The Directors’ Chair: Foreign Correspondent (1940)

The Directors’ Chair: Foreign Correspondent



What a nifty little spitfire of a movie Foreign Correspondent is. Joel McCrea stands in for America in this ‘thirty-seconds-before-WWII-begins’ thriller. A Dutch ambassador (poignantly played by Albert Basserman) possesses “The MacGuffin” and the bad guys want it…by any means necessary.

“It’s a secret clause. I know it. Clause 27. But they, they mustn’t know it.
It will help them if they make war.”

And here stumbling in on the world scene is beat reporter, McCrea. His newspaper upgrades him to the level of foreign correspondent but Kronkite and Murrow, he ain’t. Broad, twangy monotone voice, trading in a fedora for a bowler he can’t keep track of, and a cavalier attitude towards world events…heck, that ain’t even our fight. Added to this fish-out-of-water trope are two more Hitchcock ingredients stirred in to make this a bona fide Hitchcock movie:


1. a feisty and pretty girl (this time not necessarily a blonde)


herbert marshall FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT ( 5 )

2. a smooth, sleek, cultured villain. 

Herbert Marshall Laraine Day Foreign Correspondent It's true then, what I wouldn't believe.
“It’s true then, what I wouldn’t believe”

Well, he’s got that in Laraine Day and Herbert Marshall. There’s a slight twist…they are father and daughter, so loyalty gets a good going over. Now, I never really quite buy them as father and daughter no matter how many times Day says ‘cahnt’ instead of ‘caint.’ But what the hey. What matters is Marshall cares very much for her and she can be used as a pawn against him.

George Sanders Foreing Correspondent He's not your friend, Mr. Van Meer.
“He’s not your friend, Mr. Van Meer.”

George Sanders makes a jolly good showing in this film. I love him as a journalist wanting to join forces with McCrea. He’s fast-talking, playful, charming and free-wheeling, physical and shows emotion. I’ve never seen Sanders like this again in his career.

Hitchcock has all sorts of set-pieces in Foreign Correspondent as it moves along at a clip:

*  a chase underneath a sea of umbrellas

*  a windmill turning the wrong way (mind your trenchcoat Joel)

*  an assassin sent in as a body guard

*  that spectacular plane crash (before CGI)

Laraine Day Joel McCrea FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT ( 8 )

Two aspects in Foreign Correspondent are explored more and less in two later Hitchcock films. One is Lifeboat (1944) for reasons obvious after you see this 1940 film. And if I might stretch this a bit, the father ~ daughter relationship in Foreign Correspondent is given a nod in Notorious (1946) by the Alicia Hubermann character though it’s only touched upon there.

Albert Basserman FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT ( 9 )

Boy-meets-girl, spy meets future son-in-law. And it all hangs in the balance by a kindly white-haired gentleman. Hitchcock’s works are such a many layered thing… there’s enough there to mine for its parts.


–Theresa Brown for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Theresa’s Directors’ Chair articles here.

Theresa Brown is a native New Yorker, a Capricorn and a biker chick (rider as well as passenger). When she’s not on her motorcycle, you can find her on her couch blogging about classic films for CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Classic films are her passion. You can find her on Twitter at @CineMava.

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6 Responses to The Directors’ Chair: Foreign Correspondent (1940)

  1. Barry Lane says:

    One of the great things about this film and Hitchcock is he knew instinctively who select as villain — the sanctimonious leader of the ‘peace’ movement.

  2. Check, check, and check. Foreign Correspondent shows our man Hitch really knew what he was doing in this movie business.

    My daughter used (with due credit given) the Herbert Marshall speech about fanaticism for a high school history project. Her teacher was duly impressed.

  3. That’s what I love about the guy. Hitch won’t pick a villain you can see five miles away. He’ll pick a villain you call…Dad.

  4. Sanjay Parthasarathy says:

    One of the best Hitchcock movies. This film is kind of precusor to a James Bond movies genre coming decades later.

  5. Ruth Mundsack says:

    This is such a great film! Every moment! One I can watch over and over! The cast was spot on! Got to Love Hitchcock and the use of the Macguffin! And the over coat scene makes me panic everytime I watch!

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