BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: spy games.

ADMITTEDLY, The House on 92nd Street has dated pretty badly. It’s the type of jingoistic, naïve, chest-beater that looks so out of place in today’s cynical times. And given most modern audiences comfort in tech-heavy espionage tales, whether this thriller thrills is also a moot point. Nevermind, it’s a fascinating viewpoint into the almost post-war United States, and you feel that the enemies depicted in this film trying to steal American secrets are less-Nazis but rather the soon-to-be dreaded Reds.

Of course, having J. Edgar Hoover on board at the start of the film, extolling the virtues of the FBI and the “impossibility” of spies capturing American secrets, gives some idea of the direction of the film. This film is a semi-documentary portrayal of the FBI shutting down a Nazi spy ring, and features many actual FBI personnel themselves. Reportedly based on a true story, the film focuses specifically on Bill Dietrich, an FBI spy tapping into a Nazi plot to steal America’s nuclear bomb secrets. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of pessimism or critical opinion directed at the FBI. It’s also a look into the m.o. of the FBI, no doubt a riveting and exciting peek for its postwar audience into how the Department operates and the technology available (two sided mirrors, wire taps, rooms full of secretaries looking at fingerprints).

This is certainly a curiosity – the visual style doesn’t really depict its potential noir possibilities, nor convincingly depict a documentary-type feel. The Production Code doesn’t allow for a man to play a transvestite, and the clinical film is devoid of human relationships. But no matter, this is a bona fide product of its time, a quaint propaganda piece that gives an insight into World War Federal investigations, and acts as an interesting precursor to the hysterical Anti-Communist films that would follow in its wake.