Foreign Correspondent is a 1940 American spy thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It 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 after 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. Foreign Correspondent was nominated for six Academy Awards, including one for Albert Bassermann for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win any.
The editor of the New York Globe, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport), is concerned about the "crisis" in Europe, the growing power of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the inability of celebrated foreign correspondents to get answers about whether or not war will ensue. After searching for a good, tough crime reporter for a fresh viewpoint, he appoints Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) as a foreign correspondent, under the pen name Huntley Haverstock.
The reporter's first assignment is Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), leader of the Universal Peace Party, at an event held by Fisher in honour of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). On the way to the party, Haverstock sees Van Meer entering the car that is to take him to the party, and runs to interview him; Van Meer invites him to ride along. At the party, Haverstock meets Fisher's daughter, Carol (Laraine Day). Van Meer disappears mysteriously. Later, Fisher informs the guests that Van Meer, who was supposed to be the guest of honor, will not be attending the party; instead he will be at a political conference in Amsterdam.
At the conference, Van Meer is shot in front of a large crowd by a man disguised as a photographer. Haverstock commandeers a car to follow the assassin's getaway car. The car he jumps into happens to have in it Carol and Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), another reporter, who explains that the capital letter in his surname was dropped in memory of an executed ancestor. The group follows the assassin to a windmill in the countryside.
While Carol and ffolliott go for help, Haverstock searches the windmill and finds a live Van Meer; the man who was killed was an impostor. The old man has been drugged and is unable to tell Haverstock anything. Haverstock is forced to flee when the kidnappers become aware of him. By the time the police arrive, the villains have escaped with Van Meer in an airplane.
Later, back at Haverstock's hotel room, two spies dressed as policemen arrive to kidnap him. When he suspects who they really are, he escapes out the window and into Carol Fisher's room.
Haverstock and Carol board a British boat to England, and while a furious storm thunders overhead, he proposes to her. In England, they go to Carol's father's house, where Haverstock sees a man whom he recognizes as one of the men at the windmill. He informs Fisher, but Fisher ignores him and promises that he will send a bodyguard to protect him. The bodyguard, Rowley (Edmund Gwenn), repeatedly tries to kill Haverstock. When the assassin tries to push him off the top of the Westminster Cathedral tower, Haverstock steps aside and Rowley plunges to his death.
Haverstock and ffolliott are convinced that Fisher is a traitor, so they come up with a plan: Haverstock will take Carol to the countryside, and ffolliott will pretend she has been kidnapped to force Fisher to divulge Van Meer's location. After a misunderstanding with Haverstock, Carol returns to London. Just as Fisher is about to fall for ffolliott's bluff, he hears her car pull up.
Fisher heads to a hotel where Van Meer is being held with ffolliott on his tail. Just as Van Meer is being forced to divulge the information the organization wants, ffolliott distracts the interrogators. When Haverstock arrives, Fisher and his bodyguards escape, leaving Van Meer behind. Van Meer is rushed to the hospital in a coma.
England and France declare war on Germany. While Haverstock, ffoliott and the Fishers are on a Short Empire plane to America, Fisher confesses his misdeeds to his daughter. Carol believes Haverstock does not really love her but only used her to pursue her father. Haverstock protests that he was just doing his job as a reporter. Seconds later, the plane is shelled by a German destroyer and crashes into the ocean. The survivors perch on the floating wing of the downed plane. Realizing that it cannot support everyone, Fisher sacrifices himself by allowing himself to drown. Jones and ffolliott attempt to save him, but are unsuccessful. They are rescued by an American ship, the Mohican. Jones, ffoliott, and Carol surreptitiously communicate the story by phone to Mr. Powers over the objections of the captain, who refuses to allow this abuse of ship's communications. In London, Haverstock and Carol broadcast via radio to the United States a description of London being bombed, warning them that the war will affect them all.
- Joel McCrea as Johnny Jones / Huntley Haverstock
- Laraine Day as Carol Fisher
- Herbert Marshall as Stephen Fisher
- George Sanders as Scott ffolliott
- Albert Bassermann as Van Meer
- Robert Benchley as Stebbins
- Edmund Gwenn as Rowley
- Eduardo Ciannelli as Mr. Krug
- Harry Davenport as Mr. Powers
- Martin Kosleck as Tramp
- Frances Carson as Mrs. Sprague
- Ian Wolfe as Stiles
- Charles Wagenheim as Assassin
- Edward Conrad as Latvian
- Charles Halton as Bradley
- Barbara Pepper as Dorine
- Emory Parnell as Captain John Martin of "The Mohican"
- Roy Gordon as Mr. Brood
- Gertrude W. Hoffmann as Mrs. Benson
- Marten Lamont as Captain of clipper plane
- Barry Bernard as Steward on plane
- Holmes Herbert as Asst. Commissioner Folliptt
- Leonard Mudie as McKenna
- John Burton as English Announcer
Alfred Hitchcock can be seen when Joel McCrea first spots Van Meer on the street in London; Hitchcock walks past reading a newspaper. Albert Bassermann, who plays Van Meer, was German and did not speak English, so he had to learn all his lines phonetically. Likewise, one supposedly Dutch girl in the film speaks Dutch phonetically, though less convincingly.
Producer Walter Wanger bought the rights to journalist Vincent Sheean's memoir Personal History in 1935, but after several adaptations proved unsatisfactory, Wanger allowed the story to stray significantly from the book. It took numerous writers and five years before Wanger had a script he was satisfied with, by which time Hitchcock was in the United States under contract with David O. Selznick and available to direct this film on a loan-out. Hitchcock, who enjoyed not working under the usual close scrutiny of Selznick, originally wanted Gary Cooper and Joan Fontaine for the lead roles, but Cooper was not interested in doing a thriller at the time, and Selznick would not loan out Fontaine. Later, Cooper admitted to Hitchcock that he had made a mistake in turning down the film.
Working titles for the film, which began production on 18 March 1940 and initially finished on 5 June, were "Personal History" and "Imposter". Shooting took place at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in West Hollywood, and on location around Los Angeles and Long Beach.
After the film wrapped, Hitchcock visited his native England, and returned on 3 July to report that it was expected there that the Germans would begin bombing London at any time. To accommodate this, Ben Hecht was called in to write the epilogue of the film, the scene in the radio station, which replaced the original end sequence in which two of the characters discussed the events of the film on a transatlantic seaplane trip. The new ending was filmed on 5 July, presciently foreshadowing the celebrated radio broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow.
One of the sequences in the film that continues to have a strong effect on viewers is the mid-ocean crash of the Empire airplane after it is shot down by a German destroyer. In 1972, in an interview with Dick Cavett, Hitchcock discussed some details of how the scene was created. Footage taken from a stunt plane diving over the ocean was rear-projected on rice paper in front of the cockpit set, while behind the rice paper were two chutes connected to large water tanks. The chutes were aimed at the windshield of the cockpit so that water would break through the rice paper at the right moment, simulating the crash of the plane into the ocean.However, during the crash sequence, studio lights can briefly be seen.
Hitchcock's eccentric marriage proposal to his wife Alma was written for this film, for the scene when Haverstock proposes to Carol.
Hitchcock frequently used visual imagery to underscore the dramatic action. When McCrea flees his hotel room and touches the letter "E" of the neon "HOTEL" sign, he burns himself and the letters "E" and "L" die, leaving the word "HOT" and leaving the sign reading "HOT EUROPE", underscoring the film's theme of war in Europe.
Foreign Correspondent opened on 16 August 1940 in the United States and on 11 October of that year in the United Kingdom. The film, which ends with London being bombed, opened in the United States at the dawn of the Battle of Britain, just three days after the Luftwaffe began bombing British coastal airfields in the early Adlerangriff phase of the Battle of Britain, and a week before Germany actually began bombing London on 24 August.
The film did well at the box office, but its high cost meant it incurred a loss of $369,973. It was generally praised by the critics, although some saw it as a glorified B movie. It also attracted attention from at least one professional propagandist, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who called Foreign Correspondent
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.
The film has a 93% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Awards and honors
In 1941, Foreign Correspondent was nominated for six Academy Awards, but did not win any.
- Best Picture
- Best Writing, Original ScreenplayÂ â" Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison
- Best Actor in a Supporting RoleÂ â" Albert Bassermann
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-WhiteÂ â" Rudolph MatÃ©
- Best Art Direction, Black-and-WhiteÂ â" Alexander Golitzen
- Best Effects, Special EffectsÂ â" Paul Eagler (photographic), Thomas T. Moulton (sound)
The film was named one of the 10 Best Films of 1940 by Film Daily, and was nominated for Best Picture of 1940 by the National Board of Review.
Foreign Correspondent was adapted to the radio program Academy Award Theater on July 24, 1946, with Joseph Cotten starring.
- Foreign Correspondent at the Internet Movie Database
- Foreign Correspondent at the TCM Movie Database
- Foreign Correspondent at AllMovie
- Foreign Correspondent at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Foreign Correspondent at the Hitchcock Wiki
- Foreign Correspondent at Rotten Tomatoes
- Foreign Correspondent on Academy Award Theater: July 24, 1946