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Foreign Correspondent Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

For a film that frequently goes way over the top, Foreign Correspondent is still an exceptional piece of work. It’s very much what you’d expect from a Hitchcock film (international intrigue, questions of identity, and an ordinary man getting caught up in something much bigger than himself), but it contains some amazing set pieces that make the film stand out. These set pieces, as well as some dynamite writing, are good enough to rival anything from the time period, and they elevate the film from very good to unforgettable.

On the eve of WWII, the New York Globe is desperately in need of a foreign correspondent. Its editor (Harry Davenport) doesn’t want any old reporter on the job. He wants someone who’s hungry, someone who won’t be afraid to really go after a story. He chooses Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea), gives him the pseudonym Huntley Haverstock, and sends him off to Europe. His first assignment is to cover Universal Peace Party assembly where a Dutch diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), is being honored. Jones bumps into Van Meer and actually drives with him to the assembly, but for some reason, the Universal Peace Party’s leader, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), announces the guest of honor won’t be coming. Jones is suspicious.

He heads to Amsterdam, where Van Meer is making his next appearance. Shortly after he arrives, however, Van Meer is assassinated right in front of him. He chases the murderer to a windmill in the country, and upon further examination, he discovers that Van Meer is alive—the man killed was a look-alike. Thus begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game, which is made all the more complicated when Jones falls in love with Carol Fisher (Laraine Day), whose father (Stephen, the leader of UPP) might be the mastermind behind everything.

The film’s charm is in its excess. Each scene is more lavish than the last, with the conclusion reaching nearly laughable heights. Yet it all works, strangely enough. Between Jones’ chase of the assassin through the rain and into the windmill to the climactic fight for survival on the way home from Europe, this film is engaging from the first frame to the last.

And it’s never a bad thing when a film’s writing is this good. Because the film was being made while the geopolitical climate was changing drastically, the screenplay is the product of ten different writers (with four receiving official credit). It’s amazing then that it’s even coherent, nevermind that it’s so clever and fun. Jones eventually picks up a sidekick, a fellow journalist played by George Sanders named ffolliott (lowercased in memory of a relative who was murdered), who is a wonderful character to watch. He’s smart, incredibly well-connected, and very fast-talking. The dialogue written for this character is the highlight of a tight and very well-crafted screenplay.

The performances in Foreign Correspondent are also quite good, though besides Sanders, there isn’t any truly memorable work. Albert Bassermann was nominated for an Oscar for his work as Van Meer. I found his work good, definitely entertaining, but probably not Oscar-worthy. The film’s lead, Joel McCrea, isn’t someone I was at all familiar with, but I found him to be perfect for this role. He’s an ordinary man—the type of character Hitchcock loved—but he seems intuitive enough to be able to be able to hold his own against these sinister characters. Laraine Day, on the other hand, seems a bit lost. The love story between Carol and Jones is the film’s weakest subplot, but it isn’t something that drags the proceedings too much.

Foreign Correspondent isn’t usually regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best, but I loved it. Nothing will ever top Psycho in my mind (it’s in my all-time top five), but this one is certainly among my favorite Hitchcock films. Forget the bloated North by Northwest, if you want to see the Master of Suspense really do a spy film, check this one out.

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