Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hitchcock Day 2 - Foreign Correspondent (1940)

June 2
Joel McCrea, Lorraine Day

It’s one of the only Hitchcock films not to have an actor recognizable today (few people remember McCrea as the Virginian or Day in Dr. Kildare). Strangers on a Train only had Farley Granger, but that one also had a script by Raymond Chandler based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Partly because of this, Foreign Correspondent is one of Hitchcock’s lesser known films (this coming from the guy who has now seen only four of them). It was nominated for Best Picture in 1940 but lost to Hitchcock’s other film, Rebecca. Joel McCrae plays an American reporter sent to Europe in late 1939 to act as a foreign correspondent during peace talks, only to get caught up in the assignation of a diplomat.

McCrea has a role similar to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, beginning as reporter with no correspondence experience and little care for the coming war in Europe. When his editor asks, “How would you like to cover the biggest story in the world today?,” McCrea responds, “Give me and expense account and I'll cover anything.” But as his nonchalance changes as he stands next to an assassinated Dutch diplomat and quickly begins a hunt for the killer and his conspirators, he gets swept up in the politics of pre-war Europe.

The most interesting thing about the film is its history. Released in August, 1940, a final scene was filmed on July 5, 1940, which depicted the German bombing of London. The actual bombing began five days later on July 10. It would go on to become a powerful message for pro-war America. Joseph Goebbels called it, “A masterpiece of propaganda, a first-class production which no doubt will make a certain impression upon the broad masses of the people in enemy countries.”

Why did he think that? Well, that final bombing scene includes a beautiful bit of American propaganda, with Joel McCrea giving a radio interview in London as the bombing commences. He refuses to go off the air as the bombing begins, every flees and the lights go out, the light cast only on him and his microphone. He is reminded by Lorraine Day, “They’re listening in America,” and from there he deviates from his script to ad-lib a patriotic cry in the darkness of the bombing for America to take note:

“I can't read the rest of the speech I had, because the lights have gone out, so I'll just have to talk off the cuff. All that noise you hear isn't static - it's death, coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don't tune me out, hang on a while - this is a big story, and you're part of it. It's too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come... as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they're the only lights left in the world!”

Oh, and about halfway through his speech an orchestral version of the Star Spangled Banner begins to fade in, and as “The End” appears with a stone eagle in the background.

Overall this film is okay, but I was unimpressed by the suspense or the love interest. There are a few scenes alone that have the typical Hitchcock flare, including the chase following the assassination, which began in a rainstorm, the pursuit shown overhead as umbrellas shift like cornstalks in a field tracing the chase. (see below). The plane crash at the conclusion is also wonderfully shot, and while it was an enjoyable movie, I can understand why it is one of the lesser known of Hitchcock’s films, despite its historic value.  

Tomorrow's film: 1941's Mr. and Mrs. Smith 

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