BluRay/DVD Reviews

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

By • Feb 27th, 2014 •

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Imagine letting the brightest kid in school go wild with an enormous lego set. Can you picture the elaborate creations this kid would come up with? That describes what happened when Alfred Hitchcock, a newcomer to all the tools of Hollywood, created his exciting action thriller FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

Hitchcock wowed world audiences and Hollywood producers with his British-made thrillers like THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES. Those films were made on somewhat tighter budgets than Hollywood. Hitchcock’s first two Hollywood films were REBECCA, which took home a Best Picture Oscar, and this, the lavishly produced and technically inventive FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. (Which we will just refer to here as FOREIGN)

Modern audiences wanting instant gratification might become restless with FOREIGN’s slow start. It’s the weeks before World War II begins, and New York crime reporter Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is assigned by his editor to go to Europe and report on the grave situation there. All he does at first is meet the elderly Dutch Statesman Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), who humorously dodges his questions. Jones also meets Carol (Laraine Day) the pretty daughter of Mr. Fisher (Herbert Marshall), the well respected President of the European Peace Movement. Even Alfred Newman’s cheery opening-credit music makes us feel we are going to sit through a romantic comedy about reporters.

Sit tight, restless viewers! Like he would do twenty years later with PSYCHO, Hitchcock is disarming us by starting the film with a routine, slightly boring story. Twenty-seven minutes into this oddball HIS GIRL FRIDAY wannabe, FOREIGN explodes with guns, chases, and a considerable amount of gore for a 1940 film. As Jones ducks in and out of London pursing and being chased down by a powerful kidnapping ring, we are dashed through weird, spooky windmills, and rooftop chases. The excitement builds to a breath-taking and ingeniously staged airline crash. Match all this with a brilliant Oscar-nominated screenplay by longtime Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett (THE 39 STEPS, SABOTAGE) and you have a highly cinematic roller-coaster ride a la Hitchcock.

Speaking of roller-coasters, as a guest on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW in the 1970’s, Hitchcock compared his suspense films to the popular scream inducing ride. “It terrifies you, you scream – but when it is over, you are laughing. That is the effect I am looking for with my films.” he tells Cavett. This Cavett episode, along with many extras can be found on Criterion’s worthwhile Blu-Ray of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. Hitchcock also explains how he created the eye-popping plane crash that concludes this fun film. The picture and audio quality of FOREIGN is maybe slightly better than what is found on Warner Brothers’ DVD release of the film. However, a good number of scratches and grit found on the DVD are eliminated on the Blu-Ray.

After filming was completed on FOREIGN in May, 1940, Hitchcock visited his home town of London. He found a city in fear of pending Nazi bombing raids. With the help of writer Ben Hecht, Hitchcock filmed a new ending for the film where Jones gives a speech from a London studio during a bombing raid. The speech pleads for a then neutral America’s assistance to the European Allies.

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