Foreign Correspondent

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 04/13/05 03:12:06

"Spies were cool even back in the 40's!"
5 stars (Awesome)

It's a fact that tends to get blown over, that before his films became about psycho's and sexual peversions, Alfred Hitchcock was a dab hand at concocting spy yarns and epic capers around Europe. 'The 39 Steps' is probably the best example of this, but 'Foreign Correspondent' is hot on its heels. But not only does it work as a thriller, it's an intriguing look at a film that is a blatant piece of propoganda aimed at getting America to join the war effort.

Joel McRea is Johnny Jones, a reporter who is sent from America to Amsterdam to cover a story. Van Meer, a Dutch diplomat, is heading up a conference to determine just what should be done about Germany and the war. Jones has barely had a chance to talk to Van Meer however, before he's shot right in front of him. As Jones investigates he finds himself involved in an international spy ring with his only help being Van Meer's assistant Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) and her friend Scott ffolliott (George Sanders). Yes, that is how you spell his surname.

It's an additional pleasure to watch a Hitchcock film that is as relatively straightforward as 'Foreign Correspondent'. We have our good guys outlined pretty quickly, and we learn who the bad guys are not long after. This lets Hitchcock get on with what he does best, which is ratchet up the tension several notches at a time, and he does so with a tangible sense of fun. His use of European backgrounds is excellent, with the action swinging quickly from Amsterdam to London briskly, creating a Bond-like atmosphere twenty years before we even knew what a James Bond film was like. His recreation of the Dutch windmills is creepy and is used for a scene that ranks up there with his very best, while the drizzly London is where things start getting very murky indeed and we quickly learn who not to trust.

Hitchcock springs these surprises on us whilst also dazzling us with stylistic sequences directors today would gnaw their right arm off to create. There's the shooting on the steps, the chase to the windmill, Jones' escape from his hotel. A scene like a character climbing out of his bedroom window and crawling across the roof may be a cliche now, but let's not forget: they're only cliches because Hitchcock did them first (or if not first, at their most effective).

'Foreign Correspondent' also has a plane crash scene of stunning confidence and real threat. It may lack the CGI bangs and whistles of 'Cast Away' for example, but the flooding and escape onto the wing has a real threat to it and never looks studio bound. And considering this was back in 1940, that's a pretty damn high compliment.

It moves along at a muscular pace, with total faith in its ability to thrill, while the cast just go along for the ride. McRea is an effective lead, if not the most memorable of Hitchcock's, while the early appearance of George Sanders is a clear indication of how he was destined for a big future.

The ending then, as Jones reports back on what he's seen, is an eye-opening piece of propaganda. A blatant call to arms, it shows that not only is 'Foreign Correspondent' one of Hitchcock's most exciting films and a predecessor of 'North By Northwest', it's also one of THE most important films of the 1940's. Keep those lights burning, America.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.