Foreign Correspondent

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Foreign Correspondent is a movie about the outbreak of the second world war, and a couple reporters chasing down a story in the middle of it. It’s probably the closest thing to a political movie that Alfred Hitchcock has ever done, at least it’s the most political of his that I’ve seen. Despite this, there is still plenty of room for fun chases, suspense, and a lot of intrepid reporting.

The main reporter in the film is Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea), a New York City crime reporter turned foreign correspondent at the whim of the newspaper editor. He thinks sending a crime reporter to Europe will spice up the newspaper’s stories, so he gives Jones the pen name of Huntley Haverstock and an expense account and sends him on his way. His mission is to talk to a leader of a peace organization, Van Meer (Albert Basserman). He gets to share a taxi with Van Meer on the way to a banquet he is supposed to be speaking at, but doesn’t get very far with him. Van Meer misses his speech, but Jones is preoccupied by the peace movement’s leader’s daughter Carol Fischer (Laraine Day).

The next day, Jones comes into contact with Van Meer again and tries to ask him some more questions for his story. The problem is Van Meer doesn’t even remember him, which is odd considering they shared a taxi and talked for a while. That’s the least of their problems when a photographer comes up and shoots Van Meer. There was a gun concealed with his camera, and this has to be one of the most surprising Hitchcock murders I’ve ever seen. He gave us no warning that Van Meer would be assassinated, and then hides the gun with the camera and distracts us with Van Meer not remembering Jones so we’re not even focusing on the possibility. I feel like this would never work, but killing someone with the gunshot hidden by the camera’s flashbulb was a really cool effect.

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While fleeing the scene of carnage, Jones meets up with Carol again and another reporter named Ffoliott (George Sanders). They end up in a place out in the country with all of these windmills, and Jones notices that one of them is spinning against the wind. He goes into investigate and guess who he finds? None other than Van Meer, completely alive! The man they killed was a look-a-like, killed to make the world think that an important advocate for peace was assassinated. They didn’t kill the real Van Meer because they want to get some information out of him, specifically the contents of a treaty he helped write. Of course, it’s not terribly important what information he has, because it’s a MacGuffin anyway. We never even get to hear the whole thing, but it doesn’t matter.

So, armed with his new discoveries, Jones sets out to get the police. By the time he, Carol, and Ffoliott get organized and overcome some language barriers, Van Meer and his kidnappers have vanished. Carol, Ffoliott, and the police have some doubts, but Jones sticks to his story. Hitchcock shows us enough suspicions actions  that we stick with it as well. The trail then leads to Carol’s father (Herbert Marshall), which creates a problem between Carol and Jones since they have fallen in love and decided to get married along the way. Ffoliott has apparently been chasing the story for quite some time, so he and Jones team up to break the story wide open.

There are quite a number of fun chase scenes and attempted and actual murders in Foreign Correspondent. When Jones goes to investigate the windmill situation, Hitchcock creates some suspense with Jones’ coat getting caught in the gears of the windmill. Chasing down the story, Jones clearly gets in a lot of people’s way, and they try to do away with him. One night, some guys pretending to be cops force him to flee his hotel room. He does something similar to The 39 Steps train move except with a stationary hotel building instead of a train. He pretends to take a shower and climbs out of his window and into another. The important part about it though is that he knocks out part of the hotel’s sign; before it said “Hotel Europe” but after it says “Hot Europe” signifying both an military escalation in Europe moving closer to the war and also an escalation in Jones’ predicament.

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I was surprised to see an example of torture in this movie; I didn’t realize you could show it back in 1940. It’s not really that graphic, but still. Fischer’s guys shine really bright lights on Van Meer and play really loud jazz music to keep him awake. They also do something unspecified and off camera that I bet was either too graphic to put on film, or just another example of leaving the horrific moment to the audience’s imagination. This fills a dual purpose: it actually makes it scarier in a way and you can’t really censor something like that. Hitchcock simply shows the other people reacting to the torture, while keeping the actual torture a secret.

The last chase I want to mention occurs after this torture scene. Jones actually isn’t present for this, which I though was kind of strange but whatever. We have Ffoliott  to do all of the intrepid reporting, so it’s fine. He’s cooler anyway. Most will probably recognize his voice as the voice of Sher-Khan the tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book. He’s got such an awesome voice, and he’s great in this film as well. Anyway, he manages to beat up like everybody in the room, jumps through a window, and crashes through an awning below to break his fall and deliver the story in one piece. Intrepid reporting for the win!

The only real problem I have with this film is it’s sappy go-America ending. I was going to blame this on Selznick because he’s notorious for messing with people’s films like this, but he actually didn’t produce it so I can’t. I just hope it wasn’t Hitch’s idea. It was totally gratuitous and not attractive. However, it was 1940 and people were into that sort of thing at the time; it’s understandable why. The rest of the film is still really fun, even though it’s not Hitchcock’s normal set up he still manages to make it his.

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“My dear captain, when you’ve been shot down in a British plane by a German destroyer, 300 miles off the coast of England, latitude 45, and have been hanging on to a half-submerged wing for hours, waiting to drown, with half a dozen other stricken human beings, you’re liable to forget you’re a newspaperman for a moment or two!”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

4 responses to “Foreign Correspondent

    • Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s not really nail biting suspense as it is fun adventures in reporting, but they are pretty fun adventures in reporting. I recommend.

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