Title: Foreign Correspondent
Language: English, Dutch, Latvian
Genre: Romance, Thriller, War
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Music: Alfred Newman
Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is the second film of Hitchcock’s one-two punch in 1940, yet its legacy has been mostly eclipsed by the more widely-beloved REBECCA (1940), which usurped a BEST PICTURE win in the Oscar games, while the former is also a BEST PICTURE nominee with a total 6 nominations.
In retrospect, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT may be a lesser compelling romance due to the insipid chemistry from its two leads, but no doubt it is a top-notch spy thriller from the master of suspense, with a trio of upstaging supporting players (Bassermann, Marshall and Sanders), plus its FX are rather cutting-edge at its time, a distinguishing precursor of the similar themed NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), which would arrive nearly 2 decades later.
Johnny Jones (McCrea), under the pen name Huntley Haverstock, is appointed as the new foreign correspondent by New York Globe, arrives in Netherland to get a clear picture of the impending war. Soon he witnesses a staged (fake) assassination of Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Bassermann), whereas the real Van Meer is drugged and kidnapped out of the country. Jones becomes the man who knows too much and is chased by unnamed killers, escaped to London with Carol (Day) to her father Stephen Fisher (Marshall), a leader of a peace party, the romance is budding but viewers will realise Mr. Fisher is a fellow conspirator of the kidnap.
In no time Jones falls upon as a target of a murdering plan, this is where Hitchcock is at his best, however illogical it seems in the script, an unbeknownst Jones visits the Westminster Cathedral tower with his “bodyguard” Rowley (Gwenn), designated by Fisher to dispatch Jones, Hitchcock ingeniously plays with audience’s anticipation of the approaching danger, generates a frisson of thrill combined with priceless gallows humour although we all evidently aware that Jone’s narrow escape is the default upshot.
German stage actor Albert Bassermann is honoured with an Oscar nomination as the upstanding diplomat under interrogation for war information, incredibly is that he doesn’t speak English, all his lines are uttered with phonetic assist, and the final outcome is a heart-rending one, boosted by his self-revealing contempt to the war through the bird-feeding people metaphor, which first time it is casually articulated like an evasive strategy to Jones’ slack pestering, but the second time, under the severe mental torture, its becomes a meaningful and encouraging enlightenment.
Herbert Marshall is on an equal footing in his two-faced suaveness, his aloofness contends to be a requisite for a spy, he knows his undoing is forthcoming, even at his remorseful eleventh hour, he maintains his dignity and doesn’t descend to desperate malignancy. George Sanders, who also stars in REBECCA, brings his usual conceited mien to the role of Scott ffolliott [sic] (the capital letter in his surname was dropped in memory of an executed ancestor), another report who is considerably more sharp-witted in the line of work. All above only makes both McCrea and Day too broad and bland in their gauche leading parts.
A revelational discovery is near the ending, Hitchcock and his crew mounts a totally engaging scenario with plane crush-landing on the sea surface, in light of its time of making, its persistent impact remains surprisingly unabated. So in a nutshell, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT may not be the crème de la crème among Hitcock’s oeuvre, certainly it doesn’t tarnish his reputation either, and fairly speaking, its spy tall-tale is far more engrossing than most of the products in this long-running genre still flourishing today