Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Last Time The World Turned In On Itself-Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1939)-A Film Review (And Cautionary Tale)

The Last Time The World Turned In On Itself-Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1939)-A Film Review (And Cautionary Tale)  

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell
Foreign Correspondent, starring Joel McCrea, Phyllis Baxter, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1940 

With the headlines today blaring about building old-fashioned Chinese Walls along democratic borders (which never kept anybody out who was determined to breech the damn thing by subterfuge or flat out assault-read history and experience pleases), wars, endless wars (almost a truism today when we have a 16 year Afghan War still smoldering and an Iraq War barely trailing behind), pestilence and many people on the planet without a passport, in short a world of nations turning in on themselves it is hard to realize that not so long ago, less than one hundred years ago now, the same kind of phenomenon plagued the world before brutal World War II and its ravages sorted things out in a very messy way. Normally a retrospective film, like the one under review here Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 classic black and white Foreign Correspondent, merely reflects on a slice of life of given long gone time but the storyline here is as fresh as today’s headlines mentioned above. And although it was rather heavy-handed particularly toward the end with a British patriotic message for America to break away from its isolationist policies and help bring down the bad guys that overall message rings true today. (Of course Brit Hitchcock was pitching for the US of A to stop sitting on its hands and given isolated and fighting it alone Great Britain a helping hand.)  
See how this sounds. A New York newspaper owner during early 1939 is mad as hell to get an idea of what was happening in Europe as the clouds of war were gathering and the night-takers, the guys who produced “the night of the long knives” were on a roll. He wanted a new set of ears away from the bum reporters who were soaking up gin and tonics overseas and mailing in no-where government ministry hand-outs with even the pretense of a re-write. New blood was needed, a new slant by a young guy, a crime beat reporter who was still hungry to get to the bottom of the story-war or not war on the horizon. Enter one Johnny Jones (who will use an alias in Europe), played by Joel McCrea. The owner persuades Johnny to go dig up the dirt on those troubling war clouds- is it bluff or for real.
Johnny hits London running. His first job is to see what the peace organizations are thinking, see which way the wind is blowing so he starts following up leads on meeting Fisher, the head of the key peace group. But along the way he runs into unknowingly at first a Dutch diplomat who has just help conclude a treaty with a secret clause that some nation, eventually determined to be the bloody Germans were extremely interested in.
The diplomat become the central pawn in what now turns into an international spy thriller. The diplomat disappears mysteriously then seemingly turns up in Amsterdam and is shot by some nefarious character. That turned out to be ruse, the guy killed was an imposter. The real diplomat had been squirreled away in a windmill (remember from your youth with that kid Peter I think his name was holding off the briny deep with his thumb in a dike Amsterdam is in Holland and used to be called the low country for that very reason). Who was behind all this subterfuge is what intrigued Johnny, oh, and Fisher’s well-turned daughter as well. Naturally the romance one Johnny takes his second peek will be a thread that goes through the film.       

Here’s the play though old upper-crust gentile Englishman peace-nik Fisher is really a German spymaster running an operation to gather information for the Reich using the peace organization as a front. They were trying to squeeze information out of the diplomat that might help them. No go as Johnny and a pal grab the good old Dutch diplomat from that endlessly rotating windmill the buggers flee like rats. Eventually the game is up though as World War II, the non-American part, blows across Europe, begins and Fisher tries to flee to America on a trans-Atlantic clipper along with that fetching daughter, Johnny and his pal. In some kind of poetic justice a German destroyer shoots the plane down and in the melee that followed old Fisher gives up his wretched life to save others from the plane by jumping off a one too many floating sections of the downed plane. And the daughter? Well she and her Johnny will go arm and arm telling whoever would listen that the world is a small place and if they, the bad guys win there will be no place left to hide in the sand. Sound familiar?      

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