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Criterion Collection: Foreign Correspondent | Blu-ray Review

Criterion Collection: Foreign Correspondent | Blu-ray Review Cover BoxCriterion adds another illustrious Alfred Hitchcock title to the collection this month with Foreign Correspondent, which followed hot on the heels of Rebecca in 1940, the beginning of the director’s American period. Though not a perfect film, it does register as one of his most unfairly overlooked films, even as it shows various signs of outside tampering as a film belonging very much to the period in which it was made. Though suffering from the effect of too many cooks in the writing kitchen, it’s a title as filled with plot twists as it is wit, as well as Hitchcock’s signature elaborate set pieces.

Opening with a dedication to the bravery of those foreign correspondents and others that risk their lives in war time, we enter into the realm of a US newsroom where frustration is running high at the lack of actual coverage worthy news filtering in from the correspondents. It’s decided that someone with a knack for unearthing stories, a crime reporter, should be shuttled off to Europe, and so Johnnie Jones (Joel McCrea) receives the less American sounding pseudonym of Huntley Haverstock and is shipped off to Britain as a rather disinterested correspondent. From there, he attends a meeting administered by the Peace Party in Amsterdam, where there is rumored to be an important speech by Mr. Van Meer (Albert Basserman) that may have an effect on the impending war that’s about to break out in Europe. Van Meer, who is curiously absent from the event, happened to run into Jones recently prior, and had been unwilling to admit to Jones who he was. However, at the Peace Party event, Jones meets the head of the party, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) and his eye-catching daughter Carol (Laraine Day), with whom he becomes instantly smitten. The assassination of Van Meer and a thrilling chase into Dutch fields and spooky windmills introduces Jones to another fellow reporter, ffolliot (a scene stealing George Sanders as a man with a curious surname), and it’s not long before the peace party is revealed to be the front for an elaborate spy ring, whose complicated plot concerning Van Meer concerns a memorized and unwritten clause of secret treaty—information that must not fall into enemy hands.

Disc Review

Criterion’s 2K digital restoration looks superb, especially in a handful of some of the more elaborate set-pieces, including the famed assassination sequence and an exciting trip into an abandoned wind mill. Let’s hope Criterion manages to hold on to the rights of this Hitchcock title, as many of their previous editions have been long out of print. That said, a winning amount of extra features have been stockpiled for the title, foremost being a half hour interview with writer Mark Harris, “Hollywood Propaganda and World War II” which positions the film in the context of which it was made (though Harris’ contention that this film is the closest thing Hitch made to a message movie is arguable, or maybe he’s forgetting something like The Wrong Man). Additionally, visual effects expert Craig Barron is included on the film’s special effects, and there’s a radio adaptation of the film voiced by Joseph Cotten. Also exciting is a 1972 interview with Alfred Hitchcock from “The Dick Covett Show” and an actual 1942 Life magazine “photo-drama” directed by Hitch called “Have You Heard? The Story of Wartime Rumors.”

Final Thoughts

As is customary with many of Hitchcock’s films, there’s a light and airy atmosphere punctuated by several moments of mounting tension and fantastic set pieces, and Foreign Correspondent features one of Hitch’s most famous sequences, an assassination in the rain amidst a multitude of black umbrellas. As a war time propaganda film, it doesn’t quite fit the bill, even as it explores themes of duplicitous identities and ignorant characters whose enlightenment of how things really are motivates them to join the war effort. Of course, why it is remembered as such is because of the infamous tacked on ending, the result of producer Walter Wanger who wanted the film to be as topical as possible, which is one of several blights that sometimes makes the film feel like a mixed bag. That said it has several notable performances, particularly from lead McCrea and George Sanders. Herbert Marshall (who Kevin Spacey sometimes tends to favor) as an even tempered baddie is also entertaining, though Laraine Day as his daughter might stand as one of the blandest and unmemorable of Hitch’s leading ladies.

Refugee and character actor Albert Basserman would go on to snag a Best Supporting actor nod at the Oscars that year. The imposition of an unlikely romance between Day and McCrea feels incredibly underwritten and underwhelming, with Day’s mild disdain immediately giving way to coos of sweet nothings when McCrea announces an undying love. That and an effective yet questionable special effects sequence featuring objects flying through the windows of a plane provide considerable distraction to a well mounted if somewhat overcooked treatment.

Film: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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