Foreign Correspondent (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Walter Wanger|
|Based on||Personal History
by Vincent Sheean
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Editing by||Dorothy Spencer|
|Studio||Walter Wanger Productions|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||120 minutes|
Foreign Correspondent is a 1940 American spy thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock which tells the story of an American reporter who tries to expose enemy spies in Britain, a series of events involving a continent-wide conspiracy that eventually leads to the events of a fictionalized World War II. It stars Joel McCrea and features Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann and Robert Benchley, along with Edmund Gwenn.
The film was Hitchcock's second Hollywood production since leaving the United Kingdom in 1939 (the first was Rebecca) and had an unusually large number of writers: Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht, James Hilton, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin, Richard Maibaum, and Budd Schulberg, with Bennett, Benchley, Harrison, and Hilton the only writers credited in the finished film. It was based on Vincent Sheean's political memoir Personal History (1935), the rights to which were purchased by producer Walter Wanger for $10,000.
The film was one of two Hitchcock films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941, the other being Rebecca, which went on to win the award. Foreign Correspondent was nominated for six Academy Awards, including one for Albert Bassermann for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win any.
The editor of the New York Globe (Harry Davenport) is concerned about the "crisis" in Europe, the growing power of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the inability of celebrated foreign correspondents in getting answers about whether or not war will ensue. After searching for a good, tough crime reporter for a fresh viewpoint, he appoints Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) as a foreign correspondent, under the pen name "Huntley Haverstock".
The reporter's first assignment is Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), leader of the Universal Peace Party, at an event held by Fisher in honour of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). On the way to the party, Haverstock sees Van Meer entering the car which is to take him to the party, and runs to interview him; Van Meer invites him to ride along. At the party, Haverstock meets Fisher's daughter, Carol (Laraine Day). Van Meer disappears mysteriously. Later, Fisher informs the guests that Van Meer, who was supposed to be the guest of honor, will not be attending the party; instead he will be at a political conference in Amsterdam.
At the conference, Van Meer is shot in front of a large crowd by a man disguised as a photographer. Haverstock commandeers a car to follow the assassin's getaway car. The car he jumps into happens to have in it Carol and Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), another reporter, who explains that the capital letter in his surname was dropped in memory of an executed ancestor. The group follows the assassin to a windmill in the countryside. This scene is flawed because Laraine Day was not available for this location shot, and Carol was played by a substitute. The expected chemistry between Haverstock and Carol is lacking because of this substitution.
While Carol and ffolliott go for help, Haverstock searches the windmill and finds a live Van Meer – the man who was killed was an impostor. The old man is drugged and unable to tell him anything. Haverstock is forced to flee when the kidnappers become aware of him. By the time the police arrive, the villains have escaped with Van Meer in an airplane.
Later, back at Haverstock's hotel room, two spies dressed as policemen arrive to kidnap him. When he suspects who they really are, he escapes out the window and into Carol Fisher's room.
Haverstock and Carol board a British boat to England, and while a furious storm thunders overhead, he proposes to her. In England, the two go to Carol's father's house, where Haverstock sees a man whom he recognizes as one of the men at the windmill. He informs Fisher, but Fisher ignores him, saying that he will send a bodyguard to protect him. However, the bodyguard Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) repeatedly tries to kill Haverstock instead. When the assassin tries to push him off the top of the Westminster Cathedral tower, Haverstock steps aside just in time and Rowley plunges to his death instead.
Haverstock and ffolliott are convinced that Fisher is a traitor, so the two come up with a plan, with Haverstock taking Carol to the countryside, while ffolliott pretends she has been kidnapped to force Fisher to divulge Van Meer's location. However, Haverstock and Carol argue, and she returns to London. Just as Fisher is about to fall for ffolliott's bluff, he hears her car pull up.
Ffolliott follows Fisher to a hotel where Van Meer is being held. Just as Van Meer is being forced to divulge the information the organization wants, ffolliott distracts the interrogators. When Haverstock arrives, Fisher and his bodyguards escape, leaving Van Meer behind. Van Meer is rushed to the hospital in a coma.
In the meantime, England and France have declared war on Germany. Then, while the group are on a Short Empire plane to America, Fisher confesses his deeds to his daughter. Despite this, Carol blames Haverstock for not really loving her and only wanting to pursue her father. He protests that he was just doing his job as a reporter. Seconds later, the plane is shelled by a German destroyer and crashes into the ocean. The survivors perch on the floating wing of the downed plane. Realizing that it cannot support everyone, including his daughter, Fisher sacrifices himself by allowing himself to drown. Jones and ffolliott attempt to save him, but are unsuccessful. Shortly after, they are picked up by an American ship, the Mohican, from which, over the phone and over the objections of the captain who is concerned to maintain American neutrality, they relate their whole story. Later, back in London, Jones and Carol do a radio broadcast to the US, while London is being bombed, warning them about what Germany is doing.
Alfred Hitchcock can be seen when Joel McCrea first spots Van Meer on the street in London; Hitchcock walks past reading a newspaper. Albert Basserman, who plays Van Meer, was German and couldn't speak English, so he had to learn all his lines phonetically. Likewise, one "Dutch" girl speaks Dutch phonetically, though not quite as convincingly.
Producer Walter Wanger bought the rights to journalist Vincent Sheean's memoir Personal History in 1935, but after several adaptations proved unsatisfactory, Wanger allowed the story to stray significantly from the book. It took numerous writers and five years before Wanger had a script he was satisfied with, by which time Hitchcock was in the U.S. under contract with David O. Selznick and available to direct this film on a loan-out. Hitchcock, who enjoyed not working under the usual close scrutiny of Selznick, originally wanted Gary Cooper and Joan Fontaine for the lead roles, but Cooper wasn't interested in doing a thriller at the time, and Selznick would not loan out Fontaine. Later, Cooper admitted to Hitchcock that he'd made a mistake in turning down the film.
Working titles for the film, which began production on 18 March 1940 and initially finished on 5 June, were "Personal History" and "Imposter". Shooting took place at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in West Hollywood, and on location around Los Angeles and Long Beach.
After the film wrapped, Hitchcock visited his native England, and returned on 3 July to report that it was expected there that the Germans would begin bombing London at any time. To accommodate this, Ben Hecht was called in to write the epilogue of the film, the scene in the radio station, which replaced the original end-sequence in which two of the characters discussed the events of the film on a transatlantic seaplane trip. The new ending was filmed on 5 July, presciently foreshadowing the celebrated radio broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow.
One of the sequences in the film that continues to have a strong impact on viewers is the mid-ocean crash of the Empire airplane after it is shot down by a German destroyer. In 1972, in an interview with Dick Cavett, Hitchcock discussed some details of how the scene was created. Footage taken from a stunt plane diving over the ocean was rear projected on rice paper in front of the cockpit set, while behind the rice paper were two chutes connected to large water tanks. The chutes were aimed at the windshield of the cockpit, so that water would break through the rice paper at the right moment, simulating the crash of the plane into the ocean.
Hitchcock's eccentric marriage proposal to his wife Alma was written for this film, for the scene when Haverstock proposes to Carol.
Hitchcock frequently used visual imagery to underscore the dramatic action. When McCrea flees his hotel room and touches the letter 'E' of the neon 'HOTEL' sign, he burns himself and the letters 'E' and 'L' die, appropriately leaving the word 'HOT' and leaving the hotel's name as 'HOT EUROPE', underscoring the film's theme of war in Europe. Also, there is an unmistakable image of Adolf Hitler in the windmill scene. Right after McCrea rescues his coat from the grinding gears, and escapes out the window, he peers back in at the spies. In the right hand corner of the scene, there is a cartoon like image of Adolf Hitler formed by a wood beam and unidentified markings: Hitchcock's subtle, almost subliminal reminder of who the bad guys really represent.
Foreign Correspondent opened on 16 August 1940 in the United States and on 11 October of that year in the U.K. The film, which ends with London being bombed, opened in the U.S. at the dawn of the Battle of Britain, just three days after the Luftwaffe began bombing British coastal airfields in the early Adlerangriff phase of the Battle of Britain, and a week before Germany actually began bombing London on 24 August.
The film did well at the box office, but its high cost meant it incurred a loss of $369,973. It was generally praised by the critics – although some saw it as a glorified B movie. It also attracted attention from at least one professional propagandist: Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who called Foreign Correspondent:
A masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries.
Awards and honors
- Best Picture
- Best Writing, Original Screenplay – Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Albert Bassermann
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-White – Rudolph Maté
- Best Art Direction, Black-and-White – Alexander Golitzen
- Best Effects, Special Effects – Paul Eagler (photographic), Thomas T. Moulton (sound)
- Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p440
- New York: Doubleday, 1935
- TCM Trivia
- TCM Notes
- Stafford, Jeff and Miller, John M. "Foreign Correspondent" (TCM article)
- Foreign Correspondent at the Internet Movie Database
- TCM Overview
- IMDB Filming locations
- "Alfred Hitchcock Geek: "Foreign Correspondent" — A "Masterpiece of Propaganda"". 2010-04-06. Retrieved 2010-10-07. "Hitchcock planted an image of Hitler's profile into this shot of Jones climbing out of the window of a windmill outside Amsterdam. Look in the upper right corner and you'll see the Fuhrer's famous slicked-down hair, eyebrows and mustache."
- Legrand, Catherine; Karney, Robyn (1 May 1995). Chronicle of the cinema. Dorling Kindersley. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-7894-0123-6. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
- Humphries, Patrick (September 1994). The Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Crescent Books. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-517-10292-3. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
- Foreign Correspondent at Rotten Tomatoes
- "The 13th Academy Awards (1941) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
- Allmovie Awards
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Foreign Correspondent (film).|
- Foreign Correspondent at the Internet Movie Database
- Foreign Correspondent at the TCM Movie Database
- Foreign Correspondent at allmovie
- Foreign Correspondent at the Hitchcock Wiki
- Foreign Correspondent at Rotten Tomatoes
- Foreign Correspondent on Academy Award Theater: July 24, 1946