the possession of the U.S. Office of Alien Property Custodian, which regulated German-owned pictures located in the U.S. during the war.
       According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection and the Records of the Legal Department, both located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, this film was largely inspired by the F.B.I's 1941 arrest of thirty-three German and German-American spies. The spy ring, which was based in New York City, had been responsible for selling information about Norden bombsight, a valuable American military secret to Germany. Other military and defense secrets were sent to Germany by the spies, among whom Frederick Joubert Duquesne was the most famous. Duquesne had been a professional spy for over forty years at the time of his arrest. According to the studio records, Duquesne was the inspiration for "Col. Hammersohn" in the film. For additional information on Duquesne, please see the entry below for Unseen Enemy . "Bill Dietrich" was based on William G. Sebold, a German-born, American citizen who infiltrated the spy ring with the aid of the F.B.I. and set up a shortwave radio station, as Dietrich does in the picture. Another spy convicted in the case, artist's model and socialite Lilly Stein, was the inspiration for "Elsa Gebhardt" (but not for "Mr. Christopher"). Hermann Lang, who memorized details of the Norden bombsight, was the inspiration for "Charles Ogden Roper." All thirty-three of the spies were convicted of espionage and failure to declare themselves as foreign agents. Duquesne was sentenced to eighteen years, Stein received a sentence of ten years and Lang received a sentence of eighteen years.
       Other F.B.I. cases were used in the film, and the script files reveal that as late as 2 Apr 1945, the name of the atomic bomb was not allowed to be printed in the studio's copy of the screenplay "until release from proper authority can be obtained." According to an 18 Aug 1945 LAT news item, if the atomic bomb had not been used by the U.S. during World War II, "the story of espionage and the work of the F.B.I. would have been given a different motivation before the picture was released." According to a 14 Aug 1945 HR news item, studio executives decided not to mention the atomic bomb in its advertising because they felt "the picture is too good to be tied into such exploitation."
       The story records reveal that the role of "Elsa Gebhardt/Mr. Christopher" was originally to be played by a man, who would pretend to be a woman. Notes for a 9 Jan 1945 conference with production chief Darryl F. Zanuck report that Zanuck wanted Christopher to be "the one who is least suspected by the audience. Elsa should be Christopher--a man who poses as a woman. A German fairy. We want to cast a very good actor in this part--maybe someone from the stage, so that the audience will think it is a woman." In the finished picture, however, Elsa is a woman who impersonates a man. According to information in the legal records, Kurt Katch was originally signed to play "Col. Felix Strassen," and Charles Wallis was signed to play "Mr. X" and Fritz Pollard was signed to play "Julius." The latter two characters do not appear in the finished film. The picture marked the screen debuts of actors Vincent Gardenia, E. G. Marshall and Bruno Wick, and the American film debut of French actress Lydia St. Clair.
       The House on 92nd Street , which garnered excellent reviews, received an Academy Award nomination for Charles G. Booth's original story. The picture was one of several semi-documentary, dramatic films produced by noted documentary filmmaker Louis de Rochemont, who created "The March of Time" newsreels in 1934. Other pictures directed by de Rochemont, which contained a similar blend of fact, real people, actors and fiction were 13 Rue Madeleine , which was based on O.S.S. case files, and Boomerang . On 12 Oct 1945, William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan and Signe Hasso appeared in a radio version of the film, broadcast on the This Is Your FBI program. In Apr 1965, DV announced that de Rochemont had obtained screen rights to an espionage novel entitled The House on 93rd Street , but a film based on that book was not made. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 Sep 1945.
---
Daily Variety
12 Sep 45
p. 3.
Film Daily
13 Sep 45
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 44
p. 1, 14
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 44
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 45
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 45
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 45
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 45
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 45
p. 1, 9
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 45
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Sep 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 45
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 45
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 45
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 45
p. 3, 13
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 46
p. 19.
Life
8 Oct 45
pp. 91-92, 94
Los Angeles Times
22 Jul 1945.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Aug 1945.
---
Motion Picture Daily
12 Sep 1945.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Jun 45
p. 2499.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Sep 45
p. 2645.
New York Times
1 Apr 1945.
---
New York Times
12 Aug 1945.
---
New York Times
13 Sep 1945.
---
New York Times
27 Sep 45
p. 24.
New York Times
30 Sep 1945.
---
Time
8 Oct 1945.
---
Variety
12 Sep 45
p. 16.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
William Post
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Location cam
Location asst cam
Gaffer
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
Mus dir
SOUND
Rec
Sd maintenance
Mus mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Prod mgr
Research dir
Research asst
Scr clerk
Casting dir
STAND INS
Double for Salo Douday and Charles Wagenheim
Double for Leo G. Carroll
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Hamburg Seven, Seven, Seven
Now It Can Be Told
Release Date:
October 1945
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 September 1945
Los Angeles opening: 18 October 1945
Production Date:
16 April--late August 1945
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
26 September 1945
Copyright Number:
LP45
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
88-89
Length(in feet):
7,900
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
10939
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1939, due to increasing hostilities in Europe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation intensifies its observation of foreign nationals living in the United States. The F.B.I. finds a valuable ally in Bill Dietrich, a German-American college student who has been approached by a German Bund and promised a good job in Germany. When a suspicious Bill reports the incident to the F.B.I., Inspector George A. Briggs tells him to cooperate. After Bill is sent to Germany and enrolled in a specialized spy school, a hit-and-run automobile accident in New York City becomes the catalyst for one of the F.B.I.'s most complicated cases. In the morgue, the attendants discover that although the accident victim has a Spanish passport, he was carrying a notebook filled with German writing. The accident is reported to the F.B.I., which concludes that the man is German spy Franz von Wirt and then decodes a letter he was carrying. The letter, which states that "Mr. Christopher will concentrate on Process 97," alarms Briggs, for Process 97 is the U.S. military's most carefully guarded and important secret: the development of the atomic bomb. Briggs is instructed to make the Christopher case his top priority, and after Bill completes his training in Germany, he returns to New York, where Briggs helps him establish a decoy office. Bill contacts Elsa Gebhardt, a German agent posing as a couterier, at her house on 92nd Street. There, he also meets spies Max Coburg and Conrad Arnulf, and Gestapo agent Johanna Schmidt. Bill pretends to build a shortwave radio station, with which he is supposed to transmit Elsa's information to Hamburg. Actually, Bill's ... +


In 1939, due to increasing hostilities in Europe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation intensifies its observation of foreign nationals living in the United States. The F.B.I. finds a valuable ally in Bill Dietrich, a German-American college student who has been approached by a German Bund and promised a good job in Germany. When a suspicious Bill reports the incident to the F.B.I., Inspector George A. Briggs tells him to cooperate. After Bill is sent to Germany and enrolled in a specialized spy school, a hit-and-run automobile accident in New York City becomes the catalyst for one of the F.B.I.'s most complicated cases. In the morgue, the attendants discover that although the accident victim has a Spanish passport, he was carrying a notebook filled with German writing. The accident is reported to the F.B.I., which concludes that the man is German spy Franz von Wirt and then decodes a letter he was carrying. The letter, which states that "Mr. Christopher will concentrate on Process 97," alarms Briggs, for Process 97 is the U.S. military's most carefully guarded and important secret: the development of the atomic bomb. Briggs is instructed to make the Christopher case his top priority, and after Bill completes his training in Germany, he returns to New York, where Briggs helps him establish a decoy office. Bill contacts Elsa Gebhardt, a German agent posing as a couterier, at her house on 92nd Street. There, he also meets spies Max Coburg and Conrad Arnulf, and Gestapo agent Johanna Schmidt. Bill pretends to build a shortwave radio station, with which he is supposed to transmit Elsa's information to Hamburg. Actually, Bill's messages are relayed through an F.B.I. radio station, which keeps Briggs abreast of the latest developments. Elsa is suspicious of Bill's credentials, which were altered by the F.B.I. to state that he is authorized to contact all agents known to her, but because she cannot contact Hamburg directly for confirmation, she must trust him. Bill receives information from Col. Hammersohn, a professional spy, but he rebuffs Bill's attempt to learn the identity of Mr. Christopher. Hammersohn introduces Bill to Adolphe Klaen, another member of the spy ring, and Bill witnesses Johanna's ruthlessness when she orchestrates the murder of Klaen's drunken informant. While Bill continues his investigation, the F.B.I. intensifies its efforts after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many suspected foreign agents are rounded up, although some, such as Elsa and Hammersohn, are allowed to go free in the hope that they will reveal Christopher's identity. Bill is able to obtain an important clue in the form a lipstick-stained cigarette left in Elsa's shop by an acquaintence of Christopher. The F.B.I. uses the clue to track down Luise Vadja, another German agent, who leads the federal agents to Charles Ogden Roper, a scientist working at the Appleton Laboratory, out of which the information is being smuggled. Briggs learns that Roper is a "memory artist" and has been memorizing complicated Process 97 plans and passing them to Christopher. When confronted, the naïve Roper confesses his complicity and says that one of his drop-off points is Adolphe Lange's bookshop. The F.B.I. establishes a survelliance operation opposite the bookstore and identifies Christopher as a man seen at Elsa's building. Meanwhile, Elsa receives a copy of Bill's credentials from Hamburg and thereby learns that the information he gave her was forged. He is brought to her house and is drugged, questioned and beaten by Elsa, Johanna and the others. Briggs and his men surround the house and order the spies to surrender, and when they refuse, they throw tear gas. During the ensuing confusion, Elsa removes her blonde wig and makeup, then dons the men's clothing she wears while enacting the role of Christopher. Due to the tear gas smoke, however, Arnulf does not recognize her, and, believing her to be a strange man, shoots and kills her. The federal agents enter the building and rescue Bill, then round up the rest of the spies. With Christopher's identity revealed and the case closed, Process 97 is safe and the F.B.I. continues its fight against foreign agents. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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