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Blu-ray Review: ‘Foreign Correspondent – The Criterion Collection’

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Written by Lorna Miller

Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent is a political romantic thriller set on the brink of World War II. Highlighting the United States lack of interest and denial of the current happenings in Europe was a brave topic for his second American movie yet it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

New York newspaper reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) receives the opportunity of a lifetime when his editor, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport), promotes him to foreign correspondent. Mr. Powers is concerned about what is happening in Europe and believes that war is imminent. He is looking for a fresh, unused mind with no knowledge of politics to investigate and believes John to be a man of action who will get the job done. John is immediately sent to London under the name of Huntley Haverstock.

Upon his arrival, John is tasked with interviewing Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman) to uncover the details of the current treaty and the likelihood of war. While attending a meeting organized by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) of the Universal Peace Party, he runs into Van Meer without being able to illicit any useful information. After his failed interview, John is quickly distracted by Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day), becoming more interested in winning a date with her than the purpose of the meeting. Carol is forced to speak at the meeting when Van Meer is called away for a conference in Amsterdam and becomes distracted herself by John’s flirtations.

Upon entering the conference, Van Meer is shot. John witnesses the assassination. In his attempt to catch the shooter, he commandeers a vehicle driven by British reporter Scott ffolliott (George Sanders) and passenger Carol. The chase leads them to a field of windmills. Scott and Carol leave John to investigate in order to go to get the police. He uncovers a huge conspiracy that he must spend the rest of the film trying to unfold while trying to convince the others it exists.

The video for the Blu-ray has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. According to the liner notes in the booklet, “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, and flicker. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

There are several special edition features included in the collection. “Hollywood Propaganda and World War II” (HD, 26 min) offers insight by writer Mark Harris on the critical role films such as Foreign Correspondent played during the war. “Visual Effects in Foreign Correspondent” (HD, 19 min) provides an interview of visual effects expert Craig Barron highlighting the set pieces and special effects. The camera work is extremely impressive in this film. In particular, there is an umbrella chase and windmill sequence that I watched multiple times. Seeing behind the scenes of these and other key moments allows a chance to view them on a whole other level. “Interview with Director Alfred Hitchcock from a 1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show” (1080i, 63 min) provides an introduction by Cavett followed by the interview, which showcases Hitch’s humor, passion for film and brilliant mind. “Have You Heard? The Story of Wartime Rumors” (HD) presents the still photographs from Hitchcock’s 1942 Life magazine photo drama. There is also a radio adaptation of the film from 1946 starring Joseph Cotten (26 min), a trailer and a booklet featuring an essay from film scholar James Naremore.

Foreign Correspondent was released one year prior to the United States entering into World War II. The timeliness of the film likely created a level of intensity and intrigue that I found lacking in watching it today. While there are several scenes featuring quintessential Hitchcock touches where the drama slowly builds in intensity and shots filled with amazing special effects for the time, it is a little slow. Learning about what was occurring in the United States at the time the film was being made heightened my interest and the message. It is worthy of watching but is very different from the better well-known Hitchcock films. Foreign Correspondent is more subdued and offers less intensity than what I have come to expect. Rather it is a straightforward political thriller with a touch of romance.

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