Monday, February 18, 2013

Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon: Foreign Correspondent (1940)


This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon, hosted this week (February 17-22) by members of The Classic Movie Blog AssociationFor participating blogs and the films discussed, click here for more information.  Oh, and for those of you who’ve not seen the movie I’ll discuss…be forewarned there are spoilers.


Frequent visitors to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear are no doubt aware that my viewing of offerings on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ has been somewhat curtailed since my parents and I decided to rent a house together: the ‘rents, as they are affectionately known, don’t quite share my classic movie mania—preferring to while away their hours in front of the TV watching sporting events or “reality” programming featuring very unpleasant individuals conversing with one another in language that is frequently bleeped for cable.  But on occasion, particularly when it’s their bedtime, I am able to steal out into the living room and turn on TCM…since the living room TV is the only set that gets Turner Classic Movies.

It’s been rough this past month, campers.  The channel is hosting its annual 31 Days of Oscar event, and many of the films on the schedule I have no desire to ever watch.  Thursday night (February 14) is a case in point: I had just settled into Count Comfy von Chair around 10 pm and used the remote to access TCM…only to find Gone with the Wind (1939) already in progress.  I have seen GWTW only one time (I agreed in a moment of weakness to watch it with a lady friend of mine, who was cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs about the film) and have no desire to sit through it again because at this point in my life I simply do not have 3 hours and 42 minutes at my disposal to hand out freely.

I was going to be up for a while, so I stuck around for the movie that came on afterward—Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).  (Apparently it was David O. Selznick night.)  I’d already seen Rebecca as well…though in its defense, the movie doesn’t fill me with nearly the amount of revulsion as GWTW (it’s shorter, for one thing).  But as I watched Rebecca, I couldn’t help but feel that I would much rather be watching (something I rectified for this blogathon) the other Hitchcock film that was nominated for Best Picture that same year (and five additional categories as well): Foreign Correspondent (1940).

The year is 1939, with the world on the brink of the Second World War.  Powers (Harry Davenport), the dyspeptic editor of The New York Globe, is frustrated by the lack of information coming out of the European theater, and is disgusted that the paper’s foreign correspondent, the alcoholic Stebbins (Robert Benchley), cables nothing but news of crop failures.  Powers’ idea is to assign a crime journalist to cover Europe, and offers a beat reporter named Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) the assignment.  “Give me an expense account and I’ll cover anything,” responds Jones—though he admits he’ll have to bone up on the crisis first.  Powers tells him to never mind—he wants a fresh perspective on the reporting, and after introducing Jones to Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), the head of an organization known as the Universal Peace Party, sends Jones on his way…but not before giving Jones a new identity in “Huntley Haverstock.”  “’Jones’ will only handicap you,” explains Powers, apparently unaware that “Huntley Haverstock” doesn’t exactly come trippingly off the tongue.

Arriving in London, Jones meets correspondent Stebbins…and also makes the acquaintance of Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), with whom he shares a taxi as both men are on their way to an event sponsored by Fisher’s Universal Peace Party.  Jones is also introduced to Fisher’s daughter Carol (Laraine Day)—though he’s not aware of the father-daughter relationship at their first meet.  Instead, Jones angers Carol by playing the “ugly American,” criticizing their group as being run by “well-meaning amateurs.”  Johnny only learns that Carol is Fisher’s daughter when she must speak in place of Van Meer, who has sent his regrets at having been called away at the last moment.

Jones’ next assignment sends him to Amsterdam to be present at a political conference where Fisher and Van Meer will also be attending.  In fact, Johnny spots Van Meer coming up the stairs outside the building and greets him…but the diplomat doesn’t seem to recognize Johnny or remember that they shared a cab previously in London.  A photographer asks to take Van Meer’s picture, and when the diplomat acquiesces the shutterbug pulls out a concealed gun and shoots Van Meer in the face.  As the assassin makes his escape through a sea of umbrellas, Jones gives chase…and lucks into finding a car to go after the fleeing killer, with Carol as passenger and a fellow newspaperman, Scott ffoilliott (George Sanders) at the wheel.

The trail of the assassin leads to a windmill, and while Scott and Carol go off in search of the police, Johnny investigates inside…and finds Van Meer very much alive and held hostage in an upstairs room.  Van Meer reveals that his assassination was faked because the spies who are holding him captive want to spirit him away and extract a vital piece of information from him.  Jones manages to escape before the villains detect his presence, but by the time Carol and Scott return with the police, the miscreants have disappeared save for a hobo (Martin Kosleck) who says he’s been sleeping inside the windmill all day and saw no one that matches Johnny’s description.

Back in his hotel room, Jones receives a visit from two men who claim to be policemen…but Johnny quickly deduces that they’re working for the people who put the snatch on Van Meer.  He’s able to elude them with the help from a reluctant Carol; the two of them manage to board a ship back to England in the nick of time and during their trip reveal their love for one another.  Carol and Johnny then go to her father’s home to inform him about Van Meer…but Jones recognizes a guest of Fisher’s—introduced as Krug (Eduardo Ciannelli)—as one of the spies from the windmill.  Fisher tells Johnny he’ll handle the situation…and that’s when we learn that Fisher is working in tandem with the spies.  Krug suggests that Fisher employ a thug named Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) to be bodyguard for Johnny—though Rowley’s intent will really be to silence the reporter permanently.  Rowley’s assassination attempt fails when the “bodyguard” falls to his death from atop the tower of Westminster Cathedral.

Nothing ever happens in a Hitchcock film by accident.  As Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) makes his escape from the spies at the windmill, a wooden beam and several markings form a crude caricature of Hitler, as you can see in the space to McCrea's right.
Johnny now knows that Fisher is not whom he claims to be—something that ffoilliott has also been aware of for some time, and Scott suggests they pool their resources to find Van Meer’s whereabouts and expose Fisher by pretending to “kidnap” Carol.  (In actuality, the two men talk her into taking Johnny on a trip to Cambridge.)  Scott’s blackmail attempt fails when Carol returns home unexpectedly, but he’s able to trail Fisher to where the spies are holding Van Meer and has left word with Stebbins to have Johnny follow him when he returns.

The spies are torturing Van Meer to reveal a secret clause from a treaty signed by Holland and Belgium—something Scott is forced to witness when he is captured at gunpoint by underlings working with the spies.  Scott is able to distract the spies before Van Meer can spill the beans, and as Johnny and Stebbins arrive on the scene Fisher and the rest of the spies manage to escape.  Van Meer is alive but in a coma, and he is taken to a hospital while Jones and ffoilliott book passage on a plane that both Fisher are taking to America.

On the plane, ffoilliott gets word that the authorities will be waiting to pick Fisher up once the aircraft lands because Van Meer has regained consciousness and explained the situation to the authorities.  Carol has since learned the truth about her father, but vows to stick by him despite his activities…and Johnny, desperately in love with Carol, is reluctant to see her father arrested because that might put a damper on the wedding and all.  Fortunately for Fisher, he’ll go out a hero despite being a rat—the plane is strafed by a German destroyer, and in order to save the survivors from sinking in the drink he sacrifices himself by jumping off the plane’s wing so that the others may live.  The surviving passengers are picked up by an American ship, the Mohican, and despite orders from the captain (Emory Parnell) Johnny is able to give the story to Powers at the Globe through a bit of chicanery (aided and abetted by ffoilliott).  The film ends with an epilogue in which Johnny and Carol broadcast a patriotic speech to U.S. audiences from a London studio as the city is being shelled by the Germans.

The old maxim of “too many cooks spoil the soup” does not apply to Foreign Correspondent—who employed a passel of scribes to work on the constantly evolving screenplay.  Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison were credited with the final result (and received an Academy Award nomination for their efforts) with additional dialogue by James Hilton and Robert Benchley—but Harold Clurman, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin, Richard Maibaum and Budd Schulberg also contributed to the script, which was based on the memoir Personal History, written by Vincent Sheean.  The final radio studio sequence was written by Ben Hecht and grafted onto the production at the last minute, influenced by Hitchcock’s return from London in July of 1940—where he reported that Germany had plans to bomb the city at any time.  At a time when the major studios were reluctant to tackle the subject of the war in Europe for fear of cheesing off foreign movie markets this last sequence was pretty daring stuff (though it was an independent production financed by Walter Wanger and released through United Artists).

Hitchcock didn’t particularly get along with Wanger, but working on Foreign Correspondent was a breeze compared to his legendary battles with Selznick.  He was fortunate in that the notoriously finicky producer pretty much stayed out of his hair during Hitch’s work on Rebecca (since Selznick was distracted by GWTW) but by the time Correspondent went into production the Master of Suspense was already receiving Selznick’s infamous memos.  Selznick may have been willing to loan out Hitchcock to Wanger but he said no to Sir Alfred when the director wanted Joan Fontaine for the female lead, so Hitch had to make do with Laraine Day, who was best known to movie audiences at the time for her appearances in the Dr. Kildare films as Lew Ayres’ love interest (nurse Molly Lamont).  Hitchcock also ended up casting Joel McCrea as his hero when Gary Cooper turned him down (Coop wasn’t interested in making a spy thriller) but the actor later told the director “I’ve made a huge mistake” in a manner that would have made Gob Bluth proud.

Because of the casting of McCrea and Day as the leads in this film, Foreign Correspondent never really got the respect that most of Hitchcock’s major films received—though the critical reaction was mostly positive, more than a few called the movie a glorified B-film.  I think this does a disservice to the film—I’ve long championed McCrea as one of the most underrated film actors of his generation, with a range that extended everywhere from comedy to westerns…and I think Day is splendid in the film as well, acquitting herself very nicely in her role and demonstrating a rather sweet chemistry with her co-star.  Their celebrated scene on the boat back to London—in which both of them declare their love and intention to marry, prompting McCrea’s character to crack: “Hmm…that cuts down our love scene quite a bit, doesn't it?”—was supposedly inspired by Hitchcock’s real-life proposal to his future bride, Alma Reville.

In addition to McCrea and Day, I think the casting in Correspondent is one of the reasons why I have such an affection for the film…beginning with Herbert Marshall, whose suave and debonair manner makes him one of Hitchcock’s great deceptive villains—the revelation that he is part of the spy ring who’s kidnapped Van Meer comes as quite a shock, even though viewers are kind of tipped off to the fact that there’s something not quite kosher about him by the presence of a rather sinister-looking dog.  In Correspondent, actors frequently play against type: Edmund Gwenn, whom we remember fondly as “Santa Claus” from the beloved Miracle on 34th Street (1947), effectively plays a ruthless assassin.  Both Marshall and Gwenn had worked with Hitch before (Marshall in Murder!; Gwenn in The Skin Game, Waltzes from Vienna and the future The Trouble with Harry) and their performances here stand as two of the best of their careers.

Another great visual moment (in three separate scenes): an establishing shot of Jones' hotel in Holland...

...then a close-up of Johnny's typewriter, announcing to his editor he's "hot on [the] trail"...

...and punctuates this during his escape from the spies in his hotel room by accidentally putting the "E" and "L" out of commission (which also comments that the situation on the continent is indeed "hot").

My favorite character in Foreign Correspondent is the one essayed by George Sanders…and while I’m not saying that Sanders always played villainous sorts throughout his film career (he was the hero in both the Saint and Falcon film series cranked out at RKO) he had a screen persona that can be summed up in just one word: cad.  So even when he gets to be the good guy, he’s still unable to shake that taint of the roué off of him—it’s his Scott ffoilliott who suggests that the way to getting Fisher is by kidnapping his daughter (fighting fire with fire, so to speak).  (When ffoilliott thinks his bluff with Fisher has succeeded…only to learn that the information as to Van Meer’s whereabouts is simply a note that informs him Fisher heard his daughter’s car pulling up—you kind of can’t help but admire Fisher’s cleverness.)  The sequence where ffoilliott infiltrates the spies’ nest is one of the highlights of Sanders’ screen career: “I would gladly relieve the young lady of this embarrassment, but you know how women are with firearms—they have no sense of timing.”

Of course, a few of the actors in the film were cast to do what they do best: Eduardo Ciannelli, already known for playing bad guys (he made a terrific villain in the serial Mysterious Dr. Satan released that same year), is memorably menacing as the thuggish Krug…and Martin Kosleck was already on his way to becoming the silver screen’s go-to Nazi officer.  Robert Benchley, the humorist who was originally hired to write additional dialogue for Correspondent, was drafted into playing comic relief as the alcoholic Stebbins (though he explains to Jones he’s on the wagon, even comically drinking a glass of milk).  Albert Bassermann only has a few scenes as Van Meer but his performance impressed enough of his peers that he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (maybe it was because Bassermann spoke no English, and had to learn his lines phonetically).  Other familiar character faces in the film include Harry Davenport, Charles Halton, Ian Wolfe, Barbara Pepper, Gertrude Hoffman, Holmes Herbert and Emory Parnell (and Joan Leslie plays McCrea’s sister in the scene where his family is giving him the send-off on the boat!).

Foreign Correspondent, like most great Hitchcock films, contains so many unforgettable set pieces: the assassination of the fake Van Meer (and the wonderful effect in which the assassin escapes in a sea of umbrellas), the discovery of the spies in the windmill (the interior of which was designed by William Cameron Menzies, and it looks like something out of a Universal horror film) and the exciting plane crash of the film’s climax, which utilizes deceptively simple special effects but required a special tub for the studio’s water tank to be built to accommodate actor Marshall—he lost a leg in World War I and had difficulty swimming.  (I always make it a habit to watch Marshall in films and am amazed that the actor rarely walks with a limp.)  The cinematography by Rudolph Maté is breathtaking (Maté later became a director himself, helming the likes of D.O.A. and When Worlds Collide), the editing by Dorothy Spencer perfection and Alfred Newman’s film score—which belies the serious nature of the movie with a cheerful bounciness—is first-rate.

During my two years inside the hallowed halls of Marshall University back in the 1980s, I was fortunate to meet Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto—who paid the college a visit in 1983 while he was promoting The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.  Spoto gave a talk at a showing of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but he also met with a few of us Speech Broadcasting geeks to discuss the Master’s work…and I remember telling him how excited I was that I was going to get to see North by Northwest (1959) that weekend, which Marshall’s film committee had also scheduled, along with Rebecca.  Spoto told me he wished he could be there—though he didn’t have much praise for Rebecca, jibing that “it’s a Selznick film.”  This might be why I’ve always preferred Foreign Correspondent—there’s no question that it is steeped in Hitchcock-ness, a slight tweaking of the director’s patented “wrong man” formula (the main character hasn’t been accused of a crime but is doggedly determined to solve a mystery while constantly in motion) that zips along in its two-hour running time with all the ferocity of a cliffhanger serial.  (And yes, because of its six Academy Award nominations, Correspondent will be on TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar schedule—this Thursday, February 21, at 5:45pm.) 

25 comments:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Love Joel McCrea and agree he was underrated. A swell post on a swell film, with nice attention on the terrific supporting players.

KimWilson said...

When I think Hitch, this film does not spring to mind. Still, it is a nice, often overlooked movie. My favorite scene is the sea of umbrellas. Very informative post, Ivan.

Laura said...

My favorite Hitchcock film, and my favorite Sanders film as well. It's wonderful -- so many great set pieces, such wonderful dialogue, so many great actors! Thanks for a wonderful post on this underrated classic.

Best wishes,
Laura

Rick29 said...

Ivan, I recommend that you pass some classic films as reality series so you can get the 'rents hooked on them, too! Like you, I am a fan of the under-appreciated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. It has several incredible set pieces (love the windmills). I think it may have worked even better with another actor in the lead role (yes, I could see Gary Cooper in it). Joel McCrea does fine, but I think he overplays the role just a little. (I am a McCrea fan--he's fabulous in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY). As you pointed out, the supporting cast us great, especially Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn playing against type.

Patti said...

Awesome post, Ivan! I agree with you about Joel McCrea being under-rated. I like him alot...prefer his earlier stuff, of course, since the 50's saw him making the move to only Westerns...and that is not my genre of choice. He was extremely solid in this role, and Laraine Day was as well.

I own this film as part of an 8-volume Hitch collection, but I haven't watched it as much as I've watched the other ones. Not sure why...I guess it just gets overlooked among the other better-known films.

I got a kick out of your intense dislike for GWTW. As I often remark, what works for one, another may find dull and over-rated. While I adore GWTW and consider it my favorite film of the 1930's, I greatly dislike a whole host of movies other people love ("Bringing up Baby" and "His Girl Friday" to name 2), and I mildly dislike other beloved films like "Rear Window." What works for one never works for all.

Oh, I'm lamenting right there with you on the other folks in the house preferring other fare to TCM. Our DVR handles only 2 different channels at a time, and my kids always set their shows up weeks in advance. There have been times I go in to set up a movie, only to get the little blurb that there are already 2 shows being recorded, so I will either have to cancel one of them, or cancel my request. Rarely do I pull the "mom card" and over-ride them, so I have missed more than my share of longed-for movies.

Anyhow, sorry for the long-winded comment. And thanks for such a wonderful, informative post about a great, but under-rated, film.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Kim rapped the podium for attention:

When I think Hitch, this film does not spring to mind.

I think the reason Foreign Correspondent gets lost in the shuffle of Hitchcock films is because it doesn't have the thematic richness of many of his works (Vertigo, etc.); it's light and airy, but so is a good souffle. I'm pretty sure my lifelong love of serials is the reason why I have such an affinity for the movie.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Laura cleared her throat:

My favorite Hitchcock film, and my favorite Sanders film as well.

My favorite Hitch is still North by Northwest but I am in complete agreement with you that this is my favorite Sanders film. His "What? Me worry?" demeanor in this one is just sensational. I don't want to sell George short on the subject of Rebecca, however - he's my favorite part of that film, too (particularly when he refers to Dame Judith Anderson's character as "Danny").

I should also add that I do my mother a disservice by lumping her in with my father when it comes to television viewing habits: she can appreciate a classic movie from time to time. She said to me on Saturday, when I noticed Northwest was on the schedule, "I finally saw all of North by Northwest the last time it was on TCM...I can see why you love that movie so much!"

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Rick put in his two cents:

I think it may have worked even better with another actor in the lead role (yes, I could see Gary Cooper in it). Joel McCrea does fine, but I think he overplays the role just a little. (I am a McCrea fan--he's fabulous in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY).

I can see Gary Cooper in the part. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it as much, but the role would have definitely been him.

My favorite McCrea film is Stars in My Crown, but Ride the High Country is one of those movies that I have to watch till the end if I come across it while channel surfing. ("All I want to do is enter my house justified." I love that line.) I still maintain that it's Peckinpah's best movie, even as I can watch Wild Bunch patrons lining up outside the blog with torches and pitchforks.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Patti asked for the floor:

Oh, I'm lamenting right there with you on the other folks in the house preferring other fare to TCM.

My mom isn't as bad as my dad when it comes to the television - she loves the old Universal horror movies, and is gaga for a 1930s Warner Bros. flick (particularly if it's a Cagney, Bogie or Eddie G. film) but she's a bit of an enabler in that while his choice of programming gets on her last nerve, she refuses to say anything along the lines of "Turn that crap off."

My father has become quite curmudgeonly over the years. When I was on my own, my TV was welded to TCM but he's the type of person who can sit for hours watching a 24-hour news channel. (Last night, he was talking on the phone to his brother and closed the call by telling him he had to get some shuteye...then went back to watching some show on Chicago sex crimes, which I found amusing).

But you might find some solidarity with Pop in that on the occasions when I do wrest away the remote from him to watch a movie he will invariably comment as the closing credits roll: "Well...it's not as good as Gone with the Wind." (I don't think he's ever seen GWTW - he just does that to bug me.)

Kevin Deany said...

I like this one too, though admittedly it has been awhile since I've seen it. I remember always getting a kick out the scene - I think it's after the assassination attempt- where Day and McCrea hop into a car that George Sanders is driving. They tell him to pursue the other car, and he nonchalantly accepts it, like this happens every day.

George Sanders rules, obviously, and I was always sorry Hitchcock didn't use him later on in their careers.

R. D. Finch said...

Ivan, you said so many things I agree with that I don't know where to start, but I'll pick a few. It's good to see so much love for this film. For me it's one of Hitchcock's three best films of the 40s, along with "Rebecca" and "Notorious." He made some other excellent films in that decade (as well as some less interesting ones), but for me none of them (not even his own favorite, "Shadow of a Doubt") is as good as those three.

It's also good to see the love for Joel McCrea. He IS an underappreciated actor, maybe because he concealed his technique so well that he hardly seemed to be acting. The cast has so many outstanding actors. I'd forgotten how many until reading your post! I do find it strange that Albert Basserman got the Oscar nomination for supporting actor, with such great work by George Sanders and especially Herbert Marshall.

I recall seeing the Dick Cavett interview with Hitchcock, who told Cavett he was disappointed that nobody ever asked him how he achieved all the special technical things he did in those famous set pieces. When Cavett asked for an example, he cited the plane crash in "Foreign Correspondant." This is one of my very favorite of his special scenes, and it was fascinating to hear him describe how he achieved such realism in it.

It's great that of all Hitchcock's films of the 40s, you picked this gem to write about.

DorianTB said...

Hey, Ivan, Dor here: I totally enjoyed your affectionate, painstakingly-detailed post about Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (FC)! While NORTH BY NORTHWEST is my favorite Hitchcock movie of all time, I'm also fond of FC, because I enjoy the cast, from George Sanders' ffolliott to Edmund Gwenn bad guys like Edmund Gwenn (who actually played Kris Kringle, not Santa Claus, but I'm picky that way, so don't take it personally! :-)) I also thought Joel McCrea and Laraine Day made a likable couple. The set pieces still stay with me, and the final scene always leaves me a lot to think about even though I've seen FC many times, because war always seems to be with us one way or another, so we can't take our freedoms for granted. Great post, Ivan!

Caftan Woman said...

While in high school my daughter used the "fanatics" speech as the basis for an essay for a history class. She aced it.

She also uses "Foreign Correspondent" to interest her friends in classic movies.

The umbrellas, the windmills, the plane crash and Joel McCrea - my idea of a good time.

FlickChick said...

Whoa - great post! I agree that the casting is positively endearing. While all were not the tip top of the ladder, they were all unique and wonderful and hold a special place in the heart of the audience. Excellent review and good luck on the TCM front.

Page said...

Ivies,
Thanks for sitting through my favorite film, Rebecca then stopping short of ripping it a new one.

Also, thanks for taking the time to do the Blogathon. With your even busier schedule lately, I was afraid you wouldn't be able to participate.

I was just okay with FC. But then again I've never been accused of having discerning taste when it comes to classic cinema or Hitchcock for that matter. (I hated Notorious!) Most likely because I'm not a fan of Ingrid. Now, Laraine Day on the other hand. I'm a fan and even dressed down I can watch her films all day. She was a naturally beautiful actress. (I know. How superficial of me!)

The films plot and with such great performances by McCrea, Day and Marshall, it's no surprise that it was up for an Oscar alongside, Hitch's darling, Rebecca. I think if Rebecca had been released later or earlier, FC would have taken home the gold.

Your honest and well thought out reviews with your wonderful sense of humor thrown in are always a treat.

The perfect contribution to the Blogathon. Looking forward to what you have up your sleeve next.

See ya soon, Ives!
Page

Yvette said...

Enjoyed reading this, Ivan. A terrific break-down of an often forgotten Hitchcock classic.

I loved George Sanders as well AND Herbert Marshall (an actor who occasionally left me cold) in this. And I'd forgotten that Edmund Gwenn plays an assassin.

Truth is, I haven't seen FC in a while.
And I will tell you why: I just don't find Joel McCrea very endearing or creditable as the hero and Laraine Day's charms are lost on me in this one. Though I loved her in MR. LUCKY with Cary Grant.

Other than that, I love the screenplay and the assassination scene with the umbrellas. If the film had had different stars at the helm, I think it might have been even more of a classic.

At any rate, I must differ with you on GWTW. I'm with Patti. Though I will admit that I've never seen it more than twice. As you say, it IS quite a chunk of time.

Dawn Sample said...

Wonderful post, I love this film and in my opinion, you could not ask for a better cast. I thought the settings were beautiful. It has everything I look for in a Hitchcock film: action, suspense and humor.

Good luck with the remote. I enjoy watching my movies early in the morning..

Scott said...

Terrific review Ivan, and as always with your stuff, I want to immediately rush out and revisit the film if I've seen it, or discover it if I haven't. (This holds true for pretty much everything in your oeuvre except MAYBERRY RFD).

Having said that, I don't actually agree that Joel McCrea was underrated; I think he's fairly judged to be a Slightly Better Than Average Utility Actor. Comedy? No problem? Drama? Bring it. Western? Please -- hand me that neckerchief. He had a range and within it he could handle just about anything, but there wasn't any one thing he did better than any other actor. He wasn't transcendent or singular -- he was just good. And there's nothing wrong with being good at your job.

Hell, even Pauline Kael acknowledged his smooth competence in 5001 Nights at the Movies when she wrote of his performance in The More The Merrier that McCrea "makes it all look easy; he’s casually sophisticated, and as usual, he serves his co-stars, gets his laughs, and never hogs attention.”

Jim Doherty said...

I had the pleasure of meeting Jole McCrea's grandson at a Western Writers of America Spur Awards event held at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in OK City, OK.

He told me that the final scene, with McCrea and Day broadcasting during a bomb attack on London, was actually directed, not by Hitch, but by John Ford, who was doing Hitch a favor.

I forget why Hitch was unavailable that day. I do recall thinking, at the time Mr. McCrea shared this, that the scene seemed a lot more like something Ford would have done that Hitchcock

Classicfilmboy said...

I have always loved this film and am glad you are giving it a proper analysis. I agree that Joel McCrea is underrated as an actor, and I think he's perfect for the lead here. Hitchcock, as you mentioned, created many memorable scenes and used his cast extremely well. Glad you selected this film.

The Lady Eve said...

Ivan, Great write-up on a favorite underrated Hitchcock. As you mention, memorable set pieces and outstanding cast. McCrea is perfect in the lead (trying to picture Cooper as Johnny Jones/Huntley Haverstock and don't like what I see), plus Sanders, Benchley, Gwenn, Marshall, Bassermann, Davenport, (also thought the Great Dane who portrayed Marshall's dog was very fine in a small role). You've put me in the mood to watch it one more time.

Toby O'B said...

What a treat to find that one of my fave bloggers chose my fave Hitchcock movie as his topic! I only discovered FC a few years ago, but made sure that I catch it every time it's on - even though I also bought a copy right after seeing it.

It's a rough little film, not as polished as others in Hitchcock's collection, but I think that adds to its charm. And I don't think the presence of Gary Cooper would have improved it any - in fact, he would have taken me right out of that world as I would have always been thinking "This is Gary Cooper." Whereas with McCrea, I totally bought into him being Haverstock/Jones. (The same with Laraine Day.)

The selling point for me is Scott ffolliot - the dialogue and its wonderful delivery by Sanders. I would have loved to sit through a spin-off of his adventures. And Marshall caught the dual-edged nature of Fisher expertly.

My only quibble would be Rowley and that's only because it's a family name (My mother's mother's side) and they mispronounce it as Roley. But when Gwenn is playing the role, how could I protest too strongly?

And now, thanks to you and several of your commenters, I've learned more about the movie. Thanks to all who chimed in!

Java Bean Rush said...

Love your personal and hilarious introduction!
I might have caught part of this film once. I'm just now catching up on Joel McCrea movies.

Cheers,
Java

ClassicBecky said...

Late as usual, Ivan -- although I was named after "Rebecca", I think that Foreign Correspondent is better Hitchcock than that one. Joel McCrea was a good actor -- I've never been much of a western fan, and so much of his work was in that genre -- but his talent is not in question. He was just right for this role. I am a definite cad-lover when it comes to George Sanders -- his presence in a movie makes it essential that I watch it! Your take on Herbert Marshall was right on -- who would expect him to be such a villain? Loved your review and technique in doing it!

Jessica P. said...

You did a wonderful job (as always) reviewing one of Hitchcock's most underrated films.
Laraine Day and Joel McCrea are two of my favorites and they are wonderful in this film.
Foreign Corespondent is one of my favorite Hitchcock films (I always fancied my journalism career would be like McCrea's) and there are so many things to love about it.
Excellent review!