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Foreign Correspondent Movie Review

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, Eduardo Ciannelli, Harry Davenport, Martin Kosleck, Frances Carson, Ian Wolfe, Charles Wagenheim, Edward Conrad, Charles Halton, Barbara Pepper, Emory Parnell, Roy Gordon, Gertrude Hoffman, Martin Lamont, Barry Bernard, Holmes Herbert, Leonard Mudie, John Burton

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Albert Basserman), Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Special Effects, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture


Alfred Hitchcock was a busy man in 1940. Just four months after releasing Rebecca, Hitchcock wowed audiences with another film, this time an espionage thriller titled Foreign Correspondent.


Both movies were nominated for Best Picture in 1940 with Rebecca prevailing; however, Foreign Correspondent was arguably the more quintessential choice. Combining humor and suspense, Foreign Correspondent all but predicted where Hitchcock would head in both style and scale, paving the way for movies that would define him as a director, including The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest and The 39 Steps.

Boldly set in 1940 (Hitchcock actually had 10 writers on staff to update and edit the script as the world literally changed during filming), Foreign Correspondent begins in the newsroom of The New York Globe, where reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) is being given the opportunity of a lifetime – to travel to Europe and report back on foreign affairs.


After his editor rechristens him “Huntley Haverstock” – a name befitting of an international crime reporter – Jones heads over to Europe and finds himself smack-dab in the middle of an international spy ring, filled with assassins and double-crossing doppelgangers.


Along the way, Haverstock makes the acquaintance of activist Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) and fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), who guillotined the first letter of his last name as a testament to his family’s connection to Henry VIII. Together, these three players run, dash, and fly through a variety of amazing Hitchcock set-pieces, all in an effort to break down and expose the ring of spies.

In researching this film, I came to realize that most people either thought it was the greatest spy thriller ever made or a shameless exercise in propaganda…generally, I’m finding myself agreeing with the latter. Josef Goebbels himself even called the film, “…a masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries.”

These opinions mostly stem from the ending of the film. The final scene shows Haverstock reciting a nationalistic speech as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays in the background…and it suddenly becomes very clear what this film’s intent is – inspire American audiences to get involved. As Haverstock yells, “Keep those lights on, America. They’re the last lights left on in the world”, the swell of the national anthem increases as the bombs begin to fall around London and the screen cuts to black. It’s that kind of naked, bleeding patriotism that’s only possible during times of war and, not four months after the film’s release, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America was forced to joined in the fight.

That being said, Foreign Correspondent is also remembered for a number of memorable scenes that delivered in size and scope, including a car chase through the small European streets, a large, winding windmill, and a climatic plane crash, all of which were ground-breaking and thrilling for the time.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Special Effects, Foreign Correspondent did not win any; however, it did give birth to the Hitchcock we all know and love – a man who started off as a foreign correspondent himself and would grow to become one of the most well-loved directors in the country that immediately adopted him without a second thought. While this wasn’t one of my favorite Hitchcock films, it’s no doubt an essential addition to his repertoire. It set the stage for better movies to come and created a character Hitchcock would bring to life again and again: an average joe getting caught up in extreme perils in the course of just doing his job.

 


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