Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940)

(Released: 2004 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

I don’t know the ins and outs of your crackpot peace movement, and I don’t know what’s wrong with Europe, but I do know a story when I see one – and I’ll keep after it until either I get it, or it gets me!” -- Joel McCrea, as reporter “Johnny Jones” in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent”.

Johnny Jones is a brash crime reporter for the “New York Globe”. His unorthodox methods get often get him in trouble, reflecting badly on both the paper and his editor.

It is the eve of World War II in Europe. Something is clearly afoot, but only the same dull, warmed over pap is dispatched to the Globe by its European correspondent. In a stroke of editorial inspiration, the Globe appoints the unconventional Jones to the Euro-beat.

“Over there”, Jones adopts the name “Huntley Haverstock” for greater credibility, is met by the previous correspondent – Robert Benchley in a semi-humorous role, and covers a “peace movement conference” only to witness the assassination of the Dutch high official “Van Meer”. Shot rather graphically in the face, for the times, I might add.

The gunman gets away in the rainy, atmospheric Amsterdam crowd scene, but not before Jones is off in pursuit, assisted by the daughter of the peace movement’s leader (Larrane Day) and a rival reporter played by the great George Sanders.

The chase appears to have reached a dead-end, until Jones notes that a single Dutch windmill, in a field of many, is turning COUNTER to the wind direction!

From there, it’s plot and counterplot, death-defying chases and plunges, and a fast paced thrill-ride through a world where nothing is as it seems – and even saintly old Edmund Gwenn (“34th Street’s own Santa Claus”) can become a deadly assassin before your unbelieving eyes!

…And then, there’s that amazingly frightening passenger plane crash at sea.

But what did you EXPECT from Alfred Hitchcock?

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that, while the Extra Features are adequate, ANYTHING Hitchcock should offer more.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Surely, there are film historians and Hitchcock scholars capable of providing such a track. “Foreign Correspondent” may not be Hitchcock’s most famous film, but it is more than worthy of a DVD commentary.


The Film: Story and (needless to say) direction are first rate. Print quality is just fine for a film of its age.

The Cast: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, George Sanders, Herbert Marshall. Robert Benchley, Eduardo Ciannelli (familiar ‘60s TV guest star – usually a sophisticated continental villain, agent, or aristocrat), Ian Wolfe (slight, older, British actor very familiar to STAR TREK fans for appearances in “Bread and Circuses” and “All Our Yesterdays”), and Edmund Gwenn unthinkably cast as an assassin.

Extra Features:

Theatrical Trailer for “Foreign Correspondent”

Let’s let loose with the promotional bluster and hyperbole:



The latter, of course, refers to the plane crash at sea, with its explosive impact, and scramble for survival. I’m no film historian – and I don’t even play one on this Blog – but, for all I know, this MIGHT have been the first such SFX scene filmed, or one of the first, or certainly one of the most effective!

“Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock” (Runs 33:32).

Doesn’t exactly make up for the lack of a commentary track but, at a length of over 30 minutes – longer than usual for such a feature, this documentary provides its share of interesting information.

Alfred Hitchcock came to America in 1939, and made “Rebecca” as his first film in the States. He was deeply concerned over the threat of war in Europe, and that concern led to “Foreign Correspondent”.

His collaborator/screenwriter at the time, both here and in his native England was Charles Bennett – who later had a long association with producer Irwin Allen and particularly with VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, from the original 1961 feature film through all four seasons of the (“sub”)sequent television series.

Indeed, knowing this, I can’t help but wonder if Bennett “ported” the spectacular ocean plane crash sequence over to VOYAGE, where FOX TV SFX masters Howard Lydecker and L.B. Abbott recreated it as the great scene (used at different points throughout the series) where the Flying Sub power-dives from the air and hits the water hard.

Bennett’s VOYAGE episode “Escape from Venice” certainly seems influenced by the plot of “Foreign Correspondent”.

Producer Joan Harrison, the most significant creative presence behind the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS television series was also a screenwriter for “Foreign Correspondent”.

Other topics include: Hitchcock’s proposal to his wife (and creative partner) Alma, detail on the crash sequence, and parallels to the later “North by Northwest”.

Participants include: Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter), film historians Robert Osborne, Rudy Behlmer, and Richard Schickel, actress Laraine Day, directors Peter Bogdonovich and Richard Franklin, Peter Benchley and Nat Benchley authors and grandsons of Robert Benchley, Stuart Birnbaum (“Friend and collaborator of Charles Bennett”) and Mary Stone granddaughter of Hitchcock.


“I came 4,000 miles to get a story! I get shot at like a duck in a shooting gallery! I get pushed off buildings! I get the story and then I gotta shut up!” Sounds kinda like KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER… without the monster! Oh, and Jones slyly manages to achieve the results Carl Kolchak never did – leading to one heck of an inspiring final scene.

By this time, need I even say “This is a great film!” or should I just say “This is a HITCHCOCK film!” and be done with it. The selection of Extra Features is good, not great. It is recommended for Hitchcock, foreign intrigue and suspense fans, and enthusiasts of the immediate pre-war period.

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