Thursday, July 1, 2010

1940 - Foreign Correspondent

Life in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania is quiet. That much is certain. While I enjoy that silence in comparison to the unrelenting noise of New York City, it is accompanied by few options in the way of entertainment. Quiet towns, I guess, are quiet specifically because there is not much going on. Not that I want to discourage people from visiting. I hear there's a very fine playhouse here with a couple of very entertaining shows this summer.

In my down time today, I watched another nominee from 1940's Best Picture shortlist...

Foreign Correspondent
Alfred Hitchcock
Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton and Robert Benchley
Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Robert Benchley
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
0 wins

One of two Alfred Hitchcock films nominated for Best Picture in 1940, Foreign Correspondent begins innocently as a drama about New York Globe reporter Johnny Jones (McCrea), whose fresh assignment as a foreign correspondent is to travel to Europe and get the scoop on the impending war. Under the pen name Huntley Haverstock, our intrepid reporter soon becomes embroiled in political intrigue as he witnesses the murder of Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Bassermann) ... or does he? Haverstock uncovers a kidnapping plot at the heart of a larger conspiracy, but establishing it to those around him proves difficult even with the help of British reporter Scott ffolliott (Sanders), who is not at all concerned about his surname's lack of a capital letter. Somehow, during all this excitement, Haverstock also has time to fall in love with peace activist Carol Fisher (Day).

As Foreign Correspondent begins, there is no indication that this is an Alfred Hitchcock film. The opening prologue, written on screen, glorifies the role of the foreign correspondent, leading the audience to believe the ensuing drama will be a realistic portrayal of the sacrifices made by a man living away from home as he attempts to heroically inform the people of his home country of the most important news abroad. And the first twenty minutes or so of the film do well to maintain this charade. Then, suddenly, almost without warning, there is a cold-blooded public murder and our hero becomes involved in chasing the assassin. Throughout the course of the film, he escapes several attempts on his life, as well as surviving a plane crash. While many real-life foreign correspondents might find themselves in dangerous situations, especially in wartime, I suspect there are precious few who have dealt with these kinds of circumstances.

That is not a complaint, by the way. Hitchcock is well-known for surprising his audience, and the political assassination that sparks off the events of the film is enticingly unexpected. The scenes that immediately follow are classic Hitchcock, full of heart-stopping suspense, but the story disappointingly only allows for a few more sequences with that level of tension and, consequently, the picture drags a little in between these moments. The plot is not as simple as it could be and often includes characters making seemingly unjustifiable decisions. Nonetheless, Hitchcock shines when he is given the opportunity. The plane crash sequence is particularly brilliant.

Despite the story flaws, the dialogue is witty and playful, evidenced by an exchange between Haverstock and ffolliott, in which Haverstock informs the other man of Van Meer's death. ffolliott offers a typically British, "Bad show," to which Haverstock replies, "Couldn't be much worse from his point of view."

Joel McCrea as Haverstock is eager and charming. George Sanders plays the British reporter with his usual caustic brilliance. German actor Albert Bassermann delivers a moving performance as Van Meer that earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Spotting Hitchcock's standard cameo is relatively easy in this one. He's on the street reading a paper (pictured) when Haverstock first notices Van Meer. And if I didn't know any better, I could have sworn that was Danny DeVito as the excitable Latvian.

1 comment:

  1. The 1940s began Hitchcock's Hollywood productions. He made 12 films during that decade of which four received Best Picture Nominations (Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion and Spellbound.) I personally would place Foreign Correspondent a the middle or slightly below middle of his 40s output. You pointed out the films deficiencies very well. He also used a competent cast, but with leads that had less star power than Grant, Bergman, Stewart and Kelly would in the future.

    It was interesting seeing Edmund Gwenn, the future Kris Kringle, as an unorthodox hit man. I guess you could call him a pusher, though not in the drug related sense.

    As a suspense/thriller it was occasionally very effective. What maybe was lacking in logic, was made up with Hitchcock's distinctive shots, from the many angles inside the windmill to the escape through a sea of umbrellas.