Watching Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 classic FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT last week, its startling to realize that this film hit theatres nearly 80 years ago!
We meet NYC reporter Johnny Jones (the dashing Joel McCrea) in a rut in Manhattan, turning in his latest predictable story. He's not controversial, a little bored and phoning it in.
His editor assigns him to travel to Europe to cover a Peace Conference, just as World War II is about to breakout. It's a brilliant assignment, as Jones brings no political agenda to his viewpoint.
Jones is barely off the plane before he witnesses the assassination of Van Meer, one of the two people instrumental to an impending peace treaty.
Hitchcock stages the murder in his own classic style, with a mob of umbrellas parting way for the murderer and Jones in pursuit, shot from above in a driving rainstorm. It's pure Hitch.
Jones meets Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) and his outspoken daughter Carol (Laraine Day) and is pulled into the politics and fractured sides of a Europe teetering on Hitler's domination.
Jones dives into intrigue, discovering a secret plot and learning that the real Van Meer may actually be alive, with secrets in his head to the peace treaty.
Scott FFoliott is Jones ally (right?) and perfectly played by George Sanders (Rebecca, All About Eve) and Albert Bassermann brings unexpected power to his role as Van Meer.
Hitchcock stages some of his all-time best suspense and action scenes, including a mid-air attack on a passenger plane with all our key players involved, a plunge into the ocean and battle to escape the sinking airliner.
A long sequence in a desolate windmill loaded with bad guys builds suspense for nearly a half hour.
The film has plenty of laughs too, especially in a Blake Edwards worthy scene at a hotel in which hit men are trying to kill Jones. He ends up climbing around the outside of the building in his bathrobe and dropping in on Carol's room, devising a hilarious plan to get back into his room that will involve half the hotel staff.
McCrea, Day and Sanders are pure class, with an easy, enjoyable rapport.
Hitchcock delivers a powerful message too, mixing patriotism into a plea for America to get involved in the European conflict. When the film was released in 1940, all of Europe was in the middle of Hitler's takeover and the US remained on the sidelines.
By the film's final five minutes, it must have been hard for American audiences to resist the plea for our help. Of course, Pearl Harbor the year after the film landed would pull America into the conflict.
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is a Hitchcock classic, loaded with suspense, humor and action. 80 years on, it remains one of his best films and gets an A.