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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Classic Film Review: Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Foreign Correspondent stars Joel McCrea as John Jones, an American reporter who is sent over to get 'facts' about the impending war in Europe. He is tasked to get an interview with a Dutch diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), but is at first unsuccessful and instead becomes friendly with the head of a peace organisation, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), and his daughter, Carol (Laraine Day). In Amsterdam, trying to obtain another interview with Van Meer, Jones sees the diplomat shot and he gives chase along with Carol and fellow journalist, ffoiliott (George Sanders). What Jones discovers after the chase is that Van Meer is actually alive. But who's behind this conspiracy and can Jones survive long enough to make sense of it?

An early Hitchcock, this is a cracking film. McCrea's quiet yet tough portrayal of Jones makes him a good hero, well coupled with Laraine Day's sassiness as Carol. The last time I saw Day (in Mr Lucky (1943), reviewed here) I enjoyed her as a society girl but not as a love interest. There were some similar problems here though, for the most part, she had more chemistry with McCrea than she had with Cary Grant. Equally, the father-daughter represented between Herbert Marshall and Day is very good. I've seen Marshall in a few things now, most recently Stage Struck (1958, reviewed here) and he's always good value. This role is no exception and I watched all his scenes intently. Also, George Sanders as ffoiliott is outstanding. One revelatory scene sticks in my mind but I can't explain it without ruining a part of the film so I'll just say that he played it perfectly.

Some of the plot twists are predictable to a modern viewer but the last fifteen minutes or so is a spectacular alteration that I certainly didn't see coming. It may seem a little contrived and bizarre but, for me, it rounded off the film nicely and gave the main cast a chance to shine for a final time. Throughout the film is an undercurrent of war propaganda but this only really boils over in the last few minutes as Jones sends a broadcast back home and the American national anthem is played over the credits. Quite clearly a call to arms but it doesn't detract from the excellence of the film as a whole.



I met Mr. McCrea's grandson in OK City at a Western Writers of America awards convention. He told me that the very last scene, in which McCrea gives the stirring "Keep the American end up" speech over the radio, wasactually directed by John Ford, because, for some reason (illness, perhaps) Hitch was unavailable. Since Hitch planned his films so meticulously before actually beginning shooting, there probably wasn't much for Ford to do other than to yell "Action" and "Cut," but it's interesting to think of these 2 legendary filmmakers being collaborators.

CharmedLassie said...

That is a delicious bit of trivia, thanks for sharing it.