On the eve of WW2, a young American reporter tries to expose enemy agents in London.
Nominated for 6 OSCARS: Picture, Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, Special Effects, Original Screenplay
In late 1940 there was a movement in Hollywood movies that attempted to push the American people against Nazi Germany even though the United States was not involved in the war in Europe. A European, who knew the war well, happened to make one of the better propaganda movies before the United Statesí involvement. Alfred Hitchcockís Foreign Correspondent (1940) was his second movie made for an American producer, but still dealt with troubles in Europe.
Joel McCrea plays Johnny Jones, a reporter who is sent overseas in order to cover the big news in Europe with a certain flair that newspaper publishers seemed to covet back in the 1940s. Before leaving America, Johnny is renamed Huntley Haverstock as Jones is considered to be a name that is meaningless in Europe.
Jones makes the trip across the pond and finds Dutch diplomat Professor Van Meer, who happens to know the secret clause to a peace treaty that will prevent war in Europe. This is the MacGuffin of the movie, as the peace treaty and the secret clause are never fully explained, although everyone seems to think it is very important to know these things.
At this point our hero meets Carol Fisher, whose British father, Stephen, is the head of a peace organization. At least that is what we are led to believe. Stephen is actually working for the enemy. The only one who is on to Mr. Fisher is Mr. Folliott, a quirky Brit who could only be played by George Sanders.
Jones meets up with Folliott while attending a peace conference in Holland. He is following Professor Van Meer, to speak with him about the secret clause, when Van Meer is shot. This is one of the iconic images in Foreign Correspondent. In the rain, on the steps leading into the big building where the conference is being held, a man steps out of the crowd with a camera to take Professor Van Meerís picture. He has a gun and shoots the Professor. Then he runs through the crowd of people. Hitchcock shot this from the top and we see the man escaping by the movements of the umbrellas everyone is holding.
Jones is hot on the manís tail, but is unable to catch him. He ends up jumping into a car, driven by Folliott and the two give chase. They end up following the man to a road filled with windmills, what else would you expect in Holland? They are unable to find the man, but Jones does pick up some valuable information while maneuvering through the windmill, which looks like something straight out of a German Expressionism movie. Jones finds out that Professor Van Meer is not dead. He has been held at the windmill, drugged and unable to comprehend what Jones says to him.
With some suspicions, Jones makes the trip back to London in order to tell Stephen that Professor Van Meer is alive. This information helps draw Carol closer to him, but it also helps Stephen know that Jones is on to something. So Stephen hires an assassin, a bodyguard he tells Jones, to make sure none of the information Jones has gets out. This backfires and the assassin is the one who dies.
From here, Folliott steps in and tells Jones that Stephen is really working for the Germans and does not want peace. Jones begins to believe him and the two work out a plan to get Stephen to confess his plans and to find Professor Van Meer. The plan sort of works, as no plan ever goes perfectly well in Hitchcock since there would be no suspense if the plan worked to perfection.
In the end, Professor Van Meer is freed, but war has not been prevented. Stephen and Carol are traveling to America on an airplane. They find out that Folliott and Jones are on the same plane and when they touch down in New York, Stephen will be arrested for being a Fifth Columnist. Things donít work out that way as the plane is shot down, since the war has started. In another brilliant shot, we see the planeís cockpit fall into the water. The special effects in this shot look just as good as anything done today.
After a harrowing exit from the airplane, our major players end up floating on a wing. The Atlantic Ocean is too strong though and Stephen ends up falling off the wing, as a sort of suicide instead of waiting to be arrested once everyone is rescued. Jones tries to save Carolís father, but the waves take him under before he can get to him. The heroes are saved by a ship and Jones is able to tell his whole story to his newspaper and he becomes the paperís top foreign correspondent throughout the war.
The movie ends with a nice propaganda speech from Jones, reporting from London during the bombings of the city. It was not added by Hitchcock, but by producer Walter Wanger and is an example of what would come in future Hollywood movies made during World War II. Unlike other movies, this one has a meaningful story and does not resort to stereotypes of the enemy. It also features some of the best camerawork seen in a Hitchcock movie up to this point.