It’s a shame, really, when a director has to compete with himself for numerous Academy Awards, but that is exactly what happened in 1941, the year after Alfred Hitchcock released his first two Hollywood productions, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. The former was nominated for nine Oscars, and picked up wins for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and the latter had six nominations, also including Best Picture and Best Cinematography but it didn’t wind up taking home any.
This self-competition is also likely why now, so many years later, Rebecca is the much better known of the two pictures.
So which really is the better picture?
Nope, not gonna play that game.
It wouldn’t be a fair competition anyway, since the films are so very different. Rebecca is a gothic romance whereas Foreign Correspondent is a straight-up spy thriller. The fact that Hitchcock could direct two such different movies in the same year and have them both considered as one of the top movies of the year – and again, this was only his first year making movies in America – bespeaks to the genius he already was and which would only develop further as time went on.
Set in the days just prior to the outbreak of World War II when all of Europe seemed to be on edge and even the smallest thing might be the catalyst to tip the scales of war from potential to actual, Foreign Correspondent is the story of reporter Johnny Jones – played by Joel McCrea and rechristened Huntley Haverstock by his New York Globe editor and boss Mr. Powers – who is sent to Europe to get some “real news” on the events that are occurring there and to try to determine if war is, indeed, about to break out.
As one would expect, this being a Hitchcock film, it’s not long at all before Jones/Haverstock is not only reporting the news, but becoming a reluctant part of it.
After bearing close-up witness to the seeming assassination of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer outside a political meeting in Amsterdam, Jones begins to investigate the strange events an peculiar people which surround the event, and the multiple level machinations which are occurring. Many of these seem to involve Stephen Fisher, the leader of the Universal Peace Party, and his daughter Carol, whom Jones had previously met.
It seems as though it shouldn’t need to be said that all is not what it seems, nor is everyone who they seem or purport to be. Yet despite all of the twists and turns of a script which involved ten different writers, Hitchcock never allows the viewer to become lost or to lose track of just what is going on. Yes, there are times when those in the audience may not know any more than the characters on the screen, but there are just as many times when – in accordance with Hitchcock’s own definition of suspense, the viewer knows just enough more to raise the tension to the next level.
Of course, all of the skill that Hitchcock brings to the production would be for naught without an incredibly talented cast to help him pull it off, and he definitely has that here with a troupe which consists of not only McCrea but also Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Robert Benchley, and Edmund Gwenn along with many others who would become leading lights in Hollywood.
So while Foreign Correspondent may not be as slick or as well known as some of his later spy thrillers such as North By Northwest, it is definitely able to hold its own when it comes to being a part of the revered master’s canon and is one of his earlier works which should definitely be seen by more people, especially by those who are already fans of the director’s work.
Here’s a trailer: