- May 7, 2001
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 120 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Package: Single Disc/Keepcase
Last week was a big one for fans of legendary British director, Alfred Hitchcock. Warner Brothers released a ten disc (9 films) boxed set entitled, The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection. Among the new releases are Dial M For Murder (1955), I Confess (1953), The Wrong Man (1956), Suspicion (1941), Stage Fright (1950), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) and a Two Disc SE of Strangers On A Train (1951). Also included in the set is the ultimate WB Hitchcock property, North By Northwest (1959) in a new style keepcase, and finally the featured film, Foreign Correspondent (1940). Individual titles will list for $19.97, while the two disc SE will list for $26.99 or the entire set lists for $99.92.
A word of caution to Canadians or those who will be ordering the set from Canada, as it would appear the previous version of North By Northwest (in the snapper case) has simply been added. It would appear, so far at least, that the sets within the U.S. contain the newer keepcase version of NxNW.
This entertaining spy-chase, war-themed thriller was produced with Hitchcock on loan to independent producer Walter Wanger through United Artists while under oppressive contract to David O. Selznick, who was responsible for some of the biggest named films to come out of Hollywood during the 30’s and 40’s.
Similar to many of Hitchcock's adventure thrillers, Foreign Correspondent is delivered with a hint of whimsicality and some sharp dry humor. Johnny Jones (played by Joel McCrea) is a crime reporter and with the impending World War looming, has been recently assigned a new position as a foreign correspondent in Europe. His editor feels that “Johnny Jones” won’t elicit the kind of respect necessary for the position, so the more pretentious “Huntley Haverstock” is what he is soon referred to as.
Soon after his arrival, he stumbles upon a story involving the assassination of an important diplomat named Van Meer (played by Albert Bassermann) but he soon learns the assassination isn’t quite what it appears to be nor is his ally, the leader of the Peace League, Stephen Fisher (played by Herbert Marshall) but he winds up falling in love with his daughter Carol (played by Laraine Day). With only the help of fellow reporter Scott ffolliott (that’s right, two small “ff’s” - played by George Sanders) and not knowing who else he can trust, he finds himself in the middle of a thrilling plot surrounded by spies and espionage in attempt to unearth who’s responsible for trying to escalate the war.
Whether a comparison is fair (or even necessary for that matter), but whenever I watch this film, I can't help but be reminded of North By Northwest which include many early “Roger O. Thornhill” moments. Though Foreign Correspondent starts off a tad slower, the film progresses nicely and one can't help but notice the many intriguing similarities to the film that would follow some 20 years later. By no means a criticism, as one of my favorite Hitchcock films is North By Northwest but I always find it fascinating to see how someone's work manages to progress as the years pass and in this case, early genius shines through. That said, I'm not a big fan of comparing films within the repertoire of a particular director. I'm of the opinion it serves no other purpose other than to potentially disappoint someone who might hold an unviewed film in the same regard, when in fact, the film stands on its own merits quite solidly as this film most certainly does.
The film, thanks to Robert Benchley is quite witty from start to finish. Apparently, Hitchcock enlisted the help of Benchley to infuse some humor into the script but wound up using him as a character actor due to his comedic ability. The film also features Edmund Gwenn in a role, anything but similar, to his Miracle On 34th Street portrayal of Kris Kringle, this time playing a hired killer. A very young George Sanders also appears as McCrae’s dry witted and sardonic counterpart.
There are many memorable scenes in Foreign Correspondent as well including the infamous umbrella scene, where a group of onlookers line the stairs after the shooting takes place which allows the route of escape amidst all the confusion. There is also the infamous crash scene which is as tense and as claustrophobic as any modern day special effect, not to mention the windmill scene where McCrae hides out to save his life – a scene which is spectacular. Rarely a minute goes by without a chase or a murder or a rescue and there is even some classic slapstick comedy to be found.
Surprisingly and given the mood of the times with the world on the brink of war, you won’t find much propaganda in the film other than the final scene but even that is a testament to McCrae’s ability (during a rather dark moment) and is certainly understandable given the timeframe of the period. Although the film was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, it was in direct competition with another Hitchcock film, Rebecca, which of course, won the award for Best Picture.
For fun, we’ve been listing the various Hitchcock cameos throughout the series. In the case of Foreign Correspondent, Hitchcock appears at:
The 12:44 mark, early in the film after Joel McCrea leaves his hotel, he passes the master wearing a coat and hat and reading the newspaper.
The Feature: 4.5/5
I continue to be amazed with the films in this collection. For a film that was basically made in the late 30’s (released in 1940), I’m left unable to come up with a single disc of similar vintage from my library that surpasses this disc presentation wise and as a result, I couldn’t be more flattering.
The overall level of image definition was astounding for a film of this age. Sure, some of the wider and longer shots were on the soft side, but for the most part the film oozes with detail. There was only a slight amount of fine film grain present throughout the entire film which resulted in a beautiful film-like image resulting in a satisfying look of depth and dimensionality – very nice indeed.
Black levels were almost perfect and conversely, whites were stark and crisp. The level of contrast and shadow detail was just right - all of which adds up to a level of grayscale that is pretty impressive.
The print was even cleaner than I would have imagined as there was hardly a blemish to be found and the amount of scratches was negligible at best. I did notice some slight jitter throughout much of the “tower scene”, but thankfully it wasn’t too distracting and more importantly, it didn’t last very long.
For a film coming up to 65 years old, this looks amazing. Great job.
The soundtrack is a DD Monaural, and is yet another example of a very good mono track done right.
Surprisingly enough, there is more action throughout this film than you might expect and while I couldn’t describe the dynamic range of the track as robust, it does a better than average job with a slight amount of oomph.
Thankfully, dialogue was always exceptionally bold and clear throughout the entire film. Even through the melodramatic score by Alfred Newman which complements the mood and whimsical atmosphere of the film, dialogue is never lost or competing.
The monaural track is as clean as we would expect, with no hiss or any popping or crackling anomalies. Throughout the entire film, the track sounds very natural and rarely becomes slightly edgy or harsh. I only noticed a couple of occasions when the score had a slight edge to it but it was rather minor in nature.
Only two special features included with this disc starting with:
[*] A Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock which features a number of participants including film historians Robert Osborne, Richard Schickel and Rudy Behlmer, Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, Nat and Peter Benchley (grandsons of Robert Benchley – and for those unaware, the same Peter who authored Jaws), and older clips of Laraine Day. The documentary commences by elaborating on the history of Walter Wanger and the loan arrangement of Hitchcock from David O. Selznick. The extra spends a great deal of time highlighting the contributions of writer and character actor, Robert Benchley who was responsible for the comedic infusion in the film. Various set creations as well as special effects that were used are also discussed in great detail. Another solid little feature that offers up a substantial amount of information pertaining to the film. Duration: 33:32 minutes.
[*] The only other extra is the Theatrical Trailer which is spottier than the featured film, but is still in pretty good condition. Duration: 2:23 minutes.
Special Features: 3.5/5
**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**
Perhaps due to the fact that most of the actors/actresses weren’t instantly recognizable stars, Foreign Correspondent remains one of the least-known Alfred Hitchcock pictures, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving. The suspense is continual and unrelenting, and similar to North By Northwest, progresses and builds to a magnificent climax. The performances are wonderful, the writing was key and Hitch’s direction was, as always, perfect.
WB has once again given the superb film - superb treatment and complemented it with a couple of worthwhile special features, all of which makes my decision to recommend this disc an easy one.
As an added note, after having gone through the majority of films in the Hitchcock Signature Collection, I might even be inclined to say that this is one of “the best” boxed set releases we have seen thus far - ever. Admittedly, considering the magnitude of Hitchcock and what’s been written about the man, the special features are rather novice, however, they do contain a vast amount of knowledge and details about the Master of Suspense and his films. The A/V presentations throughout these pictures exceed even my greatest expectations and the set has been priced extremely reasonable. If you are a fan of Hitchcock or classic film, you owe it to yourself to pick up this set. You won’t regret it.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Release Date: September 7th, 2004