Foreign Correspondent (1940)

My third foray into the world of Hitchcock is 1940’s Foreign Correspondent.  The film is a return back to the Hitchcock form of elaborate sets, stunning visuals and suspense through an ordinary guy being caught in an extraordinary circumstance.  Foreign Correspondent is often referred to as a war propaganda film, and the people who say so are not wrong.  The screenplay may have a few flaws and performances by the two leads might not be spectacular but those two things aside Foreign Correspondent is a solid Hitch movie.  At the very least it is 10 times better than The Wrong Man and that is good enough for me.

Loose canon reporter, Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is sent overseas by his boss at a New York Newspaper to cover the action in Europe on the eve of WWII.  Johnny is to report back to New York with a real story, not the same old dry fluff that most foreign correspondents send back.  His first story involves getting the skinny on a peace treaty co-signed by diplomat Mr. Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). While trying to get close to Mr Van Meer, Johnny becomes infatuated with the beautiful Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) whose father (Herbert Marshall) is the head of the Universal Peace Party.  When Mr. Van Meer is assassinated, Johnny and Carol enlist the help of reporter friend Ffolliott (George Sanders, and yes there really is two f’s) to track down the assassin and discover his motive.

Foreign Correspondent is a great showcase for Alfred Hitchcock’s famous meticulous detail to set design.  Hitch was known to draw sketches and drawings of how he wanted each set to look, and he made them in great detail.  In Foreign Correspondent three sets come to mind.  First is the enormous town square in Amsterdam.  In the center is a gigantic staircase large enough to fit 100 people.  It is on these steps that Van Meer is assassinated, and the vastness of the entire square and the large crowd in it help to illustrate the magnitude of the event.  After the assassination there is a car chase to the countryside that ends at an old decrepit windmill, our second fantastic set.  Inside this windmill Johnny does some sneaking around and the lighting and the camera angles in which the whole scene is shot really display the tense clandestine nature of the events taking place inside.  It was cleverly filmed in tight areas almost giving a claustrophobic feel.  Third is the amazing airplane crash towards the end.  Hitch uses stock footage of a airplane diving towards water projected on rice paper out the windows of the cockpit.  When the airplane is about to hit the water, two large chutes send water crashing through the rice paper and into the cockpit simulating the impact.  And while this is really impressive, I enjoyed the detail to the airplane itself more.  The inside of first class and economy show the luxurious side of flying back in the golden age.  Hitch filmed it in a side view panning backwards showing our characters making their way to the tail.  You could tell as you watched the airplane go under how much attention to detail was put into every surface, and that impresses me.

And though that crash would have made a great finale to the film, a final war propaganda scene was filmed in haste at Hitch’s request.  It was written and filmed by Ben Hecht on July 5th 1940 in England, 5 days before the Germans started bombing London. It’s a popular scene with just about everyone that isn’t a Nazi.  It voiced Hitch’s opinion that the war is here and cannot be ignored.  We could plead ignorance in our isolation on the other side of the planet, but the bombs are dropping on our allies and we must get involved.  When Foreign Correspondent was made, America was not yet in the war and this movie was part of a growing collection of films from the 1930’s and 1940’s encouraging Americans to get involved.  Despite this pro-American intervention speech at the end, Hitchcock was not a fan of inserting too many political elements into the film.  The producers insisted that he should, but Hitch didn’t want Foreign Correspondent to become to dated.  It was a move that paid off in the end as the resulting film still holds up quite well today.

While I am a sucker for a visually stunning film, and Foreign Correspondent is certainly that, I found the beginning of the film to be a tad bit confusing and the two main characters to be rather dull.  George Sanders was absolutely fabulous and just got better as the movie progressed and Herbert Marshall’s Stephen Fisher was a wonderfully complex character for so early a film.  Foreign Correspondent is by no means the best Hitchcock film, in fact it fits quite nicely in the middle of the pack.  However it is definitely worth a watch and enjoyable nonetheless.

 

The stats:

Foreign Correspondent landed at #408 out of 1348 movies on my Flickchart.  That converts to a rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars or 70%.  It is ranked #18 out of 46 movies I have seen from the 1940’s and it comes in at #7 out of 12 movies I have seen from Hitchcock.  It is ranked #8 out of 13 movies I have seen so far in this challenge.

 

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