I remember seeing this black-and-white thriller over 50 years ago, and it was one of my favorite films at that time. What a wonderful cast of talented people who are probably unknown for the most part to today’s movie-goers. Joel McCrea, Laraine Day (wife of Dodger’s manager Leo Durocher), Herbert Marshal, George Sanders, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, and Harry Davenport all give promise of an extraordinary film - that it was!
I thoroughly enjoyed the anachronisms present in this 1940 film. Travel by ocean liners is a thing of the past. We never see Remington typewriters in films anymore. And as for garters showing on men’s socks, what are they? All of this brings on chuckles in a film that is not intended as a comedy.
Joel McCrea - Wikimedia
In “Foreign Correspondent,” Joel McCrea portrays a New York newspaper reporter with the unlikely name of John Jones. His editor was fuming because his international reporters had nothing to report, especially because Europe was on the verge of a war. He chose his crime reporter, John Jones, to ferret out the real story of a European diplomat, a Mr. Van Meer, who had overseen a secret treaty between two countries in Europe. He suggested to his new foreign correspondent that he should use the pen name “Huntley Haverstock.”
In London, on the way to a party where Mr. Van Meer was to be honored, Jones (aka Haverstock) spied Van Meer waiting for a cab. Jones approached Van Meer, stating that he was on the way to attend the party. Van Meer offered him a ride in his cab, where Jones tried unsuccessfully to gather fodder for his assignment. At the party, Jones made contact with Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), head of the Universal Peace Party, an important cog in the wheel of diplomatic relations in Europe. Jones also met Stephen Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day), not realizing who she was. Fisher announced to the crowd that Mr. Van Meer would not be at the party unfortunately, as he had to head to Amsterdam for an important political conference. Carol Fisher substituted for Van Meer, and Jones was surprised to know that she was Fisher’s daughter.
Laraine Day - Wikimedia
The Intrigue Begins
On a rainy day in Amsterdam, Jones was waiting on the steps of the building where Van Meer was expected to give his speech. When he approached Van Meer, the diplomat looked at him through glassy eyes, not recognizing Jones from their previous meeting. Within minutes, a photographer appeared and shot Van Meer, leaving him for dead on the steps as he escaped. Jones took off in pursuit of the gunman, but could not get through the massive crowd on the premises.
Jones was able to jump into a car, ordering the driver to follow the photographer, before noticing that Carol Fisher was a passenger as well as another reporter with the unusual name of Scott ffolliott (George Sanders). They followed the photographer to a windmill several miles away. Carol and ffolliott took off to notify the authorities. Jones noted that the windmill was reversing its action repeatedly, which was unusual. A windmill operates by the wind, and only goes in one direction. He surmised that it was a signal to an approaching airplane that it was safe to land.
George Sanders - Wikimedia
A Startling Find
Inside the windmill, Jones followed the voices and secretly came upon a drugged Van Meer surrounded by henchmen. It was the actual Van Meer, still alive. His double was assassinated on the steps of the building in Amsterdam. The airplane picked up Van Meer and his captors before the police arrived with Carol and ffolliott.
Jones and Carol made their way back to England by boat. In that short time, a romance had ensued, and Jones proposed marriage to Carol. The happy couple went to Stephen Fisher’s house where Jones recognized a visitor, Mr. Krug (Edward Ciannelli), as one of the henchmen he saw at the windmill. He informed Fisher of the fact, and Fisher ordered a bodyguard for Jones, for his own protection. The bodyguard, Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) lured him to the top of a landmark building in London and attempted to throw him off the building. Jones surmised the ruse and stepped aside as Rowley lunged at him, propelling himself over the side of the building, falling to his death.
Herbert Marshall - Wikimedia
Stephen Fisher Exposed
Jones and ffolliott were convinced that Stephen Fisher was a traitor to his country, and that his daughter Carol was not aware of it. When confronted with the information, Carol assumed that Jones pretended to be in love with her to get closer to her father to learn of his machinations. They parted but the Fishers were on the same plane as Jones and ffolliott as they were returning to the United States. Fisher confessed to his daughter that he was guilty of plotting against his country, and apologized to her for the hurt it had caused her.
Their Plane is Shout Down
Out of nowhere, a German ship bombarded the plane which fell into the ocean. About a dozen survivors were able to cling to the wreckage until a ship came along to save them. You will not see the ending revealed here, lest it spoil your good time. You must see this classic; it is one of the most enjoyable films of the past century.
Alfred Hitchcock - Wikimedia
The Great Alfred Hitchcock
“Foreign Correspondent” was directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock who has given us so much enjoyment through the years. The film was nominated that year for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but lost out to another film by Alfred Hitchcock, “Rebecca.”
Alfred Hitchcock is rightfully termed “The Master of Suspense.” He came to Hollywood from England in 1939, and immediately produced award-winning films, starting with “Rebecca,” followed up by “Foreign Correspondent” in the same year. He produced more than 50 films, with most of them regarded as classics.
Hitchcock invented the scheme of appearing in a small cameo role in each of his films. His fans enjoy searching for him throughout his movies, often finding him in a secluded scene, waiting for a bus, or eating in a restaurant, providing a humorous touch to an otherwise somber story.
Alfred Hitchcock, a devout Roman Catholic, was married to Alma Reville for over fifty years. She collaborated with her husband in roles as screenwriter, director, and editor. She performed a great service when she was the only one who noticed that Janet Leigh was seen breathing in her death scene in “Psycho,” and the scene had to be refilmed.
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