Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Albert Basserman, Robert Benchley
Written by: Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, with "dialogue" by James Hilton and Robert Benchley
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 120
Date: 08/16/1940
IMDB

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

4 Stars (out of 4)

News Caper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alfred Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper for this superior espionage thriller, but Hitch was still a Hollywood amateur and hadn't yet developed his reputation (Cooper thought it would be "beneath" him to make a mere "thriller.") And though Hitch considered his eventual star "too easy-going," Joel McCrea works very well as an American reporter sent to Europe to scrape up news during the early days of WWII. He gives the movie a light touch and even provides a few laughs.

Once in Europe, he uncovers a doozy of a story: the staged assassination and kidnapping of a diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). Laraine Day co-stars as "the girl," with strong support from George Sanders, Herbert Marshall and others.

The film includes some of Hitchcock's finest set-pieces, even if the romantic subplot tends to slow things down a bit. Highlights include a secret hideout inside a windmill, and Edmund Gwenn's hired killer attempting to push McCrea out of a high church tower. There's also a dark torture scene, with Van Meer enduring bright lights and jazz music(!); Hitchcock mostly shows reaction shots to underscore the brutality of the scene.

The climax includes a powerful plane crash into the ocean (the scene begins as the camera tracks through the clouds, through the window of the plane in flight, and then through the cabin). The final scene is a slightly veiled but earnest plea for America to enter the war.

Warner Home Video released this on DVD in 2004, with a making-of documentary (featuring the usual band of misfits) and a trailer. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French. In 2014, the Criterion Collection released an amazing new Blu-ray set (which includes two DVDs). Aside from an incredible remastered 2K picture and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, it comes with a new piece on the film's visual effects; an interview with Mark Harris on Hollywood Propaganda and World War II; a 1972 interview with Hitchcock on "The Dick Cavett Show"; a radio adaptation; and a 1942 "photo-drama" by Hitchcock. There's a trailer, and a liner notes booklet by film scholar James Naremore.

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