The supporting cast is fine, but Joel McCrea and Laraine Day in the lead roles mark Foreign Correspondent as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s weakest films. A loose, farfetched script also contributes to the disappointing result. But as propaganda aimed at U.S. neutrality just before and early on in the Second World War, the film is highly effective. Jonnie Jones, rechristened by his editor Huntley Haverstock, himself initially an innocent abroad in European politics, becomes an American foreign correspondent rallying his countrymen to the cause against Adolf Hitler. Through him, Hitchcock, who had moved from his native Britain to the U.S., is thus able to “feel at home” on both sides of the Atlantic. Haverstock’s new, expanded loyalty, which includes a British sweetheart, becomes a means by which Hitchcock justifies his transplantation and reunites imaginatively with his British countrymen.
The most interesting and moving character is Stephen Fisher, who heads the Universal Peace Party as a cover for German loyalty and Nazi identity. (As with Jones, his is a “masked” existence.) Herbert Marshall is superb as this character, who ultimately sacrifices his life to save others, including his daughter. Strong also is Albert Basserman[n] as Van Meer, a kidnapped Dutch diplomat; the actor’s own immigration to England as a German Jew fleeing Hitler resonates perfectly in this role.
Visually, the film includes a number of coups; chief among them is a repeated tableau, in the room where Van Meer is being held, that was inspired by an underground scene in Fritz Lang’s M (1931); by this time Lang, a favorite of Hitchcock’s, had left Hitler’s Germany for Hollywood. Moreover, the initial passage inside the mill, with its grays and eerily diffuse lighting, reminds one that Rudolf Mâté had also cinematographed Carl Theodor Dreyer’s wondrous Vampyr (1931).
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