Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 272 - Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent (1940) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Foreign Correspondent is an early Hitchcock spy thriller about an American reporter sent to Europe on the eve of WWII. The reporter, Hunter Haverstock (his professional pseudonym), witnesses the assassination of an important diplomat which leads him to uncover a conspiracy with big implications to the upcoming war. It is the classic accidental spy formula where an ordinary individual uncovers something big, complete with thrilling action sequences and cat and mouse chases with the hero rising up to the challenge. Part of the reason why this formula is successful is because the viewers can imagine that they are the ones up there. At any given moment an ordinary person could be the star of his or her own adventure.

I'll be honest; the exact nature of the conspiracy was a little lost on me. I didn't quite get how the nefarious activities going on were going to affect the upcoming war, but it doesn't really matter if you fully understand as long as the feeling of intrigue is there. And it feels and plays out like a spy thriller should, mysterious, exciting and suspenseful.

There is of course the obligatory romance angle between the protagonist and the girl of interest. I didn't really get much from this as the sparks didn't really fly for me. Plus it seems a little far fetched that the girl would so quickly fall for him. I would just love to bother a girl so much that she suddenly couldn't live without me. I am still working on that part of my game.

But what I really want to talk about are some of the more memorable scenes. It's kind of amazing that this film was made over 70 years ago because it contains some seriously impressive set pieces that look good even by our standards. There is the assassination in the rain on the steps of the church. It is a truly thrilling and good looking scene. I loved the overhead shot of the villain escaping under all the umbrellas. There is a chase that leads to the bad guys' hideout in an abandoned windmill. Here Haverstock must sneak his way around inside to avoid getting caught. There is a nerve wracking moment where we think he may get his arm crushed in a giant gear. There is a scene where the hired goon tries to push Haverstock off the top of a roof shot in typical Hitchcock fashion. In the most impressive scene, a plane crashes into the ocean in frightening fashion. Without the use of any CGI, this may be the best plane crash scene I've ever seen.

Foreign Correspondent, like Chaplin's The Great Dictator, was released as a propaganda film and both share the same type of ending with an impassioned speech. In The Great Dictator, Chaplin breaks out of character to send his message of tolerance and the follies of fascism and so forth. In this film, Haverstock makes a radio broadcast imploring America to join the war effort against Germany as London is getting bombed. What is interesting about these moments is that they arguably do not belong in the context of the films and may even make them objectively worse. Nowhere in Foreign Correspondent until the last 30 seconds does Haverstock ever voice his opinion on war, but his very last words in the film is pure propaganda. Films are made for art and entertainment, but can also be made to send a message, whether subtly or completely out in the open.

Grade: B+

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