Blu-ray Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ Joins Criterion Club

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

Cinema history has a few great double-up years: 12-month periods in which a classic filmmaker had not one but two great films. Mel Brooks may be the most notorious, releasing two of the best comedies of all time in 1974 (“Blazing Saddles” & “Young Frankenstein”) and Steven Spielberg has arguably done it a few times, inarguably in 1993 (“Jurassic Park” & “Schindler’s List”) and he would double-up again in 2002 (“Minority Report” & “Catch Me If You Can”) and 2011 (“Tintin” & “War Horse”). One of the most-often forgotten double-up years was Alfred Hitchcock’s first year as an American filmmaker — 1940, which saw the premiere of “Rebecca” in April and “Foreign Correspondent” in August. The former has been a Criterion inductee for years and the latter joins the most important club in Blu-ray/DVD history this week in a finely-transferred and wonderfully accompanied release. Blu-ray rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

“Rebecca” has the higher historical pedigree, largely because it’s less dry and easier to engage with when one is first getting into the world of Hitchcock. There’s a mainstream entertainment quality to some of Hitch’s most popular films — “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest” — into which “Rebecca” seems to fit. Then when one has exhausted the “populist” fare, a good cinema lover engages with the espionage films of the master, usually falling in love with “Notorious,” “The 39 Steps,” “The Lady Vanishes,” and, eventually, “Foreign Correspondent.” History has nearly forgotten that both of Hitch’s first films made stateside were not just multiple Oscar nominees but both earned Best Picture nominations. Hitch was the king of the world.

There’s another reason that history has elevated “Rebecca” and lowered “Foreign Correspondent”—the former is a much better film. There are some interesting set pieces in “Foreign Correspondent,” including a fantastic windmill scene that makes me want to watch “Shutter Island” again to double-check my theory that Scorsese cribbed from it in his climax, and the beloved assassination/umbrella shot but the film is tonally unbalanced. It veers from espionage to dry humor to failed attempts at romance and, ultimately, to war propaganda. It’s a good-not-great film that proves that sub-par Hitchcock can still be vastly entertaining but it’s not the place to START a Hitchcock collection.

As for the Criterion release, the 2K restoration is solid but seems a bit oversaturated at times. I had to turn down the bright level on my TV because the character’s faces felt too bathed in sunlight. As for special features, Mark Harris’ interview about how the film played a role in the wartime propaganda movement is the most interesting but archival items like the radio play and a photo series from Hitchcock have great historical value.

Foreign Correspondent will be released on Blu-ray and DVD combo pack on February 18, 2014
Foreign Correspondent will be released on Blu-ray and DVD combo pack on February 18, 2014
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

The wind blows one way but the windmill turns another. To a group of fifth Columnists, it’s a signal. It also signals to an intrepid American reporter that he’s stumbled across the biggest story in prewar Europe.

Foreign Correspondent is prime Alfred Hitchcock, a showcase of the director’s best cinematic tricks and executed on a grand scale. An 80-foot windmill, a 10-acre facsimile of Amsterdam Square used to stage a stunning rain-soaked assassination scene and an airship with a 120-foot wingspan for a still-amazing sea-crash sequence are some of the massive sets in this gripping spy yarn. Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders and Robert Benchley headline this nominee for six 1940 Academy Awards, including Best Pictures.

Special Features:
• New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• New piece on the visual effects in the film with effects expert Craig Barron
• Hollywood Propaganda and World War II, a new interview with writer Mark Harris
• Interview with director Alfred Hitchcock from a 1972 episode of The Dick Cavett Show
• Radio adaptation of the film from 1946, starring Joseph Cotten
• Have You Heard? The Story of Wartime Rumors, a 1942 Life magazine “photo-drama” by Hitchcock
• Trailer
• One Blu-ray and two DVDs, with all content available in both formats
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar James Naremore

“Foreign Correspondent” will be released on Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on February 18, 2014. content director Brian Tallerico

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