The circumstances of Foreign Correspondent’s release are as fascinating as the film itself. It was 1940 and England had been involved in World War II for some time (though not yet under full assault). The United States, meanwhile, was watching from afar. Alfred Hitchcock had recently moved from England to Hollywood and released two films that year, both of which were nominated for Best Picture: Rebecca (which won) and this geopolitical thriller, about an American crime reporter sent to Europe to cover the crumbling continent. If Foreign Correspondent still registers most strongly as a piece of anti-isolationist propaganda, I can’t image how loudly its politics must have sounded at the time.
Indeed, its skewering of dilly-dallying political players is fairly ruthless. When reporter John Jones (Joel McCrea) arrives in Europe, he finds both the established press and various diplomats blithely unconcerned about international affairs (they’re more interested in cocktail parties). When Jones does connect with a foundation at work on the peace process, led by a father and daughter (Herbert Marshall and Laraine Day), he also sniffs out something of a conspiracy. With no one else seemingly concerned (save for a Bondesque British reporter played by George Sanders), it’s up to the brash American to swoop in and save the day.
A bit ham-fisted in its call to arms, Foreign Correspondent also fails in trying to force a romance between McCrea and Day. But there are plenty of signature Hitchcock sequences to recommend it: the chase of an assassin through a sea of black umbrellas; a game of hide and seek in a Dutch windmill; a climactic airplane crash that holds up against anything in the Mission: Impossible films. Rebecca is, indeed, the better film and in some ways the more Hitchcockian. But if Foreign Correspondent did its part to rally the troops against fascism, that should certainly count for something.