Foreign Correspondent – Alfred Hitchcock
Foreign Correspondent, released in 1940, signified a major turning point in director Alfred Hitchcock’s career. Although the film was his second to be made in the United States, it constituted his first experience with a Hollywood-type production. His first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, so retained the style and appearance of the director’s English works that it is difficult to think of it as having been made in Hollywood. Interestingly, this result was not due to any stylistic intention on Hitchcock’s part but was instead a reflection of the subject matter and of the production values aimed for by producer David 0. Selznick.
Selznick had brought Hitchcock to Hollywood in 1940 with an $800,000 contract to make four important pictures. When the first project, Titanic, based upon the story of the doomed luxury liner, had to be temporarily abandoned, the director was given Rebecca, a property which he had earlier attempted to purchase and produce in England. Hitchcock’s second chance to make this film of the Manlier novel was, of course, a major success, earning the Oscar as Best Picture of 1940, but it also proved to Hitchcock that working for Selznick would be a mixed blessing. In England, the director’s creativity had been restrained by small budgetS; in Hollywood, however, he could afford to explore more fully the technical tricks of movie-making and experiment with projects that were not hampered by budgetary limitations. There were, however, limitations imposed by Hollywood that Hitchcock had rarely encountered in England, where he was in almost complete artistic control of his films. In the United States during the 1940’s, however, it was the producer who controlled the creative direction of the project, and his intentions and wishes always superseded those of the director. When the producer was a man like David 0. Selznick, control was imperious and complete. This was the situation with Rebecca, even though the film seems to be a reflection of the Hitchcock style.
Foreign Correspondent, Hitchcock’s second American film, provided him with more artistic freedom than had Rebecca and at the same time afforded the director most of the assets available at a Hollywood studio. Hitchcock had discovered that some other producers were less likely to interfere in his films than was Selznick; thus he endeavored to make additional pictures on loan to other studios. Foreign Correspondent, loosely based upon journalist Vincent Sheean’s autobiography, Personal History, the first of these additional films, was made for Walter Wanger and United Artists. Its budget of oneand-one-half million dollars, which represented the most money with which Hitchcock had ever worked, was principally spent on scenery consisting of a ten-acre Amsterdam public square, a large section of London, a Dutch countryside complete with windmill, and a large transatlantic airplane. These items were planned and constructed by an army of 558 carpenters and technicians. Additionally, fourteen screenwriters worked at various times on the screenplay, and more than 240,000 feet of film were shot and edited to 120 screen minutes. The film displays some of the finest visual design and cinematography evident in any of Hitchcock’s productions, indicating that the director quickly learned the manner in which to make optimum use of a generous budget.