Warner Home Video presents
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Carol Fisher: You'll be in plenty of trouble if you don't get out of here. Now for the last time, please go.
John Jones (a.k.a. Huntley Haverstock): Okay, but I want you to know exactly what's going to happen when I do go. I'll go back to my room and get dressed, I'll try and shake those two fellows off, but I won't succeed. They'll stick to me like a couple of tattoo marks until they get me. They'll stop at nothing, I seem to know too much. And you're right. I don't know the ins and outs of your crackpot peace movement, and I don't know what's wrong with Europe, but I do know a story when I see one.- Laraine Day, Joel McCrea
Stars: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day
Other Stars: Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, Eduardo Cianelli, Edward Conrad
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:00m:17s
Release Date: 2004-09-07
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewAlfred Hitchcock is commonly referred to as "The Master." It is easy to understand why, since he has produced and directed some of the best and most famous films in all of cinema. When looking at his filmography, it whets a film buff's appetite with a seemingly infinite supply of goodies. If I were to evaluate his films, it probably would go something like this: Frenzy is the most frightening, North by Northwest is the most spectacular, Psycho is the most historic, Rear Window is the most suspenseful, Rebecca is the most refined, The Trouble with Harry is the funniest, and Vertigo is the best. Each of these films represents an element of Hitchcock at his best, but one of his forgotten films manages to pull all of the classic staples of a Hitchcock into a single story that provides two of the most fun hours you'll ever have at the movies.
Foreign Correspondent, made in 1940 (the same year as Rebecca), is a gem of filmmaking that, for some reason or another, never seems to get the attention it deserves. The setting is pre-World War II Europe, where a young foreign correspondent from New York has been sent to cover the gathering storm. John Jones (played with wonderful wit by Joel McCrea) lands himself right in the middle of a last ditch peace effort where he meets the charmingly feisty Carol Fisher (Laraine Day), who is the daughter of the Universal Peace Party's leader, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall). Jones, or "Huntley Haverstock" as everybody calls him (on account of his boss demanding he have a name more befitting a foreign correspondent), and Carol meet each other at a party and their mutual despising of one another can only mean one thing: they're in love!
Sadly, the events of Europe will make it difficult for the two to have a peaceful tour of Europe, because the Dutch leader, Mr. Van Meer (Albert Basserman, in an Oscar-nominated performance), is apparently assassinated. Jones chases after the assassin, driven by Carol and her friend, Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), a man who is very particular that his last name not be capitalized. In one of the quintessential Hitchcock scenes, thanks to his tremendous use of a windmill as a set piece, Jones discovers that there is a conspiracy making its way towards war. The real Van Meer is still alive and being held captive by a group of men whom the audience will learn about as the story moves on. Of all the scenes in the film, this is probably the most memorable if for nothing other than the splendidly stylized set design, by Alexander Golitzen, and cinematography, by Rudolph Maté.
This is the beginning of a series of events that will lead the viewer into a marvelously plotted film that never lets go of its audience. The trademark suspense of Hitchcock is present throughout, but not in the way people have become accustomed to. There is no Bernard Herrmann score, but rather an offbeat, yet effective score by Alfred Newman. Instead of playing on the pending doom of the assassination scene, Newman's music sets the scene as a cheery event, which makes the sudden assassination all the more shocking. The simple fact is that all bets are off in Foreign Correspondent, meaning that anybody could be a spy and nobody acts the way one should expect.
None of the characters is truly noble; most of them are more concerned about their personal cause and their own skin then the stake of the world. Joel McCrea's performance as Jones is probably the best of his career, because he cunningly presents a good man who is, in his own words, "a jackass." Equally impressive are Laraine Davis and George Sanders, the latter of which uses his British accent to great effect in creating humor and suspense with the limited amount of screen time he has. The rest of the cast, especially Albert Basserman as Van Meer, turn in fine work that allows the script to shine.
Many of Hitchcock's films seamlessly blend dark comedy with darker subject matter, but this script (written by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton, and Robert Benchley) contains a sophisticated humor, laced with memorable one-liners, that it feels like The Philadelphia Story meets Hitchcock. In some respects, Foreign Correspondent could be viewed as the prelude to Notorious (though, admittedly, Hitchcock's 1946 classic is much more serious). The strength of this script is that it manages to keep the audience engaged in the story without having the events overcome the character's relationships. Never does the film feel like it is forcing melodrama, suspense, or comedy; all of these elements are present and obvious, but so effective that the audience becomes totally enamored in the moving pictures up on the screen.
That is the true accomplishment of Hitchcock's direction, making a film that contains bold visuals that never feel show-offy. The now oft used move in which the camera pushes in through a closed window to begin a scene was brought to mainstream cinema here (not, as many believe, in 1941's Citizen Kane). However, Hitchcock's control of the medium is so strong that many viewers will probably not even realize that "The Master" is pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. The fact that Foreign Correspondent is a great exercise in filmmaking, and that most audience members will not realize this upon their first viewing just how great the technical merits are, is what makes it so good. It does what films rarely do: it puts the audience right into the middle of the story for a roller coaster ride.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is shown here with mixed results. Contrast and depth are strong, but the age of the film is not hidden. Scratches and dirt are prevalent throughout, especially during the climax and Jones and Carol's boat trip back to England. There are a few instances in which the image is soft, but only for a few shots. This transfer is not up to Warner's usual restoration quality, but it seems to accurately present the original image.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono sound mix is provided here and it sounds as good as one would expect. Some might prefer a newly created Dolby Digital mix, but in the interest of film preservation, Warner should be given kudos. Dialogue and sound effects come across great and there isn't a trace of a hum, which is surprising for a film this old.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: As a part of their new Hitchcock Collection boxed set, Foreign Correspondent has a new documentary by Laurent Bouzereau and its original theatrical trailer for special features. The trailer is a nice throwback to the glory days of Hollywood cinema, but not particularly interesting. The documentary (33m:32s) contains interviews with film historians Rudy Behlmer and Robert Osborne, as well as Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Benchley, Laraine Day, Pat Hitchcock O'Connell, and many others. There are a few instances of home movies featuring Hitchcock's arrival in the U.S., but this is primarily a collection of interviews and clips from the film. Behlmer gives some interesting backstory, such as the script development phase of the production, that fans will enjoy.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsOne of Hitchcock's gems gets a welcome release on DVD. The transfer shows the film's age, but accurately captures the style and grit of the cinematography. The sound is a fitting monoaural track that preserves the film's sound as it would have been heard upon its original release. The extras are a nice touch, with a good documentary that fans of the film will enjoy.
Nate Meyers 2004-09-06