Tag Archives: Edmund Gwenn

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

1138Foreign Correspondent was the second movie that Alfred Hitchcock made in American, following the Gothic, psychological romance Rebecca with a WWII thriller. Actually, the film is only somewhat a WWII thriller. Take out the epilogue and one would hardly know, though there’s a lot of talk about a coming war in Europe.

The editor of the New York Globe – Powers (Harry Davenport) – is frustrated with his foreign correspondents in Europe. All they can give him is speculation about the coming of war with no hard facts. It’s driving him nuts, so he chooses Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) to go to Europe, a scrappy journalist who got into a fight with a policeman in pursuit of a story and has no particular agenda or political bent.

“What Europe needs is a fresh, unused mind,” Powers observes. So Johnny Jones is sent to Amsterdam with a new name – Huntley Haverstock, provided by Powers – and orders to interview a Dutch politician named Van Meer (Albert Basserman), who is central to the negotiations for peace. Johnny is also put into contact with the British Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who is head of the Universal Peace Party, which is about to hold an important conference. In the meantime, Johnny also falls in love with Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day)

In many ways, Foreign Correspondent feels similar to North By Northwest. Simple American gets mixed up in foreign intrigue and is on the run. Van Meer is assassinated….no, wait… he’s actually abducted. There is a secret clause to a peace treaty that the villains (it’s not mentioned, but they are understood to be Nazis) wish to know from Van Meer. The plot is, however, unlike North By Northwest in that there is a lot of it, a lot of characters and it’s a bit confusing at times.

But the film itself is extremely entertaining, full of wit, with some terrific thrills and memorable scenes and a cast that has a lot to offer. I’ve always loved Herbert Marshall’s voice and as Fisher he makes an excellent, unexpected villain. The secret is that his character is really German (was his name originally Fischer…he just dropped the c?). But he’s a villain with one, glaring weakness. He loves his daughter and in some ways, he’s one of Hitchcock’s least evil villains. He even gets to have a heroic end.

George Sanders also gets to play against type…this time as a good guy. Scott folliott (when his ancestor lost his head to Henry VIII, his ancestor’s wife dropped the capital letter to”commemorate the occasion”). He’s a journalist, too, one of those daring young British types who always makes a joke in the face of danger.

Edmund Gwenn gets a delightful role as Rowley, a cockney assassin who keeps trying to kill Johnny without sucess. Robert Benchley makes an appearance as a dyspeptic correspondent who is now reduced to drinking milk and taking pills and Albert Basserman is the heartfelt voice of the little people against the fascists (his speech in defiance of the Nazis in the middle of the film always drew applause in 1940).

Joel McCrea is one of those actors I seem to like the more I see him. He’s not a flashy actor – I’ve heard him called the poor man’s Gary Cooper, which seems unfair – but he has a central integrity, charm, capable of snark, but also of sweetness…also sincerity, without ever taking himself too seriously. He always seems willing for a joke to be at his expense and to look a little silly. He’s more of an every man than Cary Grant, but a bit more articulate than Gary Cooper.

Laraine Day is not your typical Hitchcock blonde heroine, but the film’s all the better for it. She’s one of the most normal, well-adjusted of all Hitchcock’s heroines (despite having a Nazi for a father)  and the romance between McCrea and Day is unusually sweet for a Hitchcock film.

There are also some wonderful scenes that are very unique to Hitchcock. An assassination in the driving rain, on the steps to a building, then darting away underneath a sea of umbrellas. Sneaking around the inside of a curiously expressionistic windmill. A plane crash in the middle of an ocean. Escape from assassins through a bathroom window in nothing but underwear and a robe.

There are a few moments that mark the film out as having been made specifically during WWII, such as Albert Basserman’s role as Van Meer. But the prevailing ethos is that of Johnny and Scott ffoliott as reporters out for a scoop…somewhat like His Girl Friday. Theoretically, they’re doing it for patriotic reasons, but mostly their just doing it because they’re reporters and they’ve happened on the biggest scoop short of a declaration of war (which does come in the middle of the film). It is Carol and her father who are the ones motivated by patriotism (though admittedly patriotism to separate countries).

The ending, however, is the most striking example of a wartime message. It was added after the end of the film’s shooting and when real-life London was under attack from German air raids. In the film, Johnny is giving the news via radio to America when an air raid occurs and the lights go out and he is forced to modify his message, exhorting America to keep the lights burning, so to speak. It is a direct appeal from Britain to America in 1940, though America wouldn’t get into the war until the end of 1941.

This post was written for The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. Thanks so much to Coffee, Classics, & Craziness for hosting!!! Be sure to read all the other posts on Hitchcock.




Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Movies


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Mister 880 (1950) – Romantic Comedy and Counterfeit Money

Mister_880It’s a bit like Miracle on 34th Street, though surprisingly I liked Mister 880 even more than the celebrated Christmas classic. It was made in 1950 and stars Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire and the man who played Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, Edmund Gwenn. Despite the similarities, it’s a more low-key film, a bit less sentimental and has a little less of a point to make. It’s also based on a real story and so the film feels more everyday, about people doing their job and doing the best they can for themselves and other people. There are no villains in Mister 880.

The Secret Service has been interested in the case of an amateur counterfeiter they call Mister 880 for ten years. He’s a terrible counterfeiter, he even spells Washington as Wahsington, but because he only counterfeits one dollar bills and never uses them at the same place, the secret service has never been able to catch him. For a fresh perspective, they bring in Steve Buchanan (Burt Lancaster) to work on the case.

He begins to notice that there is a geographical pattern to how the money is being used and soon a suspect turns up. Two counterfeit one dollar bills are used by Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire). Ann is a respectable translator who works at the UN and Buchanan quickly rules her out as the source of the money, but thinks that perhaps she can lead him to the real counterfeiter. 

The real counterfeiter is an elderly war veteran called Skipper (Edmund Gwenn). He likes to deal in ‘antiques’ and barely has enough money to live on. Whenever he’s really in a bind, he tells people that he must go to “Uncle Henry,” who turns out to be a money press. He only uses it in extreme emergencies, and then only prints one dollar bills and makes sure that he never gives anyone more than one dollar (though he did give his neighbor and friend, Ann, two dollars, but he really felt she over-payed him for an antique he bought her). He’s such a lovable guy; he likes kids and people really respond warmly to him.

Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Edmund Gwenn

Burt Lancaster, Dorothy McGuire, Edmund Gwenn

Buchanan is convinced that the counterfeiter is in Ann’s neighborhood, but although he is always visiting Ann (they’ve fallen in love) he doesn’t realize that the man he is looking for is right under his nose.

It’s a fun, irresistible and warm film. Gwenn really does play him as a lovable, though vulnerable, guy. When Buchanan is closing in on the counterfeiter, Skipper has to stop making his one dollar bills and without that source of income he must sell his beloved collection of antiques (some people would call it junk); antiques that he always said kept him company and which he made up stories about. It’s not a drawn out scene, but very poignant that this lonely old man, without a word of complaint or a tear, is selling off all he owns and cares about.

But his creed is that he doesn’t want to be a bother. That is why he refused a service pension that he is entitled to. He thought he could save the government time and money by just making a dollar here and there as the need arose, ironically causing more trouble for the government than he ever could have imagined.

Dorothy McGuire and Burt Lancaster are also really good in this film. She’s competent and smart and gets on to Buchanan almost from the get go, though she says she hopes that once he figures out she’s not a counterfeiter that he won’t drop her too fast; she thinks he’s hot (and it’s Burt Lancaster, so I can’t disagree). And although he could play extremely tough men, Burt Lancaster is also endearing in this film. He’s a bit gung-ho about his work and talks a hard line about catching and prosecuting counterfeiters, but he’s no Inspector Javert. He’s really a nice guy.

phot6360Another thing I enjoyed about this film is that no one has to change. Sometimes, these kind of films can be a bit preachy; how the by-the-book secret service man must learn compassion and bend his principles, but there is none of that here. Nobody has to change and nobody gets mad at anyone. Ann doesn’t even get angry at Buchanan when he does his job and arrests Skipper, though she is grieved. Even the judge, who also believes in taking a hard line on matter of counterfeiting, is not antagonistic, though he is stern. He too responds to Skipper’s warm personality and it doesn’t take much for Buchanan to talk him into a lenient sentence. It’s a charming film about good, affectionate people trying to do the right thing.


Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Comedy, Romance


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