Light-hearted, thoroughly Hitchcockian Thriller.
Sometimes Alfred Hitchcock would get hold of a Big Idea and run with it
and the results were usually disappointing -- "Rope," "Spellbound,"
"The Wrong Man." But there's nothing pretentious about "Foreign
Correspondent." There's a secret clause to one of those secret
treaties, and there's a murder or two, the kidnapping and torture of an
old man, and an impending war, but these are ground instead of figure
-- pegs on which to hang an adventure story blended with some comedy
Joel McRae is an ordinary reporter sent to Europe to root out the real
dope behind the winds of war. A Hollander, Mr. Van Meer (Albert
Basserman) is the tender-minded architect of a plan to keep the peace,
and Steven Fisher (Herbert Marshall) is his chief functionary. Other
important characters include Herbert Marshall's naive and trusting
daughter (Laraine Day) and a flippant but right-thinking British
reporter (George Sanders). McRae and Day fall for one another. Sanders
plays a rather important role in the story. And mention must be made of
Robert Benchley too, as Stebbins, McRae's careless and self-indulgent
colleague in London. Edmund Gwenn is a thug hired by the bad guys (that
is, the Germans) to see to it that McRae ceases his meddling,
permanently. Eduardo Cianelli appears as a Nazi thug.
It's not exactly a who-dunnit because we discover half-way through the
movie that Herbert Marshall is a spy working for the other side to
discover the contents of the secret clause in the secret treaty.
Instead, it's a salubrious mixture of Hitchcock set pieces that promote
suspense and generate laughs.
The plot moves from New York to Amsterdam to London and is full of
surprises. Here are some striking incidents. (1) A double for Van Meer
is assassinated on the steps -- shot in the face, in fact, like the
citizen in "Battleship Potyemkin" -- and the killer gets away by
bustling through a crowd of umbrellas. The scene was shot on a
California stage. And why did Hitchcock set it up as he did? Well, he
stated, it's Holland, and what does Holland have but rain, tulips, and
windmills? (2) McRae, Day, and Sanders chase the murderer's car and it
suddenly disappears next to a windmill. McRae pokes around in the
windmill with unexpected results. If you've ever wondered what the
inside of a windmill looks like, this will give you some idea of what
the inside of a windmill looks like inside the head of the art
director, Alexander Golitzen. (3) The Trans-Oceanic clipper crashes
into the sea near the end and you have never seen such panic and such
wild and wind-blown seas.
There isn't space to detail the plot but it isn't, as I say, all that
important anyway, serving mostly as a link between episodes and
sometimes even a little confusing. But everything else is outstandingly
entertaining. Robert Benchley contributed to the dialog. He was a
humorist for the New Yorker for some time and was readily recognizable
to the audience because he had his own series of short subjects that, I
must say, weren't very funny. He made up for it by having the face of a
resigned Humphrey C. Earwicker and a keen ear for absurdist dialog that
was honed at Harvard. During an earnest conversation he's interrupted
by the phone ringing. He picks it up, shouts, "No," and slams it back
down. A few minutes later, there is another ring, and Benchley says,
"No -- tell him it's ridiculous!", and hangs up immediately. No
explanation is ever offered. (It must have appealed to Hitchcock
because it ran parallel to his own sense of whimsy.) Benchley wrote all
his own dialog and most likely contributed some other bon mots. When
Laraine Day rises to give a presentation at a boring meeting, a
luncheon guest leans towards McRae and remarks that "the female of the
speeches is deadlier than the male," but it's almost lost in the
The casting is notable in many ways. Herbert Marshall was familiar to
the audience of the time -- but as a humane, avuncular, sophisticated,
presence in films, not a heavy. Edmund Gwenn, a heartless killer, is so
short and harmless that he was to play Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th
Street." Martin Kosleck, a Jew who managed to escape from Europe, is
introduced as the Nazi goon he was to play for the rest of his movie
career. George Sanders, always reliable, is at the top of his form
here. Albert Basserman, the elderly do-gooder, was nominated for an
Not to be missed if you're looking for an exciting and delightfully
Joel Mcreay Without The Saddle Sores
This is one of the few films you will find with Joel out of the saddle.
It is also a well made film for it's time. Alfred Hitchcock was
rounding into a fully expert film maker when this film was made. This
is also a piece of war propaganda as well.
Nominated for best picture in 1940, the plot makes little sense as it
was re-written several times from a 1935 novel to the point where the
original novel is no longer here but is only a facsimile. It is an
olive branch picture in that it holds out to the viewer a chance for
peace but at the end of the film actually gives it a feel of war
Hitchcock, on loan from Selznick, directs his second American film. The
sets are very impressive in this, particularly the windmill set. The
clipper plane crash is rather crude but effective as a special effects
disaster crashing into the ocean years before George Pal & Irwin Allen
perfected the art of modern special effects.
The actors & actresses do a very credible job. Some of Hitchcock's
trademark camera shots are already here, though a little cruder than in
later films. The stairway shots are here in the windmill & in the
hotel. The touches of comedy he became famous for are here too. The
deceptive murder of a double sequence is here, done on a huge 10 acre
recreation of Holland.
Overall, while not on a par with his later work, this is a solid film.
Hitchcock was happier doing this than working for Selznick & it shows
because he does more experimental work with camera angles here than he
does in his Selznick films of the period. If the script were as good as
Rebecca, this film would be too..