FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

(1940)
With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

Foreign Correspondent     Alfred Hitchcock's second American film was a strong effort that falls just short of classic status owing to a few plodding moments and a couple of rather lackluster leads.  But it's mostly a well-paced tale of intrigue and political assassination, with a couple of classic Hitchcock set-piece scenes involving windmills and airplanes.  Joel McCrea (who once said, "I was never anyone's first choice for a role") does a serviceable if forgettable job in the leading role of the crusading reporter sent to cover the war scene in Europe.  Hitch wanted Gary Cooper for the role, but Cooper declined, thinking the film would be a trifling suspense potboiler.  He spent years regretting his decision.  FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT's success was attributed in part to its timeliness: the Nazis' blitz on London occurred just days before production wrapped, and the event was written into the final scene of the film.  Along with REBECCA, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT was one of two Hitchcock films from 1940 that were nominated for best-picture Oscars.  - JL


     It's got many typical Hitchcock elements - spies, suspense sequences taking place on landmarks, a guy whom nobody believes is telling the truth - but FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT just doesn't have the coherence and tightness of the best Hitchcock thrillers. His genius behind the camera is evident, but Hitchcock would later discover that big chase thrillers like this need big name stars like Cary Grant or James Stewart.  Joel McCrea, a fine actor, is not in that class, and Laraine Day is no Grace Kelly.  The supporting cast, however, is excellent and eclectic ("eclexellent"?), even if you are left wondering what the heck humorist Robert Benchley is doing in a Hitchcock thriller or why a good actor like Edmund Gwenn is mugging like Walter Long in every closeup.  The story is the stuff of evil Nazi spies on the hunt for that elusive piece of McGuffinery stuck inside somebody's head, but these bad guys are so blatantly incompetent, you half expect Chico Marx to show up with Harpo and say "We come-a to catnap the good guy."  However, the setpieces, and there are several, are pulled off with the master's usual panache, and the script is unusually fast-paced and witty even for a Hitchcock film, which is what can be expected with Benchley contributing some of the dialogue.

    Because Hitch made so many superior films similar to this, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT comes off as Mediocre Hitchcock.  Meaning that, despite my criticisms, it is still more fun than Above-Average Just About Anybody. It's just not as fun as THE 39 STEPS or NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  But what is, really? ½ - JB

Alfred Hitchcock     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


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