Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cinematographer: Rudolph Maté
Writers: Joan Harrison (screenplay), Charles Bennett (screenplay), James Hilton (Dialogue), Robert Benchley (Dialogue), Ben Hicht (uncredited), Richard Maibaum (uncredited)
Starring: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Basserman
‘Foreign Correspondent’ is Alfred Hitchcock’s most daring and grand project throughout his entire filmography. It’s the same suspense-building, wonderfully shot and acted Hitchcock film, but with a larger focus on the world-building aspect. Foreign Correspondent feels larger than life and the stories impact is massive, not only directly on the character but the world itself. The setup is perfect.
It’s hard to deny Foreign Correspondent as the best in Hitchcock’s lineup. It stays true to all the aspects that make Hitchcock films so compelling, but the extra layer of worldly impact makes this film feel larger than life. The story of an incredible evil that is boiling under the surface of the world in the 1940’s. Discovering this through the eyes of a journalist, and watching the fallout of this information is incredible. This film reaches amazing high-points, and continually adapts and changes to the new, horrifying information.
When I think of the filmmaking in this film, I compare it to Orson Welles ‘Citizen Kane,’ as the grandeur of both films is something to be studied. In the same way Citizen Kane is impactful, Foreign Correspondent is able to build this unbelievable world. An all-encompassing view of this world that still manages to get a deep understanding of each character’s motivations.
The Impact of the Narrative
Now, let’s get specific about the story. A young, ambitious American journalist (Joel McCrae) with an ignorant sense of naivety about the pre-war situation in Europe, stands at the forefront of the declaration of War. Discovering the war out of this lens allows the story to ease in and then completely shock with story developments that counter basically everything we assumed in the first act. The story itself is wonderfully written and taken to another level through Hitchcock’s execution of the most appalling scenes.
In these moments, the film turns from a war-time drama to the sheer horror of war and the adrenaline of those moments rush into you. The plane scene in the third act is a pure adrenaline rush and simply one of the most intense and numbing experiences in a film ever. Same goes for the Van Meer (Albert Basserman) assassination scene, and how that moment comes seemingly out of nowhere.
Arguably the best scene in the film and one that sinks into a pit of pure despair as a politician essentially gives up his soul in favor of power is the Van Meer strangle scene in the last act. It’s horrible to watch and that feeling of actual despair is felt at this moment in the story has an overreaching impact on the entire world. This beckons back to Hitchcock’s natural talent for building overwhelming amounts of suspense in important moments in the narrative.
The handling of the narrative is truly masterclass all the way through. It’s clever scripting with the constant changes the plot sees and how serious a scene can get out of nowhere. It keeps the audience on their toes by subverting expectations. It’s a staple in Hitchcock’s visual style, and it’s his best work in this regard on Foreign Correspondents, even in one of his earliest feature films.
Joel McCrae delivers his career-best performance alongside a strong ensemble all delivering intense performances. Larraine Day’s entrance into the story is the great complicator and her relationship with John Jones and that relation coinciding with her father, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), and his importance to Van Meer. It’s a beautifully complicated dynamic that is explored to a great extent even with the special emphasis on the world leading up the war.
Another hero of this film is Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), who plays a major role in the wildly entertaining third act, comes in as an underhandedly important character, that is crucial to the aforementioned assassination scene. As most of the film is concerned, deception is wrapped into every layer of the filmmaking, and it seeps into these characters. Sander’s character hides in plain sight, as does Mr. Fisher, and so-on-and-so-forth. It’s embedded into the performances too.
One of Hitchcock’s best. The broadening look of the film, the fluid editing style, the importance and impact of the story, and a complexity that intrigues throughout. It’s one of the best films ever made and does just a surreal job of telling this story. It’s a film filled with unforgettable moments and that’s what I’ll remember most.