Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Charles Bennett & Joan Harrison

What an absolutely refreshing viewing to get back into some of these older movies by masters like Alfred Hitchcock. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of newer things and not had the chance to delve back into classic cinema, but the outset of this Hitchcock marathon has given me new life as I am fresh off seeing Foreign Correspondent, a Hitchcock film I’ve seen before but not in some time. It may not be one of the first titles that many film buffs or historians cite when referencing the thriller and suspense master, but I assure you that it is certainly as thrilling, as suspenseful as anything released these days and very clearly shows Hitchcock as a polished director capable of the many masterpieces that followed this film as he continued to work in Hollywood. Absolutely incredible that this is only his second American film after Rebecca. A true master.

It’s the eve of World War II in Europe and Mr. Powers is looking for a better foreign correspondent reporter for the New York Globe, finding Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) to fill the role under the pen name Huntley Haverstock. Right away, Haverstock is enveloped in a massive story as he meets with the head of a peace party named Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), starts to fall in love with his daughter Carol (Laraine Day) and with the help of friend and fellow reporter Scott ffoliott (George Sanders) begins to unravel the conspiracy behind the presumed assassination of a Dutch diplomat named Ven Meer (Albert Bassermann), which happened right in front of his eyes. How deep does the conspiracy run?

This is not a marquee Hitchcock, principally because the cast doesn’t include the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant or Grace Kelly. Instead, we get Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. No slouches, but the lack of star power is obvious. I’ve seen plenty of McCrea before, mostly in westerns, and he is a welcome presence, but certainly has a style. Maybe even Gary Cooper lite, just not quite as charismatic. This brings the film down a little, but thankfully George Sanders is also here. His performance pops off the screen as he brings a lot to the table to enhance the film. But the fact remains that this film still has Alfred Hitchcock at the helm, which is honestly all it really needs.

It helps that noted cinematographer and director Rudolph Mate is also involved in this project. It’s a startling beautiful film to look at in black and white. But while some of the film features lulls, there is content here as good as anything Hitch has ever done. Most notably, the sequence from the steps of a conference where Van Meer is assassinated all the way through an impeccably staged scene at a Dutch windmill is chock full of that classic Hitchcock suspense paired with the incredible visuals of Mate. This is also followed by another stellar sequence where Jones is accompanied by a “bodyguard” (Edmund Gwenn), which leads to an extremely effective suspense scene atop the tower at Westminster Cathedral. These are lasting examples that could be taught in any film history class to defend the mastery of Hitchcock within the genre.

Even now it seems the images from the steps at the conference and the windmill are burned onto my brain, they are that stirring and memorable in both their staging and atmosphere. The sign of a true master. Foreign Correspondent is not without its faults holding it back from being top tier Hitchcock, but it is the type of “mid-level” example of his filmography which makes you realize not just how great he was, but also how productive his career was, spinning out multiple films just like this one which for any other filmmaker would be the best of their careers, but for Hitch, it’s just another great “mid-level” entry. Incredible. Easy recommend for any fan of his more notable films looking to dive a little deeper.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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