Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Foreign Correspondent", a 1940 Hitchcock film

Last night we were fortunate to find "Foreign Correspondent" on TCM, the advertisement free channel of historic films, even recent historical ones at times.  This film was the second film Alfred Hitchcock made after arriving in Hollywood from the UK in 1939.  It was completed in July of 1940 and released to theaters shortly before the Nazi bombing attacks on London began in late 1940.  These dates are important because, while it seems like old news now, at the time the U.S. was far from being universally committed to defending England or Europe from Hitler, and did not enter the war until late 1941.  The U.S. Ambassador to the UK at that time was the anti-semitic Joseph Kennedy, the famous family patriarch, who was firmly for appeasement and business as usual negotiation with the Nazis, and not even supportive of any aid to England.

With that background, this film is profoundly interesting as Hitchcock pulls no punches describing what was happening in Europe and predicting exactly what would happen.  This is an espionage and crime film with an American reporter getting involved in tracking American spies for Germany posing as leaders of an organization advocating peace at all costs.  Set in New York, London, Amsterdam, and the Dutch countryside it is atmospherically entertaining and the "thriller" aspect of the film is just that. It is classic Hitchcock at its best says this writer who enjoys films but does not have any claim to being a film buff.  A student of history would be more apt, and that works for making an informed comment here about the film.

As a film watcher, seeing things that are familiar is always an attraction, and two hotels central to the film were often stayed in during my business life.  The Savoy in London plays a central role but with only one outside shot the scenes could have been shot on a set in Hollywood.  That is not the case with Hotel Europe in Amsterdam where I often stayed when calling on investors there.  There is one great scene when Joel McCrae, who plays the protagonist, is escaping from danger by crawling along the roof and parapets of that hotel and, in holding on for his life, he touches the Hotel Europe lighted rooftop sign and shorts out the letters e and l in hotel.  It took a few minutes for me to get it as the chase was so engrossing, but the sign then said Hot Europe.  Message clear.

This short note does not do justice to this film.  Ever want to see a film that details the inner workings of a windmill as a scene for espionage, then this is for you.  It's so much more than that.  It was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1941, as was Hitchcock's first Hollywood film "Rebecca" which I know nothing about at this moment.  "Rebecca" won the Oscar beating out "Foreign Correspondent", with Hitchcock obviously starting out strong being based in the U.S.


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