Fourteen scriptwriters spent five years toiling over a movie adaptation of war correspondent Vincent Sheehan's Personal History before producer Walter Wanger brought the property to the screen as Foreign Correspondent. What emerged was approximately 2 parts Sheehan and 8 parts director Alfred Hitchcock--and what's wrong with that?
Joel McCrea stars as an American journalist sent by his newspaper to cover the volatile war scene in Europe in the years 1938 to 1940. He has barely arrived in Holland before he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Albert Basserman: at least, that's what he thinks he sees.
McCrea makes the acquaintance of peace-activist Herbert Marshall, his like-minded daughter Laraine Day, and cheeky British secret agent George Sanders. A wild chase through the streets of Amsterdam, with McCrea dodging bullets, leads to the classic alternating windmills scene, which tips Our Hero to the existence of a formidable subversive organization.
McCrea returns to England, where he nearly falls victim to the machinations of jovial hired-killer Edmund Gwenn. The leader of the spy ring is revealed during the climactic plane-crash sequence--which, like the aforementioned windmill scene, is a cinematic tour de force for director Hitchcock and cinematographer Rudolph Mate.
Producer Wanger kept abreast of breaking news events all through the filming of Foreign Correspondent, enabling him to keep the picture as hot as possible: the final scene, with McCrea broadcasting to a sleeping America from London while Nazi bombs drop all around him, was filmed only a short time after the actual London blitz.
The script was co-written by Robert Benchley, who has a wonderful supporting role as an eternally tippling newsman. Foreign Correspondent was Alfred Hitchcock's second American film, and remained one of his (and his fans') personal favorites.