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Sight and Sound (2014) - Foreign Correspondent






Alfred Hitchcock; USA 1940; Criterion/Region A Blu-ray and Region 1 DVD Dual Format; 120 minutes; 1.37:1; Features: booklet, 1946 radio adaptation, Hitchcock on The Dick Cavett Show, 1942 Life magazine photo-drama by Hitchcock, featurettes on Hollywood propaganda and special effects

After completing Rebecca (1940), his first movie in Hollywood and a very successful gothic women's picture/thriller, Alfred Hitchcock plunged into this film for producer Walter Wanger--it's an unwieldy adventure with dashes of propaganda in which a peace-party figurehead (Herbert Marshall) is unmasked as a spy. Though the film's hero Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) mentions Hitler by name at one point, Hitch was pressed to keep things vague about Germany's involvement in the war. He gets around this by having the chief villain (Eduardo Ciannelli) speak a little nonsense German backwards, and by leaning heavily on German expressionist visuals during a set piece involving a large Dutch windmill.

Foreign Correspondent is solid second-tier Hitchcock, with some famous sequences -- a murder during a rainstorm that makes creative use of umbrellas, an extremely exciting climax in which a plane crashes into the ocean -- but there are rather pedestrian, hurried interactions among the characters in between. The editing and camera movements during these filler scenes feel distinctly restless, and there are several visual and thematic ideas in the more noted sequences here that would only come to full fruition in Hitch's late masterpiece North by Northwest (1959). Robert Benchley provides unfunny comic relief and Laraine Day is a lacklustre leading lady, but the film benefits from the presence of George Sanders, who has one extremely funny double-entendre line involving women and firearms.

This is a film to have handy to watch and rewatch the big scenes (particularly the fearsome umbrella murder, when two innocent bystanders are shot) but as a whole it tends to feel lopsided and overstuffed, with uneasy switches in tone. Disc: A fine transfer buttressed by a very informative talk with author Mark Harris about propaganda films of the time, and a peek into the creation of the elaborate visual effects with effects expert Craig Barron.