Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, et al
Walter Wanger Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
Johnny Jones: All that noise you hear isn’t static – it’s death, coming to London. Yes, they’re coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out, hang on a while – this is a big story, and you’re part of it. It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!
Hitchcock’s other 1940 Academy Award nominee couldn’t be more different than Rebecca or more Hitchcockian.
A newspaper editor is fed up with the analyses he is getting from his foreign correspondents in Europe on the likelihood of war. So he decides to send a crime reporter (Joel McCrea) to get some facts. Johnny Jones doesn’t even know there is a crisis in Europe and seemingly doesn’t care so he seems ideal for the job. Johnny is rechristened Huntley Haverstock for his mission.
He is told to look up Mr. Van Meer (Albert Basserman), an elder statesman, on arrival. Van Meer is slated to speak at a conference organized by the Universal Peace Party run by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall). When he gets to the conference, Van Meer has cancelled but he has the chance to meet and fall for Fisher’s daughter Carol (Laraine Day). Johnny then sets off for Amsterdam to try to buttonhole Van Meer at another meeting only to witness his apparent assassination.
Johnny takes off, with Carol, on the trail of the assassin and catches up with the gang and the kidnapped real Van Meer hiding out in a windmill. The remainder of the story follows Johnny’s attempts to escape the gang and rescue Van Meer, with the assistance of Carol and fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Sanders). It also follows Johnny’s arc from cynic to patriot. With Edmund Gwynn as a murderous “private detective”, Joseph Calleia as a thug, and Robert Benchley as the paper’s actual foreign correspondent.
I am a huge Joel McCrea fan and this is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It is the kind of episodic adventure and thriller that presages something like North by Northwest. As such, it is made up of unforgettable set pieces like the assassination amid the crowd of umbrellas, the strangely behaving windmills, and a spectacular plane crash at sea. The film was made at the same time that Hitler was marching through Europe and the message was updated constantly, through the time McCrea’s impassioned speech to America was tacked on at the end. The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray that I rented contained a couple of interesting talks about World War II Hollywood propaganda and how the special effects were achieved. Recommended.
Foreign Correspondent was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Basserman); Best Writing (Original Screenplay); Best Black-and-White Cinematography; Best Black-and-White Art Direction; and Best Special Effects.