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Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent(1940)

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

SYNOPSIS

American newspaper publisher Mr. Powers is frustrated that his overseas correspondents are unable to uncover compelling stories about the impending war in Europe. He taps Johnny Jones, an impetuous and politically naive crime reporter, to travel to the Continent in search of good copy. Powers renames Jones as "Huntley Haverstock" and introduces him to his guide, peace activist Stephen Fisher. As a starting point, Jones is also assigned to get an interview with Van Meer, a Dutch diplomat who holds the key to a secret clause in a treaty between the Dutch and the Belgians. In London, Jones meets and falls for Fisher's daughter Carol, and touches base with one of his correspondent peers, the genial but hard-drinking Stebbins. Arriving in Holland, Jones witnesses the apparent assassination of Van Meer in a crowded, rain-soaked square, and upon seeing the fleeing gunman, he gives chase. As Carol and her friend Scott ffolliott follow other leads, Jones discovers Van Meer, kidnapped and held captive in a windmill. Jones has stumbled onto a ring of spies operating on Dutch and English soil, determined to disrupt the peace conference Mr. Fisher has arranged and get the upper hand in the outbreak of war by forcing secrets from Van Meer.

Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, (uncredited), Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht (uncredited), James Hilton, John Howard Lawson (uncredited), John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Richard Maibaum, Budd Schulberg (uncredited), Based on the book Personal History by Vincent Sheean
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
Costume Design: I. Magnin
Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Scott ffolliott), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Albert Bassermann (Van Meer), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Eduardo Ciannelli (Mr. Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Harry Davenport (Mr. Powers), Ian Wolfe (Stiles), Barbara Pepper (Dorine).
BW-120m.

Why FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is Essential

Following the enormous success of his first American movie, Rebecca (1940), Alfred Hitchcock made his next film, Foreign Correspondent (1940), on loan-out to independent producer Walter Wanger, for distribution through United Artists. For this political thriller, Hitchcock was able to sum up themes and techniques culled from his earlier British films, such as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). To work the script into shape, Hitchcock and Wanger brought in a total of fourteen writers, yet the final vision is undoubtedly the director's. Several scenes prove to be textbook examples of the Hitchcock technique; in one, an assassination occurs in a crowd of people holding umbrellas, in another purely visual scene the turning of a windmill reveals an important clue to the film's mystery. Perhaps the most famous scene in Foreign Correspondent is a frightening and spectacular plane crash that still packs a punch today. Aiding Hitchcock in his visualization on the film were atmospheric set designs by the brilliant William Cameron Menzies.

By early 1940, Europe was being divided and decimated by the Nazis but the official U.S. policy was still one of strict neutrality. Despite the fact that the British government urged their most famous native, Alfred Hitchcock, to remain in America during this time, the director desperately wanted to contribute to the British war effort so he sought out a property that would allow him to make a pro-Britain statement. The subsequent production, Foreign Correspondent (1940), is the story of an American correspondent (Joel McCrea) in Europe who becomes committed to the fight against fascism during his investigation of a kidnapped Dutch diplomat, a situation that requires him to travel from London to Holland.

The source for Foreign Correspondent was Personal History, Vincent Sheean's autobiographical account of the growing political turmoil in Europe. Producer Walter Wanger had recently purchased the book for $10,000 and Hitchcock hired Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, both previous screenplay collaborators of his, to mold the material into a workable screenplay. When they were finished, very little remained from the original book with the exception of the opening scene in Holland. Ironically, even the completed screenplay of Bennett and Harrison was drastically altered with Hitchcock bringing in many writers (including Robert Benchley and novelist James Hilton) before he arrived at a final version. Foreign Correspondent was an enjoyable production for Hitchcock because of his loan-out arrangement with Walter Wanger; he was given free reign and not under the close scrutiny and autocratic rule of his regular employer, studio chief David O. Selznick. Huge creative differences existed between Hitchcock and Selznick and the director would later get his revenge on the producer with an in-joke in Rear Window (1954); The murder suspect (Raymond Burr) in that thriller bore a startling resemblance to the heavy set mogul.

Originally, Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper for the title role in Foreign Correspondent with Joan Fontaine as his leading lady but eventually settled for Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. Although some critics viewed the film as a glorified B-movie after the lush production values of Hitchcock's Selznick films, Foreign Correspondent actually cost more to produce than Rebecca (1940), partly due to some very elaborate special effects. Foreign Correspondent was enjoyed equally by the critics and the public and garnered five Oscar® nominations including Best Supporting Actor (Albert Bassermann), Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Hitchcock was also nominated for Best Director that year - for Rebecca.

by Jeff Stafford and John M. Miller

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Following the over-budget and over-schedule shooting of Foreign Correspondent, both Hitchcock and the holder of his contract, David O. Selznick, were anxious that the director should turn out a film quickly and cheaply to prove to Hollywood that he was an accomplished professional. Partially as a favor to his friend Carole Lombard, Hitchcock directed the screwball comedy Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941) at RKO Radio Pictures. A week into the shooting of the picture, Selznick's right-hand man Daniel T. O'Shea wrote to Selznick that Hitchcock was keeping on budget "...in order to demonstrate to the world after Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent that he is not only a great director but a reasonably priced one." The Lombard comedy came in on schedule and only slightly over budget.

After making only two films in America, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent (both 1940), Alfred Hitchcock became one of the most publicly recognized movie directors. RKO commissioned a Gallup poll in October, 1940 which asked a cross-section of the population to identify four directors and their movies: Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Lewis Milestone. Hitchcock came in second to Capra, but the name-recognition for the British director was four times that of Ford and eight times that of Milestone.

While Hitchcock's anti-fascist message is evident throughout Foreign Correspondent, it was later reported that Nazi official Joseph Goebbels found the film very entertaining.

Following completion of Foreign Correspondent, and as a favor to producer Walter Wanger, Hitchcock shot a few additional scenes for the film The House across the Bay (1940), which had been directed by Archie Mayo. The scenes involved actors Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett on a plane; Wanger thought Hitchcock would be ideal for the scenes following the airplane sequence he had completed on Foreign Correspondent.

Working with humorist Robert Benchley on Foreign Correspondent may have given Alfred Hitchcock ideas about the future persona the director would take on in his television career. As John Russell Taylor wrote in his biography, Hitch, "[Hitchcock] had seen several of the shorts the woebegone, disenchanted comic had made, illustrated lectures by himself on such subjects as How to Sleep, A Night at the Movies, and The Sex Life of the Polyp, and had appreciated a dry, grotesque sense of humour not unlike his own. Years later hew was to remember the tone and format when devising his own famous introductory monologues for Alfred Hitchcock Presents on television."

by John M. Miller

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Oscar®-nominated supporting actor Albert Bassermann had migrated from European films to Hollywood features beginning in 1938. His director friend Ernst Lubitsch had encouraged the move, and Bassermann had already appeared in the Warner Bros. film Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940) before acting in Foreign Correspondent. What makes these roles remarkable is the fact that Bassermann could not speak English, and was reciting his lines phonetically!

Alfred Hitchcock's traditional director cameo in Foreign Correspondent occurs roughly thirteen minutes into the film, during the scene in which Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) leaves his hotel and notices Van Meer (Albert Bassermann) getting into a waiting car. Hitchcock is seen walking on the street (actually in front of a process screen) in a hat and coat, reading a newspaper.

Alfred Hitchcock made Foreign Correspondent on loan-out from his regular employer, David O. Selznick. The producers contemplated a twelve-week schedule from start to finish, but the assignment ultimately lasted thirty weeks. This gave Selznick a gross profit of $54,000 - just for loaning out his contract director. Hitchcock fumed at the disparity, and stalled on accepting any new assignments on loan-out - that is, until Selznick gave the director a $5,000 bonus from the Wanger deal. Hitchcock still rankled, though, privately referring to the payment as a contribution to the "Fund for Starving Hitchcocks."

Owing to the wartime themes, it was several years after the end of WWII before Foreign Correspondent was shown in Germany. Demand for Hitchcock product was strong following the release of Psycho (1960), so in 1960 the movie was distributed by Constantin Film in West Germany. Even so, a full 22 minutes were cut. The uncut version of Foreign Correspondent was not officially shown in Germany until 1995.

B>Foreign Correspondent co-screenwriter Charles Bennett had a long career as an actor, playwright and primarily, a screenwriter. After his play Blackmail was adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1929, he began his long relationship with the director which included the adaptation for The 39 Steps (1935) and the screenplays for Secret Agent (1936), Sabotage (1936), and Young and Innocent (1937). He collaborated with Cecil B. DeMille on the films Unconquered (1947), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), and Reap the Wild Wind (1942). Bennett wrote the screenplay for the highly regarded thriller Night of the Demon (1957), directed by Jacques Tourneur, and closed out his career with an almost exclusive relationship with future "disaster movie" producer Irwin Allen, writing such films as The Story of Mankind (1957), The Lost World (1960), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961).

Foreign Correspondent co-screenwriter Joan Harrison began a long career in the film industry when she was hired as Alfred Hitchcock's secretary in 1933. Soon she became a "reader," searching through books and other properties for suitable screen material, writing synopses, and also contributing to scripts. Harrison worked as Hitchcock's assistant when he arrived in Hollywood, and contributed to the screenplays of Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Saboteur (1942). Harrison was hired as a producer at Universal Pictures and RKO, and was responsible for such films as Phantom Lady (1944), They Won't Believe Me, and Ride the Pink Horse (both 1947). As a result, she was one of only three women to work as a major studio producer during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She later rejoined her mentor and produced the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955 to 1962.

Famous Quotes from FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport): I could get more news out of Europe looking at a crystal ball.

Mr. Powers: How would you like to cover the biggest story in the world today?
Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea): Give me an expense account and I'll cover anything.

Mr. Powers: You don't mind being Huntley Haverstock, do you?
Johnny Jones: A rose by any name, sir...
Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall): It's really very exciting being present at the christening of an American newspaper correspondent. Shouldn't we break a bottle of champagne or something over him?

Stebbins (Robert Benchley): Scotch and soda and a glass of milk.
Johnny Jones: A glass of milk?
Stebbins: Yes, I'm on the wagon. I went to the doctor today to see about these jitters I've got and he said it was the wagon for a month or a whole new set of organs. I can't afford a whole new set of organs.

Carol Fisher (Laraine Day): I think the world has been run long enough by the well-meaning professionals. We might give the amateurs a chance now.

Scott ffolliott (George Sanders): Who's he shot?
Johnny Jones: Van Meer. Assassinated.
ffolliott: Dead?
Johnny Jones: Looked like it.
ffolliott: Bad show.
Johnny Jones: Couldn't be much worse from his point of view.

Carol Fisher: Oh, I forgot, this is Scott ffolliott. Newspaperman - same as you. Foreign correspondent. Mr. Haverstock, Mr. ffolliott.
ffolliott: With a double-f...
Johnny Jones: How do you do?
ffolliott: How do you do.
Johnny Jones: I don't get the double-f.
ffolliott: At the beginning, old boy - and they're both small 'f's.
Johnny Jones: They can't be at the beginning.
ffolliott: One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII, and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion.

Carol Fisher: Mr. Haverstock, don't you think you've been talking through your hat long enough?
Johnny Jones: But I'm not talking through my hat. I've thrown a monkey wrench into some international dirty business, whatever it is - I know Van Meer's alive - that's the reason they want to kill me.
Carol Fisher: I can think of others.

Johnny Jones: You see, I love you, and I want to marry you.
Carol Fisher: I love you, and I want to marry you.
Johnny Jones: Well, that cuts down our love scene quite a bit, doesn't it?

Stephen Fisher: These people are criminals, more dangerous than your rumrunners and house breakers. They're fanatics. They combine a mad love of country with an equally mad indifference to life. Their own as well as others. They're cunning, unscrupulous, and... inspired.

Johnny Jones: (to Carol) If you knew how much I loved you, you'd faint.

Johnny Jones: I'm all mixed up. I'm in love with a girl, and I'm going to help hang her father.

Johnny Jones: I came 4,000 miles to get a story. I get shot at like a duck in a shooting gallery, I get pushed off buildings, I get the story, and then I've got to shut up!

Captain (Martin Lamont): Mr. Haverstock, I want a talk with you.
Johnny Jones: Yes sir?
Captain: I just found out you're a newspaperman.
Johnny Jones: I guess that's right.
Captain: Oh, it is, eh? Why didn't you tell me that when I questioned you? You lied to me, sir!
Johnny Jones: (surreptitiously filing his story to his editor over the telephone) My dear captain, when you've been shot down in a British plane by a German destroyer, 300 miles off the coast of England -latitude 45- and have been hanging on to a half-submerged wing for hours, waiting to drown, with half a dozen other stricken human beings, you're liable to forget you're a newspaperman for a moment or two!

Johnny Jones (Broadcasting from London): Hello, America. I've been watching a part of the world being blown to pieces. A part of the world as nice as Vermont, and Ohio, and Virginia, and California, and Illinois lies ripped up and bleeding like a steer in a slaughterhouse, and I've seen things that make the history of the savages read like Pollyanna legends. I've seen women... (bombs are heard)
Radio Announcer (John Burton): It's a raid; we shall have to postpone the broadcast.
Johnny Jones: Oh, postpone, nothing! Let's go on as long as we can.
Announcer: Madam, we have a shelter downstairs.
Johnny Jones: How about it, Carol?
Carol Fisher: They're listening in America, Johnny.
Johnny Jones: Okay, we'll tell 'em, then. I can't read the rest of the speech I had, because the lights have gone out, so I'll just have to talk off the cuff. All that noise you hear isn't static - it's death, coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don't tune me out, hang on a while - this is a big story, and you're part of it. It's too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come... It's as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they're the only lights left in the world!

Compiled by John M. Miller

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Although his first American film, Rebecca (1940), was an enormous popular and critical success, Alfred Hitchcock was anxious to veer away from the lush approach of that film and make a more briskly paced vehicle in the style of his earlier British suspense pictures. He also found the close supervision of David O. Selznick stifling, and was thrilled that Selznick was equally anxious to loan out his new star director to another studio. Finally, Hitchcock was looking for a way to help the British war effort, indirectly if not directly. Independent producer Walter Wanger had been in development on a project for years which would prove to be a timely outlet for Hitchcock's interests. The producer had the film rights to a best-selling memoir, Personal History, by Vincent Sheean. Wanger paid $10,000 for the 1936 book. John Russell Taylor described the property in his biography, Hitch: "The background to the book, that of a politically conscious correspondent in disastrously unsettled Europe, with a major war looming, was appealing and dramatic. Unfortunately there was no foreground in sharp focus - no coherent narrative, no telling characters, no specific incidents that lent themselves to filming."

Wanger was unsatisfied with the preproduction he had already put into Personal History. Initially, the setting was to be the Spanish Civil War, and Wanger intended the film to be directed by William Dieterle, with the stars Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert. Screenwriter John Howard Lawson got this initial assignment, but Wanger brought in more writers to flesh out his work, including John Meehan and John Lay, writers from the March of Time newsreel series. Wanger was determined to keep the political angle on his film as up-to-date as possible, but this proved difficult since events were rapidly changing in Europe. The war in Spain ended in 1939, so Wanger was forced to rethink the property. He focused on hiring Hitchcock after the director completed his first American film, and he agreed to David O. Selznick's stiff weekly fee of $7,500 for Hitchcock's services. (Selznick paid Hitchcock $2,500 a week, giving the mogul a profit of $5,000 a week). The producers anticipated a 12-week schedule for the film, three or four weeks for script development, and eight or nine weeks of shooting; these estimates would prove to be quite optimistic.

After he signed on to Wanger's project, Hitchcock hired two trusted writers he had worked with in the past, Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison. As was typical with Hitchcock, he let the setting help dictate the actions of the characters; he also thought in terms of "set pieces." Years later, during an interview with French director Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock admitted that the whole film grew from a few visual ideas of his own, "We started out with the idea of the windmill sequence and also the scene of the murderer escaping through the bobbing umbrellas. We were in Holland and so we used windmills and rain. Had the picture been done in color, I would have worked in a shot I've always dreamed of: a murder in a tulip field. Two characters: the killer, a Jack-the-Ripper type, behind the girl, his victim. As his shadow creeps up on her, she turns and screams. Immediately, we pan down to the struggling feet in the tulip field. We would dolly the camera up to and right into one of the tulips, with the sound of the struggle in the background. One petal fills the screen, and suddenly a drop of blood splashes all over it. And that would be the end of the killing."

Wanger, Hitchcock, and the screenwriters had to tread somewhat carefully in fashioning the story, lest they raise the ire of the US State Department. The official stance of the United States was strict neutrality, so while the script for Foreign Correspondent name-dropped Hitler in general terms in an early scene, the country of origin of the spy ring depicted in the film is never mentioned. That detail is left to the imagination of the audience, although the logical answer is obvious to all. Several other writers were brought in on the picture, including novelist James Hilton (Lost Horizon) and humorist Robert Benchley, who was also cast in the film in a supporting role. Hilton and Benchley are credited in the film's credits for contributing dialogue.

Casting the lead roles for the picture proved to be difficult for Hitchcock. The director preferred stars, feeling that there was a shorthand in characterization when the audience is already familiar with a popular, appealing actor. Hitchcock did not get his first choice for the male lead role in Foreign Correspondent. As he later told Truffaut, "I went to Gary Cooper with it, but because it was a thriller, he turned it down. This attitude was so commonplace when I started to work in Hollywood that I always ended up with the next best - in this instance, with Joel McCrea. Many years later Gary Cooper said to me, 'That was a mistake. I should have done it.'" Similarly, Hitchcock wanted Joan Fontaine for the lead female role. Selznick also held her contract, and as she had just made a huge impression in Rebecca, Selznick wanted to save her for bigger roles. (Fontaine would appear in Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) the following year, and win the Best Actress Oscar® as well). Instead, the part was filled by Laraine Day, then known primarily for her recurring role as Nurse Mary Lamont in MGM's Dr. Kildare series of pictures.

by John M. Miller

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

During the scripting stage of production on Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, a second-unit crew was sent to Europe to shoot establishing shots. Hitchcock later told interviewer Francois Truffaut of the dangers of travel at that time: "this was in 1940, you see, and the cameraman who went over the first time from London to Amsterdam was torpedoed and lost all his equipment. He had to go over a second time." Location shots for the film were sparse, however. For the most part, Hitchcock utilized elaborate and expensive sets. The director always had a keen interest in set design and would do rough sketches of ideas for his art directors. Alexander Golitzen was the art director on Foreign Correspondent, and additional set design was by an uncredited William Cameron Menzies. Menzies had just come off the enormous task of serving as production designer for Selznick's Gone with the Wind (1939).

According to press release information, more than 600 laborers - electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and prop men - worked on the sets for the film. A 600 x 125 stage was used to recreate Waterloo Station for a few scenes, and even more extravagantly, an entire square in Amsterdam was constructed on a 10-acre site at a cost of $200,000. The scenes in the square, including the elaborate assassination and getaway shots, took place during a rainstorm, so the set had to be rigged with an elaborate drainage system. Hitchcock took great interest in the scenes of the spy ring operating inside of a Dutch windmill; the creaky, atmospheric set was three-tiered and equipped with working gears - important to the plot as our hero's coat becomes entangled in them. Also built for the film was an airplane equipped with four propeller motors, a wingspan of 120 feet, and an 84-foot fuselage, most of which ended up in a giant studio tank.

The crash of the clipper was, in fact, the most famous and costly scene in Foreign Correspondent. Regarding this sequence, Hitchcock told Truffaut "there's one shot so unusual that it's rather surprising that the technicians never bothered to question how it was done. That's when the plane is diving down toward the sea because its engines are crippled. The camera is inside the cabin, above the shoulders of the two pilots who are trying to pull the plane out of the dive. Between them, through the glass cabin window, we can see the ocean coming closer. And then, without a cut, the plane hits the ocean and the water rushes in, drowning the two men. That whole thing was done in a single shot, without a cut!." The shot was achieved by unconventionally combining two tried-and-true filmic devices: rear projection and an on-the-set dump tank. As Hitchcock explained, "I had a transparency screen made of paper, and behind that screen, a water tank. The plane dived, and as soon as the water got close to it, I pressed the button and the water burst through, tearing the screen away. The volume was so great that you never saw the screen."

After the plane crash, the main protagonists escape the fuselage and climb out onto a floating wing. Hitchcock told Truffaut about the challenges of this sequence: "A little later on there was another tricky shot. Just before the plane sank, we wanted to show one of the wings, with people on it, breaking away from the body of the plane. At the bottom of a large water tank, we installed some rails and we put the airplane on those rails. And we had a branch rail, like on the railways, so that when the wing broke away, it moved off on that branch track. It was all quite elaborate, but we had lots of fun doing it."

In Hitchcock at Work, Bill Krohn quotes Walter Wanger as the producer challenges Hitchcock's claim that he didn't even need to open his script during shooting. On the contrary, Wanger observed that Hitch's copy of the script was dog-eared before the first week of shooting was completed, and that it had "...dialogue corrections on one side, sketches showing the composition of scenes, medium shots and close-ups on the other....In addition to having art directors prepare many sketches showing lights, shades and suggested composition, Hitchcock will make as many as three hundred quick pencil sketches of his own to show the crew just how he wants scenes to look." Wanger did not see a bored director on the set either. Instead, the producer described Hitchcock as "fat, forty and full of fire. I've seen him climb a ladder with unbelievable agility." In his treatment of the actors, the producer did not notice Hitchcock as cruel or cold, but rather as "an alert and sensitive movie fan."

Principal photography for Foreign Correspondent wrapped on May 29, 1940. Hitchcock spent most of June in London, returning to the States on July 3rd. London was bracing for the anticipated Nazi Blitzkrieg, and Hitchcock and Wanger decided to film a final scene for their film. Famed reporter-turned-playwright (and frequent script doctor) Ben Hecht was brought in to write a stirring speech for Johnny Jones to deliver to his fellow Americans, telling of the "death coming to London." The sequence was filmed on July 5th. Since the movie opened only six weeks later, Wanger was ultimately successful in his goal of having an up-to-date and timely release. The final cost of the film was a then-staggering $1.5 Million. The costs charged to the script alone - accounting for a total of fourteen writers - was $250,000. When Foreign Correspondent opened on August 16, 1940, the United States was still sixteen months away from withdrawing its neutrality and entering World War II. Hitchcock must have been proud to have made such a strong pro-British film, and yet wrap the propaganda into a pure cinematic entertainment, his first American film to be unhesitantly called a "Hitchcock picture."

by John M. Miller

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teaser Foreign Correspondent (1940)

By early 1940, Europe was being divided and decimated by the Nazis but the official U.S. policy was still one of strict neutrality. Despite the fact that the British government urged their most famous native, Alfred Hitchcock, to remain in America during this time, the director desperately wanted to contribute to the British war effort so he sought out a property that would allow him to make a pro-Britain statement. The subsequent production, Foreign Correspondent (1940), is the story of an American correspondent (Joel McCrea) in Europe who becomes committed to the fight against fascism during his investigation of a kidnapped Dutch diplomat, a situation that requires him to travel from London to Holland.

The source for Foreign Correspondent was Personal History, Vincent Sheean's autobiographical account of the growing political turmoil in Europe. Producer Walter Wanger had recently purchased the book for $10,000 and Hitchcock hired Charles Beaumont and Joan Harrison, both previous screenplay collaborators of his, to mold the material into a workable screenplay. When they were finished, very little remained from the original book with the exception of the opening scene in Holland. Ironically, even the completed screenplay of Beaumont and Harrison was drastically altered with Hitchcock bringing in a total of fourteen writers (including Robert Benchley and novelist James Hilton) before he arrived at a final version. Still, Foreign Correspondent was an enjoyable production for Hitchcock because he was on loan-out to Walter Wanger at United Artists where he was given free reign and not under the close scrutiny and autocratic rule of his regular employer, studio chief David O. Selznick. Huge creative differences existed between Hitchcock and Selznick and the director would later get his revenge on the producer with an in-joke in Rear Window (1954); The murder suspect (Raymond Burr) in that thriller bore a startling resemblance to the heavy set mogul.

Originally, Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper for the title role in Foreign Correspondent with Joan Fontaine as his leading lady but eventually settled for Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. Although some critics viewed the film as a glorified B-movie after the lush production values of Hitchcock's Selznick films, Foreign Correspondent actually cost more to produce than Rebecca (1940), partly due to some very elaborate special effects.

Years later, during an interview with French director Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock admitted that the whole film grew from a few visual ideas of his own, "We started out with the idea of the windmill sequence and also the scene of the murderer escaping through the bobbing umbrellas. We were in Holland and so we used windmills and rain. Had the picture been done in color, I would have worked in a shot I've always dreamed of: a murder in a tulip field. Two characters: the killer, a Jack-the-Ripper type, behind the girl, his victim. As his shadow creeps up on her, she turns and screams. Immediately, we pan down to the struggling feet in the tulip field. We would dolly the camera up to and right into one of the tulips, with the sound of the struggle in the background. One petal fills the screen, and suddenly a drop of blood splashes all over it. And that would be the end of the killing."

Aside from the assassination that occurs in a crowd of photographers and that sequence in which the turning of a windmill reveals an important clue to the mystery, the most famous and costly scene in Foreign Correspondent is the spectacular plane crash. Regarding this sequence, Hitchcock told Truffaut "there's one shot so unusual that it's rather surprising that the technicians never bothered to question how it was done. That's when the plane is diving down toward the sea because its engines are crippled. The camera is inside the cabin, above the shoulders of the two pilots who are trying to pull the plane out of the dive. Between them, through the glass cabin window, we can see the ocean coming closer. And then, without a cut, the plane hits the ocean and the water rushes in, drowning the two men. That whole thing was done in a single shot, without a cut!....a lot of the material for that picture was shot by a second unit on location in London and in Amsterdam. This was in 1940, you see, and the cameraman who went over the first time from London to Amsterdam was torpedoed and lost all his equipment. He had to go over a second time."

While it's not in the same league with similar Hitchcock thrillers like The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938), Foreign Correspondent was enjoyed equally by the critics and the public and even managed to garner five Oscar nominations including Best Supporting Actor (Albert Bassermann), Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Hitchcock was also nominated for Best Director that year - for Rebecca.

A final note of irony: While Hitchcock's anti-fascist message is evident throughout Foreign Correspondent, it was later reported that Nazi official Joseph Goebbels found the film very entertaining.

Producer: Walter Wanger
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, (uncredited), Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht (uncredited), James Hilton, John Howard Lawson (uncredited), John Lee Mahin (uncredited), Richard Maibaum, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
Costume Design: I. Magnin
Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Joel McCrea (Johnny Jones), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Scott Ffolliott), Albert Bassermann (Van Meer), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Eduardo Ciannelli (Mr. Krug), Martin Kosleck (Tramp), Ian Wolfe (Stiles).
BW-120m.

by Jeff Stafford

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Foreign Correspondent (1940)

"Walter Wanger's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT shows how an extroverted young New York police reporter bags a scoop of international proportions on his first assignment abroad. He gets the girl, too, by overcoming nothing more formidable than the lady's instinctive coyness. As the film ends, the viewer is convinced that the hero will stride to one journalistic triumph after another, dragging his bride along over the dusty news beats of the world. Although 'Foreign Correspondent' originally was supposed to be based on 'Personal History,' the rotund Britisher Alfred Hitchcock has scuttled every vestige of the book and its author with as spine-tingling and hair-raising a melodrama as might be found in the censor-muddied waters of the European struggle. ...Joel McCrea proves to be a likable and credible citizen in the leading role. Laraine Day gets by nicely in her most ambitious part to date as Carol Fisher. Herbert Marshall appears to be thoroughly miscast as the big peace man who turns out to be something more than that. Robert Benchley carries off the acting honors as a broken-down American journalist in London - by acting himself. George Sanders, Albert Basserman, and Eduardo Ciannelli add much to the film. And despite occasional tedium; the direction of Hitchcock has brightened the shield he earned with 'Rebecca.'" - Newsweek, August 26, 1940.

"Foreign Correspondent will confuse cinemaddicts who may have heard that it began as a filming of Vincent Sheean's Personal History. ...Fourteen writers and $1,500,000 away from Personal History, it has nothing to do with Sheean and is easily one of the year's finest pictures....Best reporter in Foreign Correspondent is Hitchcock's camera. When a diplomat is shot, his camera is in the right place, looking at his face. When a man is about to drop from a tower, it watches a hat making the plunge first. When a wounded Clipper is hurtling down toward the sea, it is peering anxiously from the pilot's seat. It has, too, the supreme reporter's gift of not telling everything. Director Hitchcock, who claims to dislike actors and probably does, ordered several retakes of the wreck of the Clipper because it pleased him to see Actors McCrea and Sanders floundering in the water. ...As surprising a Hitchcock Trilby as was Joan Fontaine in Rebecca is Laraine Day (nee Johnson), a 19-year-old Mormon whose father was the first mayor of Roosevelt, Utah. In the excitement of making Foreign Correspondent, Hitchcock forgot his invariable signature, had to retake a scene in a railway station to get himself into the picture." - Time, September 2, 1940.

"Despite the now rather embarrassing propagandistic finale, with McCrea urging an increase in the war effort against the Nazis, Hitchcock's espionage thriller is a thoroughly enjoyable affair, complete with some of his most memorable set pieces. ...Something of a predecessor of the picaresque chase thrillers like Saboteur and North by Northwest, its main source of suspense comes from the fact that little is what it seems to be: a camera hides an assassin's gun, sails of a windmill conceal a sinister secret, and the sanctuary of Westminster Cathedral provides an opportunity for murder. Not one of the director's greatest - there's little of his characteristic cruelty or moral pessimism - but still eminently watchable." Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide.

"Hitchcock appears to have concocted this spy thriller out of all the breathtaking climaxes he'd been hoarding; there's the assassination with the gun concealed by a newsman's camera, the Dutch windmill going against the wind, and a tremendous finale aboard a transatlantic plane from London on the very day war is declared. The plot that links all this is barely functional, and the jaunty reporter-hero (Joel McCrea) is held down a bit when he has to attend to the ever-busy heroine (Laraine Day), but the movie intermittently first-rate, and the topnotch supporting cast includes George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, Martin Kosleck, Eduardo Ciannelli, Barbara Pepper, and Robert Benchley, who also had a hand in the dialogue." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

Awards and Honors:

Foreign Correspondent was nominated for an Oscar®? in 1941 in six categories:
Best Picture
Best Original Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Albert Bassermann
Best Art Direction, Black-and-White: Alexander Goliten
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Rudolph Mate
Best Special Effects: Paul Eagler, Thomas T. Moulton

Compiled by John M. Miller

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