Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

Hitch makes his cameo appearance as McCrea races by
















FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

 "Politicians aren't generally called upon to do away with their guests, are they?"

As there are gathering storm clouds in Europe, reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) is rechristened "Huntley Haverstock" by his publisher and sent off overseas to find out what he can. Among those he interviews are an important peace proponent, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), and Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), head of the Universal Peace Party, whose group is trying to avert a war. Jones initially comes into conflict with Fisher's daughter, Carol (Loraine Day) but then the two realize a growing affection and more. In the meantime there's an assassination [with a surprisingly bloody close-up], and Van Meer is kidnapped because he knows something about a "secret clause 27" in a treaty [a Hitchcock "McGuffin"]. Foreign Correspondent begins deceptively, almost like a romantic comedy, but it certainly becomes a consistently intriguing and well-directed thrill ride once the action begins. A sequence set in a windmill whose blades are turning in the wrong direction presents almost a textbook case of how to shoot and edit a tense suspense sequence, and is very well photographed by Rudolph Mate. A sequence where Jones has to deal with a hired killer at the top of Westminster Cathedral is also notable [although perhaps Hitch doesn't milk it for as much suspense as he could have]. The scenes with Van Meer being tortured and the reactions of the less bloodthirsty of the bad guys are memorable, and there's a superb climax on a plane that is shot down by a German ship -- this sequence is as thrilling and well-done [better-done] than anything you can see in the cinema today. McCrea and Day are fine; Marshall gives another excellent portrayal of a conflicted man; and there are notable turns by Edmund Gwenn (Them), Marlin Kosleck (The Flesh Eaters), Eduardo Ciannelli, Ian Wolfe, and the ever-wonderful George Sanders. [Gertrude Hoffman is in the plane crash sequence as well.] The picture gets a bit jingoistic -- understandable given the period -- and Alfred Newman's disappointing score only has one longing for Bernard Herrmann. Otherwise, this is a gem.

Verdict: Another Hitchcock masterpiece. ****.

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