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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.

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Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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Four Faces West (1948)

220px-Four_Faces_West_FilmPosterI’m becoming a fan of Joel McCrea. I didn’t realize it until I looked at how many of his movies I like: Sullivan’s TravelsThe Palm Beach StoryColorado TerritoryThe Most Dangerous GameThe More the MerriorStars in My Crown. And along with Gary Cooper and James Stewart, he has really connected me with westerns. But Four Faces West is a somewhat unusual western. As has been pointed out by others, no guns are fired, though guns are certainly pointed. No punches are thrown. There aren’t even any villains, really. Yet it’s far from a dull film.

While the town of Santa Maria, New Mexico welcomes the arrival of the famous Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) as their marshal, a mysterious man (Joel McCrea) calmly sticks up the bank. Garrett makes a speech, and the man takes $2,000 (and not a penny more) and leaves an IOU signed Jefferson Davis. He then makes good his escape while Garrett and a posse set out after him.

The banker offers $3,000 dollars for the capture of the bank robber, dead or alive, which prompts droves of men to search for him with zeal and little regard for his life, while the unruffled Garrett just wants to do his job and find him before anyone can shoot him. But the bank robber, named Ross McEwan, gets on a train and meets nurse Fay Hollister (Frances Dee – who was also Joe McCrea’s wife), who helps him with a snake bite. He also runs into Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia), who knows Ross got on the train around the place where the robber went missing and for a while neither Ross nor the audience knows what Monte’s intentions are, though it’s clear Monte realizes that Ross is the bank robber.

But the hunt is on and Ross can’t stay put for long, though he and Fay fall in love. He wants to pay back what he stole (he was perfectly serious about the IOU) because he’s already sent the money to his father for an unspecified loan. Fay realizes that he’s a good man (and she puts two-and-two together to realize who he really is) and wants him to turn himself in. As she tells him, if he keeps running eventually he really will turn into the criminal everyone says he is. He’ll have to kill, steal or be killed and he’ll never be the same man again (her prognosis sounds like the eventual end of Paul Muni in I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang).

Four Faces West was made one year before Colorado Territory, but while Colorado Territory contains a relatively decent train robber who would like to start a new life and finds love unexpectedly, the story is building inevitably to the tragic shootout at the end. In Four Faces, we seem to be building to a shootout, but somehow it never materializes. Instead, the confrontation largely happens in a sickroom, with hardly any words spoken. It’s an unexpected denouement.

0040370Because while Ross is trying to get away from Garrett and avoid several potential shootouts, he comes across a Mexican family dying from diphtheria and instead of making off with their horse and escaping, he decides to stay and nurse the family, even becoming somewhat ill himself. And it is in this house of sickness that we finally have all four characters – Fay, Monte, Garrett, and Ross – in the same place. And still no overt confrontation happens! Everyone knows exactly what is going on, but nobody says anything. Will Garrett arrest Ross? Will Ross turn himself in as Fay wants him to? Will he escape, since Monte wants to help him? Will we finally have a confrontation between Garrett and Ross?

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is humane and compassionate with almost a chivalrous tone. Bullets are used to heal (Ross removes the sulfur from his bullets to use as medicine for the sick family) and the four main characters are all good. Joel McCrea’s Ross is like a knight of old, chivalrously going to the aid of others (though it’s hard to imagine Lancelot nursing sick people…at least in Thomas Mallory’s version of the knights) and he only “borrows” money because he’s desperate. I also enjoyed Charles Bickford as Pat Garrett – who is so cool he isn’t even disturbed by the fact that the robbery occurred right under his nose. He has no ego, just does his job and wants to uphold the law, but is not Inspector Javert-ish about it. And I love that in the end, when Ross is pointing his gun at him, Garrett doesn’t even feel the need to mention to Ross that he knows there are no bullets in his gun (though now that I think of it, Monte might have given him a gun, but Garrett didn’t know that).

Frances Dee plays the spunky nurse who believes in Ross, but wants him to turn himself in. She doesn’t want him to run for the rest of his life, though she is willing to go with him if he should chose to run. And Joseph Calleia great as Monte Marquez. We never do learn why Monte helps Ross. He likes him, he can see that Ross and Fay are falling in love and Monte and Ross become friends, though they never feel the need to actually acknowledge what they both know about Ross, though they both know the other knows.

As a random note, I have never seen anyone use a longhorn steer as a means of transportation before; it makes for an interesting silhouette against the desert and sky, cowboy riding cow. And as another random note, there is a child on the train with a knack for causing trouble and poking his nose into everything. The mother of this child spends the entire time trying to keep her child out of trouble and I kept thinking that what this bored child needs is a smartphone. Modern technology is wonderful!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2016 in Movies

 

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Colorado Territory (1949) A Western Remake of High Sierra

images (1)I’ve written the words “I don’t usually like Westerns, but…” so often that I am beginning the rethink my long-stated aversion to the genre. I thought I didn’t like Westerns because when I set out to watch the classics, they never seemed to do anything for me. But there are a few Westerns I do enjoy, often by directors like William Wellman and Raoul Walsh (or sometimes Anthony Mann), though they rarely make anybody’s top ten list. But I really liked Raoul Walsh’s Colorado Territory. It might perhaps be the Western I have most enjoyed (with stiff competition from Winchester ’73).

Colorado Territory was directed by Raoul Walsh in 1949 and is a Western remake of Walsh’s gangster classic High Sierra, from 1941. High Sierra was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett (who also wrote the novel Little Caesar) and is the movie that really boosted Humphrey Bogart’s career and gave him his first good shot at being a leading man. Possibly because of the presence of Bogart, High Sierra remains the most known of the three manifestations of Burnett’s novel (there was a 1955 version with Jack Palance and Shelley Winters), however, I think Colorado Territory is the stronger film.

Wes McQueen (Joel McCrea) is an outlaw who escapes from prison and heads for the Colorado Territory where Rickard (Basil Ruysdael), the man who arranged for his escape, has another job for him to do. Wes is tired of the life and wants to settle down and buy a farm, but he agrees to do this one last job out of gratitude and so he can finance the land he wants to buy. He does not, however, trust the men he will be working with. Duke (James Mitchell) is a young would-be philosopher who thinks he’s smarter than he really is and Reno (John Archer) is a bully without much brains. Also along for the ride is Colorado (Virginia Mayo), a woman who is part Native American with a colorful past who’s been hanging out with Duke and Reno as an alternative to working at the dance hall (code for brothel). They are all hiding together in an abandoned Spanish city and tensions run high, with Duke and Reno fighting over Colorado while she falls for Wes.

Reno, Colorado, Wes and Duke

Reno, Colorado, Wes and Duke

But McQueen doesn’t want her. He wants Julie Ann (Dorothy Malone), who reminds him of the woman he loved and lost (she died). Julie Ann is out west with her father, Fred Winslow (Henry Hull) to start a new life on a ranch. But Julie Ann is not exactly the sweet woman Wes thinks she is. Meanwhile, Duke and Reno are plotting with an ex-detective named Pluthner (Harry Woods) – who also works for Rickard – to kill Wes and make off with all the money they get from the train heist Rickard has planned, though Wes smells a rat (or rats) and is on to them, while Colorado continues to stand by his side through everything.

The train heist is quite exciting – I’ve always had a thing for train heists and trains in general. Put a train in a Western or in any movie, really, and the movie automatically gets a few extra points from me. The scenery is also impressive, with the wide expanses, grand hills and stark mountains where Wes flees at the end.

And in many ways, I think the story of High Sierra works better as a Western instead of a gangster film. One reason is because it is not focused, like High Sierra is, on the end of gangsters as a breed of men, which makes for a more personal focus on Wes and Colorado, their romance, his weariness with running and robbing and his desire to have land of his own, Colorado’s desire to be loved and belong and her utter loyalty to him. Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo have good chemistry and it’s a more satisfying romance than Bogart and Ida Lupino, as much as I love both actors, but Lupino seemed more like a kid with an extreme case of hero worship. There’s a rightness between McCrea and Mayo, as if the two belong together, even when Wes does not initially realize it.

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Virginia Mayo and Joel McCrea

Spoilers! Joel McCrea almost always played a man of principle, especially in his Westerns. He seemed to radiate integrity, so even when he plays an outlaw, as he does here, somehow you still feel like he’s the most principled man around. It’s hard to root for the men who represent the law. Their just doing their duty, but it’s a rough justice they administer, going as far as lynching Duke and Reno. The Marshal (Morris Ankrum) is a cunning man, though, and a combination of betrayal, greed and just plain good planning by the Marshall and his posse, cause the downfall of Wes McQueen.

The ending I also found to be more satisfying in Colorado Territory than High Sierra. He is driven up into the mountains and makes an epic last stand, but once again the personal touch is more in evidence. He is concerned, while alone in an abandoned Indian city carved into the mountain, of leaving a written confession exonerating Colorado, while she is at the foot of the mountain, trying everything she can to save him, only to have the Marshall use her love for Wes to lay a trap. There is something very fitting in how the two of them end up dying together at the last in a blazing shootout. It’s almost poetic.

The acting is top notch. My first introduction to Virginia Mayo was through comedies with Danny Kaye and Bob Hope, but after seeing her in White Heat (also directed by Raoul Walsh – Mayo said she had her best roles in his movies) and now Colorado Territory, I’ve come to appreciate her more. Dorothy Malone is also good as Julie Ann and I find the idea that Wes would fall for her much more plausible then Bogart’s character falling for the teenage Joan Leslie. The script also feels tighter, more streamlined. Colorado Territory really deserves to be better known for its own sake and not just as a remake.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2015 in Movies

 

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