Foreign Correspondent – Alfred Hitchcock
Unlike many of Hitchcock’s other famous thrillers, Foreign Correspondent features no superstars. Gary Cooper, for example, refused the role of reporter Johnny Jones, and although Joel McCrea was eventually placed in the role and did a solid job, he simply lacked the box-office appeal of a major star such as Cary Grant or James Stewart. The problem was that the “thriller” was held in rather low esteem by 1940 Hollywood, and Hitchcock, who had not yet established himself as the master of suspense, was not able to recruit the big-name actors he desired.
Foreign Correspondent establishes a pattern of suspense and intrigue that would become a hallmark of many of Hitchcock’s American thrillers. Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is a tough, hard-headed crime reporter who is reassigned by his editor to investigate the prospects of an outbreak of hostilities in Europe just prior to the beginning of World War II. He thus becomes a foreign correspondent, and temporarily changes his name to Huntley Hay¬erstock. Arriving in Amsterdam, Jones meets Van Meer (Albert Basser¬man), a Dutch diplomat who has memorized a secret clause in an Allied treaty for his country. Traveling with the diplomat is the head of a pacifist group, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), and his daughter Carol (Laraine Day). Van Meer is to make a speech to the pacifist organization on the opportunities of averting war.
In one of the most memorable scenes of any Hitchcock film, Van Meer appears to be assassinated as he arrives to address the pacifists; the scene occurs in the Amsterdam public square filled with people carrying umbrellas in a pouring rain, and the murderer escapes in a chase beneath the umbrellas, the scene being presented through some excellent camerawork from above. An elaborate drainage system constructed beneath the set carried off the rainwater to maintain some degree of traction for McCrea and the other actors involved in the scene. The murderer is pursued by Johnny Jones into the Dutch countryside. At a windmill, the reporter discovers, the real Van Meer, kidnaped by Nazis who have staged the assassination by murdering a double. The Nazis disappear with their captive while Jones is trying to con¬vince the Dutch police that the diplomat is a prisoner inside the windmill.
Jones searches for Van Meer both in Holland and England with the aid of Carol Fisher, who is slowly falling in love with him. They discover that Carol’s father, who has been masquerading as a pacifist, is in reality an agent for the Nazis and has been instrumental in kidnaping Van Meer and in trying to extract his secret information. Jones and Herbert Ffolliott (George Sanders), an English reporter, rescue the Dutch diplomat, but Fisher escapes with his daughter, who is now confused and disillusioned in her romance with Jones. As war is declared, the Fishers take a plane from England to America only to find that Jones and Ffolliott are also onboard, and as the reporters confront Fisher, the plane, mistaken by a German ship below for an English bomber, is shot down. The survivors attempt to stay afloat upon the wing of the plane while Fisher, realizing that he faces arrest in America, sacrifices his life to save the rest. An American ship approaches, frightening off the German one, and rescues the plane’s passengers. Barred from telephoning their newspa¬pers, Jones and Ffolliott pretend to make a personal call and then reiterate the story to the captain loud enough to be heard by Jones’s editor on the other end of the line. As the film ends, Jones establishes himself as a top foreign correspondent and marries Carol.
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