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Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Foreign Correspondent is a 1940 American spy thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock which tells the story of an American reporter who tries to expose enemy spies in Britain, a series of events involving a continent-wide conspiracy that eventually leads to the events of a fictionalized World War II. It stars Joel McCrea and features Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann and Robert Benchley, along with Edmund Gwenn. The film was Hitchcock's second Hollywood production since leaving the United Kingdom in 1939 (the first was Rebecca) and had an unusually large number of writers: Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht, James Hilton, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin, Richard Maibaum, and Budd Schulberg, with Bennett, Benchley, Harrison, and Hilton the only writers credited in the finished film. It was based on Vincent Sheean's political memoir Personal History (1935), the rights to which were purchased by producer Walter Wanger for $10,000. The film was one of two Hitchcock films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941, the other being Rebecca, which went on to win the award.
Correspondent has intrigue, adventure, charisma, and romance, but it sadly never makes it to classic status. The story is globetrotting tale of an American reporter (Joel McCrea) who heads to London to expose a spy ring. En route he falls in love and is drawn into a major drama with international ramifications.
Heavy stuff -- so why isn't Foreign Correspondent a classic in Hitchcock's oeuvre? The problems here are minor, but they add up. McCrea, an old western star, doesn't have any of the charisma of a Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. Leading actress Laraine Day (who?) is nowhere near a Grace Kelly Correspondent's adventure isn't nearly the thrill of, say, North By Northwest. And the love story can't even hold up to, say, Dial M for Murder. Hitch does do some of his best direction here -- most notably a set piece in which a character is assassinated, and the killer makes his escape through a throng of umbrella-toting bystanders; Hitch shoots the scene from above, and we see nothing but a sea of umbrella domes.
But little touches like this feel exactly like that: The highlights that happen between long stretches of talky plot progression where nothing much happens. We don't really care about McCrea or his quest, but in the end we can at least muster a bit of a shrug for him. Ultimately, Foreign Correspondent works best for what it was designed for: Propaganda.
The new DVD adds a making-of documentary to the mix.