Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
This continent-trotting mystery–adventure is far more glamorous than Spotlight—there are no hours spent poring over reference volumes in libraries, just daredevil, shoe-leather spywork that doubles as great reporting. It’s done by Joel McCrea, playing not some economics professor but a veteran of the city-desk crime beat, assigned abroad to the title’s prestigious post in order to offer a fresh perspective on the brewing war in Europe. There, he rather quickly stumbles on the story of a lifetime, involving a faked political assassination that could undo the delicately negotiated peace.
You could condense the first two reels into a line of dialogue, but once the movie gets going, it features several classic-Hitchcock shots and set-pieces, each a marvel, all silent, visual suspense, like the slow opening of a desk drawer that reveals a pistol inside. Many also offer rough drafts of famous scenes to come: a fall from a tall tower, a small plane flying over isolated countryside, and the makeshift lifeboat after a climactic crash-landing at sea. (These clash with the stiff scenes of expository dialogue, unless they involve fellow reporter George Sanders, whose wry gentility exhibits the best charm England has to offer.)
Foreign Correspondent ends with a rousing call for America to enter the war, and “The Star-Spangled Banner” actually plays over the end credits. Hitchcock’s second American feature (like his first of the same year, Rebecca), is mostly set anywhere but in America, yet it’s a curious piece of Hollywood propaganda. Henry Stewart (December 5, 12:30pm, 5pm, 7:30pm, 9:50pm at Film Forum’s William Cameron Menzies series)