Cast & Crew
Leo G. Carroll
Photos & Videos
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.
Leo G. Carroll
Lydia St. Clair
James J. Coyle
Anna Marie Hornemann
Antonio J. Pires
E. G. Marshall
Charles G. Booth
Charles G. Booth
W. D. Flick
R. A. Klune
John Stuart Martin
John Monks Jr.
Frances C. Richardson
Joseph E. Rickards
Louis De Rochemont
William Sittel Jr.
Darryl F. Zanuck
Best Writing, Screenplay
The House on 92nd Street
J. Edgar Hoover had a love-hate relationship with motion pictures going back as far as Warners' "G" Men (1935), which fictionalized the birth of the agency as an outgrowth of the United States Department of Justice. Initially Hoover had okayed "G" Men (which gave James Cagney a chance to segue from gangster to good guy roles, pleasing both the actor and the Hays Office) but he withdrew his support upon the film's release; Hoover eventually had a change of heart and in 1949 "G" Men was re-released with wrap-around footage bracketing the production as an FBI training film. Fox's fact-based Roger Touhy, Gangster (1944) had been directed by Robert Florey in documentary style and included actual locations germane to the Touhy case but lost thirty minutes to censorship; intended as a prestige picture for release in 1943, the film was disowned by the FBI and snuck out a year later, after Touhy's exploits had faded from the public memory. A key reason for Hoover's reluctance to stand behind "G" Men and Roger Touhy, Gangster was that neither case reflected well on the Bureau. The pivotal scene of the former, the FBI's raid on the Little Bohemia Lodge, had been a fiasco for the FBI; in the latter, a key witness was later revealed to have committed perjury, resulting in an early release for Touhy. The unparalleled success of the Duquesne case gave Hoover a chance to crow and he threw his full support behind Now It Can Be Told, as The House on 92nd Street (1945) was known through production.
Cobbling together FBI surveillance footage and utilizing Bureau staffers in walk on roles, Hathaway shot guerilla-style on the streets of Manhattan (although he was required by law to obtain release forms from all passersby who happened into the frame). The film begins in newsreel mode with stentorian narration courtesy of Reed Hadley, the voice of the March of Time short subjects. Hollywood contract players Lloyd Nolan (who had played a martyred FBI agent in "G" Men) and William Eythe (scouted from Broadway for roles in The Ox-Bow Incident  and The Eve of St. Mark ) were recruited to play the protagonists while British Leo G. Carroll and Swedish import Signe Hasso brought an icy reserve to their respective roles as a dapper spy and an elegant Nazi sleeper whose front is a high-end dress shop. (Among the cast of unknowns are E. G. Marshall and Vincent Gardenia in their film debuts.) The film's eponymous location was actually on New York's East 93rd Street, an Upper East Side mansion owned by a Manhattan plastic surgeon. It was Zanuck who ordered the title change from Now It Can Be Told to The House on 92nd Street, feeling that the number 92 sounded better than 93 and that the film's lack of star wattage could be mitigated by playing up the mystery angle. Chief among the doubters was Tom Connors, Fox's head of distribution, who opined to Hathaway "How the hell are you going to put Lloyd Nolan in the Roxy?" Perhaps out of wounded pride, Zanuck stood by Hathaway and spearheaded the advertising. At a time when a first weekend gross of $80,000 was considered commendable, The House on 92nd Street enjoyed a $125,000 opening at the Fox-owned Roxy and earned back its production costs in three weeks.
The House on 92nd Street earned an Oscar® for Charles Booth for his original story while John Monks had to content himself with an Edgar Allan Poe award for his contributions (albeit sharing the honor with Booth and screenwriter Barré Lyndon). A belated follow-up, Alfred L. Werker's Walk East on Beacon! (1952), also produced by Louis de Rochemont, focused on Communist spies at work in the United States. The House on 92nd Street influenced a number of crime docu-dramas, including Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947), Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948) and He Walked by Night (1948), codirected by Werker and Mann . Lloyd Nolan reprised the role of implacable G-man George Briggs in Fox's The Street with No Name (1947), directed by William Keighley as a conventional crime drama with Richard Widmark on the sociopathic rebound from his film debut in Hathaway's Kiss of Death (1947).
Groundbreaking and trendsetting as it was in its day, The House on 92nd Street plays a bit differently sixty years after the fact. Despite the journalistic flourishes, the film betrays itself early on as FBI propaganda, fudging the facts and telescoping several true crime events into the fictional "Mr. Christopher Case." (Reed Hadley's end narration boasts of the fierce justice meted out to the convicted spies but in truth the majority of those arrested spent months in prison rather than years and no one connected with the Duquesne Case was executed.) The film's atomic angle - the Third Reich's pursuit of the top secret (but entirely fictive) "Process 97" - was added in postproduction, after the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and barely a month before The House on 92nd Street's September 10, 1945 premiere.
Producer: Louis de Rochemont
Director: Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Barre Lyndon, Charles G. Booth, John Monks Jr. (screenplay); Charles G. Booth (story)
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Art Direction: Lewis Creber, Lyle Wheeler
Music: David Buttolph
Film Editing: Harmon Jones
Cast: William Eythe (Bill Dietrich), Lloyd Nolan (Agent George A. Briggs), Signe Hasso (Elsa Gebhardt), Gene Lockhart (Charles Ogden Roper), Leo G. Carroll (Col. Hammersohn), Lydia St. Clair (Johanna Schmidt), William Post (Walker), Harry Bellaver (Max Cobura), Bruno Wick (Adolf Lange), Harro Meller (Conrad Arnulf).
by Richard Harland Smith
Henry Hathaway: A Director's Guild of America Oral History by Rudy Behlmer and Henry Hathaway (Scarecrow Press, 2001)
Crime Movies: An Illustrated History by Carlos Clarens (W.W. Norton & Company, 1980)
Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City by Nicholas Christopher (The Free Press, 1997) Changes:
The House on 92nd Street
Many of the bit roles in this film were played by real FBI agents, and this was their only film.
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 September 13, 1945 New York Times 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 April 2, 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 August 18, 1945 Los Angeles Times 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 August 14, 1945 Hollywood Reporter 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 January 9, 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 October 12, 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 April 1965, Daily Variety 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.