"I've always thought of myself as a Hitchcock fan, as he had the ability to tell a story through the medium of film so very well, understanding perfectly the necessary elements needed within a story to keep an audience enthralled and engaged. Sure, many may understand these necessities, but it seems few are able to develop them to the level Hitchcock did, and that's what makes much of his work so enduring, even relevant, so many years later. That said, being a self-proclaimed fan and all, I have to admit I'm a bit ashamed that it took me so long to get around to watching Foreign Correspondent (1940), as it's not only a wonderful Hitchcock feature, but a really great film in general (heck, it was nominated for like six Academy Awards, so there must be others out there who share my sentiments). The film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (some just call him Hitch, but I think it's a little disrespectful unless you knew the man personally and were friends with him...I didn't know him, so I'll always use his full name, but y'all can do whatever you like), stars Joel McCrea (The Virginian), Laraine Day (Calling Dr. Kildare), and Herbert Marshall (Duel in the Sun). Also appearing is George Sanders (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), Albert Bassermann (nominated for one of the six Academy Awards this film received), journalist and popular humorist Robert Benchley, and Edmund Gwenn, who would later appear as Kris Kringle in the holiday staple Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
McCrea plays Johnny Jones, a crime reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, who gets a new assignment as a foreign correspondent due the fact that the editor of the paper is tired of the regurgitated press releases his current correspondents are turning in, and also due to the fact Johnny knows little, if anything, about current international events, so hopefully he'll be more inclined to provide a fresh perspective. Given his lack of knowledge with regards to current international events one might be hesitant to accept such a position, but with the incentive of an expense account (i.e.money), Johnny dives head first into the position. Upon arriving in Europe, he's tasked to get in close with an organization touting peaceful resolutions to various European conflicts, headed by Stephen Fisher (Marshall) with his daughter Carol (Day) working by his side. Things take an unexpected turn after the assassination of a leading dignitary, and Johnny seems to be the only one who suspects there's more behind what has happened than there appears. Clinging to a meager handful of leads like a mangy mutt clings to a soup bone, Johnny begins to uncover a seemingly vast conspiracy that could affect course of history, with regards to the impending world war.
I came into this film not expecting a lot, even though it was a Hitchcock film, basically because I had heard so little about it. The cast here is incredibly talented, and is put to good use. McCrea, who would later make himself known in westerners (apparently he enjoyed those roles the most), does a wonderful job as the tenacious, very American, crime reporter, seemingly out of his league in the capacity of a foreign correspondent, dogging out various difficulties to get the story, managing to find love along the way. Day also does really well, providing more than just a shallow love interest, but a fully developed, rich and interesting character that shares a surprising amount of chemistry with McCrea. They may not be at the level of a Grant and Bergman (Spellbound), or a Stewart and Novak (Vertigo), but they provide just as genuine sense of interest as those pairings. The supporting cast, including Marshall, Sanders, Basserman, and Benchley (Benchley seemed in a rare position to create his own character, and add some really enjoyable humorous dialogue to the film after the script had been written, as usually once the script was finished, Hitchcock was usually adamant about not allowing further changes) further strengthening an already solid film. One aspect of the story I really liked was the depth of character given to the main antagonist. This role could have easily been portrayed in a more simplistic fashion, but here it's developed with intelligence and even a certain sympathetic edge. The sets are beautiful and perfectly suited for the story (the windmill scenes were especially rich and detailed). I've read where some thought the pacing was too slow, but I would describe it as deliberate (the film runs a lengthy 2 hours), as I feel Hitchcock controlled his productions very tightly, and his reasoning for the pacing and inclusion (or exclusion) of certain elements well thought out and specific, at least that's my impressions from his other films. There's just a lot going on in this film, and a number of different characters that all get their appropriate development. The tension within the film seems a bit subtler than in some of Hitchcock's other films, but it blends in very well, along with the dramatic and humorous touches. The dialogue is sharp and witty, giving the characters a very genuine feel. One of my favorite scenes is near the end, when the main protagonists are going off to catch a plane, and they're relaying all kinds of instructions to Robert Benchley's character of Stebbins (he was also a foreign correspondent working for Johnny's paper, a slightly sullen character, resigned to his position) to which Stebbins appears to be writing furiously, finally popping out a humorous quip after they're gone. All in all this is a thrilling, sophisticated, romantic, adventure-filled picture worthy of its' place among Hitchcock's more popular films.
The full screen picture, original aspect ratio 1.33:1, looks clean and sharp, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono comes through clear. Besides an original theatrical trailer, there's a thorough documentary (I think it runs about 35 minutes) titled "Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock" featuring interviews with critics, Hitchcock's daughter, and even actress Laraine Day.
American Hitchcock With British Charm
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 10/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This fun and exciting film from Walter Wanger and Alfred Hitchcock offers romance, suspense, and a dash of patriotism for 120 minutes of sheer entertainment. A terrific cast in front of the camera and loads of talent behind it make for one of Hitchcock's best films. "Foreign Correspondent" very much has the feel of the director's best efforts across the pond, augmented by a bigger budget and better production values.
Author James Hilton and Robert Benchley contributed some dialog to the screenplay written by Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison. Music by Alfred Newman and photography from Rudolph Mate help create a mood that is suspenseful and, at times, romantic. William Cameron Menzies helped create some of the effects, adding to the suspense. A list of players that includes Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, Harry Davenport, Albert Basserman and Eduardo Ciannelli make for a topflight film.
Joel McCrea is John Jones, a crime reporter for the "New York Globe" newspaper who gets a big break when his boss Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport) picks him to be a reporter in Europe, and wants him to get the real story of a world heading for war. Powers doesn't want correspondence, but news! After changing John's bland sounding name to Huntley Haverstock, he sends him to London to cover a peace conference and get an interview with Van Meer (Albert Basserman), a key man in a treaty between the Dutch and Belgians.
By happenstance, Huntley meets Van Meer but loses track of him in short order. Van Meer then disappears, and Huntley is left holding the bag at the conference. It is there, however, that he meets the daughter of Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), Carol (Laraine Day). He is immediately taken with her and flusters her during her big speach about peace by sending notes to her table, with mesages like: "Can we have lunch?" and "Do you believe in large families?"
When they meet again, it is at the next conference in rainy Amsterdam. A man looking like Van Meer is assisinated right in front of Huntley, in Hitchcock's famous umbrella scene. Huntley, Carol, and fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), whose family history has taken the capitals out of his last name, chase the assasin by car with the police not far behind. Their pursuit, however, ends in a windy and lonely field full of old windmills, which look like lighthouses with big propellers.
Huntley realizes, too late, that one of the windmills is turning against the wind as a signal to the plane overhead. He sends Carol and Scott back to get the police while he investigates on his own. Some tense and exciting moments follow as Huntly very nearly gets caught by Mr. Krug (Eduardo Ciannelli) when he discovers Van Meer has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in the windmill. Espionage agents want to know a secret clause in the treaty not written down, but only in Van Meer's head. Huntly makes a daring escape, but when the police arrive only a tramp inhabits the windmill and Van Meer has been moved.
Back at Hotel Europe, Huntley must make another daring escape as the spies are onto the reporter now. Hitchcock adds a nice touch as Huntley blows out the "e" and "l" in the Hotel Europe sign as he walks the ledge outside his room; the sign now reading, "Hot Europe." One must remember this was only 1940. Huntley's sincerity about his chances of surviving the international intrigue he has thrown a monkey wrench into will win over Carol's heart and the two flee for their lives, booking passage to London by sea.
The most romantic scene in the film takes place on the rainy deck of the ship as Huntley tells Carol of his love for her and she responds in kind. Laraine Day had some nice moments in films of this era and was quite charming and very pretty in this one. She and McCrea are a nice fit and their romance has the charm of Hitchcock's British films also. The romantic innocence of booking an extra room that happens later in the film is a perfect example.
When they arrive at her father Stephen's house, Huntley discovers he is in with the spies, and must reluctantly lure Carol away so that Scott can trick Stephen into revealing where Van Meer is being detained. It backfires, of course, but Carol has realized by now that she is in love with the man who is going to help hang her father. Her father loves her dearly, despite his politics. and when the plane they are all aboard is shot down over the sea, he will scarifice himself for her happiness.
George Sanders has a rare good-guy role here and there are many memorable Hitchcock moments to this one. A patriotic call to Americans at the end, as Jones and his sweetheart, Carol, keep talking to the world over the radio while London is bombed, seems real and not hokey at all. Edmund Gwenn has a fine moment as the droll killer, Rowley, Stephen sends to get rid of Huntley. And Harry Davenport also shines as the newspaper editor who realizes the world is about to change forever.
This is great entertainment from the master, Alfred Hitchcock, and if you haven't seen this one, you're in for a real treat."
One Of Hitchcock's Best
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 12/23/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Foreign Correspondent" was Alfred Hitchcock's second American feature made in 1940, the same year as his first feature "Rebecca", and surprisingly both were up for "best picture". In fact "Foreign Correspodent" was nominated for 6 Oscars. But even so, the movie is rarely regarded as one of Hitchcock's best, and that's a shame. "Foreign Correspondent" ranks up there with the best Hitchcock films such as "Rear Window", "Psycho", and "Vertigo". The "master of suspense" displays all the talents that have made him one of the finest film-makers of all-time (at least in my opinion). "Foreign Correspondent" has Joel McCrea as John Jones, an American reporter sent over to Europe to cover the beginnings of WW2. And, as you can probably guess, Jones will stumble upon a big story and soon become a man who knows too much. Van Meer, a man Jones was sent to interview (Albert Basserman, in an Oscar nominated performance) is on a council to prevent WW2, but he is soon murdered, or is he? He was the only person who knew of a secret clause that was to be written in a peace treaty. A lot of people speak highly of the assination scene with the umbrellas, and Edmund Gwenn's scene on top of the tower. Most of you will know Gwenn as Santa Clause in "Miracle on 34th Street". But I have to admit some of my favorite scenes deal with the more comedic aspects of the film such as Robert Benchley's scenes, as an on-the-wagon reporter just yearning for one more drink, who has no idea what is going on around him. I also enjoy a scene dealing with George Sanders (Scott ffolliott) as he explains why he his name is spelled with two lower case "f's", McCrea responds with "How do you pronouce it? With a stutter?" I've always felt Hitchcock's early work sometimes allowed the dry wit to get into the way of his movies. They could be seen as comedy\mystery movies in the vain of "The Thin Man" series. But in "Foreign Correspondent" I absolutely didn't mind. I enjoyed it greatly. Benchley was actually allowed to write his own lines and Ben Hechet, who helped co-write (he wrote the play "The Front Page", as well as two other Hitchcock movies, "Notorious" and "Spellbound") are without doubt why this movie actually does make us laugh. Benchley really is a highlight for me. Please pay attention to his dialogue. It's a shame so many people don't remember him nowadays. And, there's more more thing I feel the need to comment on. What an amazing cast this film has. I've mentioned some of them already, McCrea, Sanders, and Benchley, but Herbert Marshall is also in this movie as Stephen Fisher, Van Meer's partner. Everyone does a wonderful job. Bottom-line: Sadly not as popular as some of Hitchcock's other films, but, it deserves to be. It really is one of his best works. Great moments of suspense and wit."
VERY EUROPEAN FLAIR TO A PATRIOTIC THRILLER
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 08/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For some reason Hitchcock's first WWII thriller, "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), never quite achieved the critical accolades or fame of say, "Notorious." This, despite the film's harrowing representations of murder and spine tingling cloak and dagger war games. It stars matinee idol, Joel McCrea as Johnny Jones, a New York reporter dispatched to Europe who inadvertently stumbles upon a troupe of fascists preparing to take over the world. After witnessing an assassination, Jones becomes embroiled in the harrowing plot of secret government codes falling into the wrong hands. Along the way, he encounters Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) whose father, Stephan (Herbert Marshall) may or may not be the lynch pin in all the espionage. Both the mood and charm of many of the film's set pieces speaks to Hitchcock's flair for European cinema. In fact, in viewing "Foreign Correspondence" today there is a decide lack of Hollywood glitz about it.
Warner's DVD transfer exhibits a balanced gray scale with deep, solid blacks and reasonably clean whites. Dirt, scratches and other age related artifacts are present but do not terribly distract. There's a complete lack of edge enhancement, pixelization and shimmering of fine details for a picture that is overall smooth and easy on the eyes. The audio is mono but very nicely cleaned up. "
Serious themes delivered in a charming, entertaining manner
Joseph P. Menta, Jr. | Philadelphia, PA USA | 10/12/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Foreign Correspondent" is like a really good martini: it's elegant, yet crisp, refreshing, and eye opening. It was a pleasure to see it again in this new DVD edition. Further, the 33-minute retrospective documentary that accompanies the movie is among the better of the "making of" pieces that accompany the most recent batch of Hitchcock DVDs, not only because it's longer (most of the others average about 20 minutes), but also because it includes ample home movie footage- much of it in color- of the Hitchcock family around the time of the making of this 40's era film, which is very interesting to see. All around, this is a very entertaining DVD."