Foreign Correspondent – Alfred Hitchcock
Foreign Correspondent has achieved a well-deserved reputation as a mas¬terpiece of suspense and intrigue, and was instrumental in upgrading the reputation of the thriller genre, being nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The fact that the film won in neither category may be due to one significant fault in Hitchcock’s effort: the film is overly long and drags in spots because of diversions in the story line incorporated to promote America’s entry into World War II. The film at¬tempts to merge two levels in an emotional appeal to the viewer. The first, that of the suspenseful cloak-and-dagger chase across Europe, is what Hitch¬cock does best; the second, however, is propaganda advocating an end to American isolation and an entry into World War II, and although Hitchcock Manages a merger of these two themes more successfully than many other directors at the time, the intertwining causes the film to be less taut and more meandering than many of his later masterpieces.
The best reporter in Foreign Correspondent is, unquestionably, the camera. When the diplomat. is assassinated, Hitchcock’s camera is in the right place observing the fallen man’s face; when a man is on the verge of dropping from a tower, the camera follows a hat making the plunge first; as the stricken airplane hurtles to the sea at the film’s climax, the camera peers anxiously from the pilot’s seat, indicating that it too has the reporter’s gift of not revealing everything.
According to a number of sources, Hitchcock ordered several retakes of the wreck of the Clipper because it pleased him to see Joel McCrea and George Sanders floundering in the water, and when McCrea protested that the scene had ruined one of his suits, Hitchcock, who claims to dislike actors, sent him a new one the next day—made for a ten-year-old. In his role, however, McCrea proves both likable and capable. His interpretation of the reporter establishes the man as a credible citizen who, as the film ends, has the audience convinced that he will stride to one journalistic triumph after another. Laraine Day performs solidly in the role of Carol Fisher, her most ambitious part to that date, but Herbert Marshall appears somewhat miscast as the peace advocate who turns out to be a spy. Although he gives a good performance, he is too suave for his character and loses a little credibility. George Sanders, Albert Basserman, and Edward Ciannelli add much to the film, but it is Robert Benchley who carries off the acting honors in his por¬trayal of the broken-down American journalist Stebbins in London. He brought much of his own experience to the role and was specially chosen by Hitchcock, who enjoyed his brand of satiric humor. All of the scenes in which the humorist appeared were, at Hitchcock’s request, written by Benchley himself.