Thursday, May 10, 2012
I can't believe I never saw this movie before. if only because it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and I thought I'd seen everything of his that was ever replayed on television, transferred to video or CD, or digitized. Guess not.
I knew the title, and thought I'd seen it, but there it was on TCM and I watched it from the opening credits with the realization I had either never seen it, or completely forgotten everything about it, which has sometimes happened since the legendary brain surgery ("legendary" is meant to be ironic, something I'm never that good at).
Joel McCrea plays his usual stand up regular guy hero with Laraine Day as "the love interest" with a twist. And a slew of great golden era Hollywood studio veteran character actors give fantastic support, including a young George Sanders and always sinister Herbert Marshall (and Robert Benchley who almost steals the movie in his few comic scenes that seem like they were written by him).
The story of a seasoned crime reporter sent overseas for the first time as a neophyte foreign correspondent to find out what's going on with this impending war stuff (it was made in 1940, only the second movie Hitchcock made in Hollywood, and while London was beginning to suffer the Nazi bombing assault) it's typically hokey Hollywood oversimplification and sanitized politics (the main bad guy representing the Nazi threat and tactics is shown to have a good heart after all), it's still a petty bold statement considering it's finale is set on an American ship maintaining neutrality even in the face of the murder of innocent civilians.
To watch it seventy-two years after it was made, knowing what was to come not only for England, but the USA and almost the entire world, the death and destruction and final victory over a world made in the image of Hitler and his ilk is pretty moving, despite the sometimes hammy acting and lack of true "realism." It's still Hitchcock, so even in scenes that seem implausibly staged, he managed to create enough cinematic tensions that I found myself getting anxious or holding my breath.
Sanders and others do their best to create a sense of real danger and evil in their reaction shots, but ultimately on what was the brink of the most violent episode in human history (in terms of death and destruction and brutality) FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT now looks almost childishly naive, and yet it wasn't, it was actually a prescient warning for any "Americans" who still thought they could remain aloof from the growing conflict in Europe, which was at the time most of them.