Europe is on the brink of war and all the usual reporters can get out of politicians are tired and dry ways to say nothing, so armature Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is appointed to become a foreign correspondent in Europe for a New York newspaper. Fresh, naive and constantly losing his hats, Jones interviews Van Meer, a leader of a peace movement, but he doesn’t seem to talk about anything more important than feeding the birds. He also meets a colleague of Van Meer, Mr. Fisher, and falls for his lovely daughter, Carol. Later in Amsterdam, Jones witnesses Van Meer’s assassination and boldly tracks down the assassin to discover a whole conspiracy.
This is the first of four films by, Alfred Hitchcock (my personal favorite director of all time) to be nominated for best picture. Now, a majority of Hitchcock’s films follow at least one of two basic formats: man being followed or psychological creep out. He got nominated for both in 1940, quite a feat. Rebecca (where I promise to gush more about the master of suspense) is the psychological creep out and Foreign Correspondent is the man being followed.
It seems that Jones is one of Hitchcock’s men who knew too much. The plot is wonderfully smart, with all the twists and turns, but at times it’s as complicated as being caught in a hedge maze. Once you’re able to step back and recall the map does it all fit together. The great thing about getting turned around so much is the surprises around every corner, including a scene that seems like practice for the end of Vertigo, complete with nuns.
My favorite scene was where Jones is inside a working windmill on the outskirts of Amsterdam. I won’t give away any discovered plot, but I will say that the way Hitchcock uses the cramped vertical space and moving gears to create his trademark tension is beautiful. And even though I was yelling for Jones to cop out and ride the rotating windmill blade out the window (like we’ve seen in so many other films) Hitchcock is more creative than that, and won’t let the viewer off that easy.
There’s also a surprising amount of action and daring special effects, especially near the end. Once again, I don’t want to spoil the fun. Let’s just say, it doesn’t go down in flames and won’t hang you out to dry.
This is a good movie, one of Hitchcock’s better man-being-followed thrillers. Though, I judge how much I love a Hitchcock film by how much I yell at the characters. You know, “Don’t go in there you idiot, it’s full of birds!” Unfortunately, I wasn’t hoarse or angry by the end, but still found it enjoyable and worthy of the Hitchcock stamp of approval. If you have to choose between Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca, remember, there’s a good reason why Rebecca won Best Picture.
“I think the world has been run long enough by well-meaning professionals. We might give the amateurs a chance now.”