Sunday, November 21, 2010

Foreign Correspondent

Title: Foreign Correspondent
Year: 1940
Studio: United Artists/Walter Wagner
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton & Robert Benchley
Source Material: Partially inspired by 'Personal History' by Vincent Sheean
Running Time: 120 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 21st November, 7:00am
I was sincerely worried I was not going to find the time this weekend to do this next entry in my blog. I had a busy weekend with an awful lot of domestic duties and a couple of social engagements. I also assumed I was going to have a lie in this morning due to the raucous party happening over the road which went on into the wee small hours. Thankfully, my ever hungry cat woke me up bright and early to sate her appetite, so I was able to watch Foreign Correspondent before leaving to go and see some friends for lunch.
I may also add that I wouldn't have minded too much if I'd had to forego this weekend's movie as I need to break the habit so that I don't feel too much pressure to adhere to a strict schedule. Heaven knows, I am not going to be able to keep it up whilst on holiday early next year! All the same, I feel better having done it this morning. (Please forgive the rather rushed tone of the synopsis, but I am trying to write it in a hurry - you'll get the gist, I'm sure.)

John Jones/'Huntley Haverstock' - Joel McCrea
Carol Fisher - Laraine Day
Stephen Fisher - Herbert Marshall
Scott ffolliott* - George Sanders
Von Meer - Albert Bassermann
Stebbins - Robert Benchley
Mr Rowley - Edmund Gwenn
Mr Krug - Eduardo Ciannelli
Mr Powers - Harry Davenport
Tramp - Martin Kosleck
Mrs Sprague - Frances Carson
Stiles - Charles Wagenheim
Latvian - Edward Conrad
Bradley - Charles Halton
Dorine - Barbara Pepper
"Mohican" Captain - Emory Parnell
Mr Brood - Roy Gordon
Mrs Benson - Gertrude Hoffman
Captain - Martin Lamont
Steward - Barry Bernard
Asst. Commissioner - Holmes Herbert
McKenna - Leonard Mudie
English Announcer - John Burton

*No, this is not a typo... Scott explains: "One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion!"

"To those intrepid ones who went across the seas to be the eyes and ears of America.... To those forthright ones who early saw the clouds of war while many of us at home were seeing rainbows.... To those clear-headed ones who now stand like recording angels among the dead and dying....
To the foreign correspondents - - this motion picture is dedicated."

The New York Morning Globe - It's August 19th, 1939. Mr Powers, the newspaper editor is frustrated with the lack of information coming from overseas in regard to the crisis in Europe. He calls for Jon Jones to his office - a crime reporter - as he wants someone with a different attitude to go over and find a hardcore story. Johnny is keen to go, as long as he gets a decent expense account which he gets. He is assigned an assumed name - Huntley Haverstock - and he sets off on the Queen Mary.
He meets another 'Globe' employee - Stebbins - in London and he gives him a few pointers.
Jones' job is to get to know a man named Von Meer from Holland who signed a certain peace treaty. He is to get to him via a Mr Stephen Fisher who is head of the Universal Peace Party.
On August 25th, Jones is feeling his part as he dresses in the typical London outfit - bowler and brolly at the ready - he meets Von Meer and shares a taxi, but Von Meer is evasive and would rather talk about birds.

At the Savoy hotel, they are attending a conference. Inititally, the guests mingle and John is particularly enamoured with one of the young women he assumes is with the press. It turns out she is Fisher's daughter, Carol, and he is enchanted.
Oddly, Von Meer disappears, despite being a key-note speaker at the Peace Party conference.
The next day, John travels to Amsterdam to find him again. Outside the conference building, he spies Von Meer approaching up the stone steps. As he goes to greet him, Von Meer is shot in the head by an assassin in disguise as a photographer. Jones chases the killer through the crowd underneath the skin of umbrellas. A few passers-by get wounded in the ensuing chase. The killer escapes in a car, but Jones chases after him along with Miss Fisher and her friend Scott ffolliott. They lose the car amongst some windmills, but John is suspicious when he notices one of the sails turning against the wind. He sends Scott and Carol away to fetch the police whilst he investigates. He finds the killer's car and sneaks into the windmill. Hear he spies the criminals, but also discovers Von Meer, alive and well, but drugged. He discovers that the man who was shot was a double so that the world would think he was dead whilst the enemy try to get information about the secret treaty from him.
Jones escapes through a window and returns to the nearby village. When he returns with the police, Scott and Carol - the spies have fled by plane along with Von Meer. They discover a tramp at the windmill which discredits Jones' story.

Jones telegrams his newspaper:


Back at the hotel in Amsterdam, two men arrive at Jones' room dressed as policemen. He is suspicious and escapes through his bathroom window and creeps around the exterior of the building in his dressing gown and climbs into Carol's bedroom. He has to persuade her of his situation - she is reluctant at first, but soon comes round. They return to England by boat, but due to a rush on people trying to return home form Europe, there is a lack of cabins and Carol and John profess their love to each other at night, wrapped in rugs on the cold deck.
Back at her father's home, he tells the story to her father. However, he is in league with the enemy and his colleague, Mr Krug, is recognised by Jones as a man from the windmill. In private, Krug and Fisher plan for Jones to be eliminated and under the guise of assigning him a body guard, actually put him under the 'protection' of an assassin, Mr Rowley.
However, Rowley's attempts on Jones' life fail and ultimately lead to his own demise as he falls from the tower at the cathedral.
This prompts Jones to talk to Stebbins and ffolliott about it. It is ffolliott's decision to pretend to kidnap Carol in order to get information from Fisher. John is not utterly convinced but as it can appear that he is merely taking her away to a safe haven (in this case, Cambridge) he does not see the harm.
Whilst at The College Arms in Cambridge, Carol overhears John booking the rooms for the night and imagines the worst and leaves secretively to return home, upset and heartbroken.
Scott ffolliott takes the information of the kidnapping to Mr Fisher unaware of Carol's imminent return. Stephen Fisher is initially concerned, but he hears Carol's car return and ffolliott's plan fails so he leaves... Overhearing an address given to a taxi driver, ffolliott manages to follow Fisher to the location where they are torturing Von Meer. He enters, but is held at gunpoint. Von Meer is at breaking point and is about to give all the details of the treaty. Scott starts a fight and leaps out of the window, but by the time he returns with help, the gang of spies have fled once more.

War is declared between Germany and Britain.
Fisher and his daughter, all forlorn, are on the plane back to America. Unknown to them, they are joined by Scott and John. Fisher learns of their presence when he intercepts a telegram for ffolliott warning of his own imminent arrest. Knowing his future is pretty certain, he confesses all to his daughter, but she is one step ahead and has guessed most of it already. John and Scott make themselves known to the Fishers, but the plane is attacked from a German boat below. They lose and engine and a wing and they plunge into the sea. Many people are drowned, but a handful (including our core cast) survive and cling onto the loose wing as the rest of the plane sinks. There is too much weight from the survivors - Stephen Fisher heroically gives his own life to save his daughter's.
An American boat picks up the remaining few and Jones is able to tell his story to the globe over the phone, with permission from Carol.
The war is )obviously) not prevented, but we learn that John gets the job as foreign correspondent for America and stoically strives to report the atrocities from London over the airwaves with Carol by his side.
The End.

Great Lines
Of course it's pretty reasonable to assume this piece of foreshadowing was never intended, but I love the fact it signals things to come in 23 years' time:

John: "...I do think that right now birds are the least of our problems."

Von Meer's line telling of his despair is given beautifully - it's rather touching and poignant:
"I feel very old and sad and helpless..."

And finally, an amusing exchange between John Jones and his ineffectual would-be assassin on the state of policing in teh United Kingdom as opposed to the United States.

Rowley: "Even our police don't carry guns!"
Jones: "What do they do then?"
Rowley: "Biff you over the head with a stick. It's more 'ealthy, like..."

I am fond of this film for a number of reasons. I think the cast are pretty much spot-on throughout the movie. If I have one complaint, its the romance between the two leads. It does seem a little forced and unnatural. However, this is combated slightly by the wonderfully offbeat and self-aware scene in which Carol and John declare their love bluntly whilst freezing at night on the deck of a ship. There's no fantastical romance cliches, just straightforward statements. It could have been terrible as the written lines could look corny, but the actors make them work.

There are some wonderful moments in this film. Here are just a few:

1. The now famous and frequently copied scene with the birds' eye view of the crowd with umbrellas on the steps of the conference hall.
2. The brilliant special effects shot of the camera zooming in through the window of the flying plane into the scene within.
3. The whole plane crash into the ocean is breathtaking.
4. The cunning way Jones, ffolliott and Carol Fisher manage to report the story back to the Globe via the hidden phone so that the Captain of the Mohican won't suspect. It's almost farcical, but it's a welcome happy moment after a traumatic number of events.

Admittedly, the playing of star-spangled banner does grate a little at the end for anyone who is not American as it appears a little self-righteous, but the pomp is understandably respectable given its contemporary setting.

My Verdict
Another pacy and enjoyable ride - it's one of those two hour films that doesn't feel that long. George Sanders is superb too. 8/10

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