Filmsite Movie 

Foreign Correspondent (1940)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Foreign Correspondent (1940)Back in London, Stephen Fisher arrived at his residence, where the servants were in the midst of packing up and making plans for the Fishers (including Carol) to leave for the US the following day. Scott Ffolliott was awaiting his arrival in the sitting room, and Fisher was also informed that the 'American-accented' foreigner had called with urgency, but didn't leave his name. In his study, Fisher was informed by Ffolliott that Carol had been kidnapped, when she was supposed to be visiting her Aunt Margaret's home in Harpenden. Fisher called and it was confirmed that Carol was not in Harpenden. And then Ffolliott divulged that he had "arranged" for Carol's abduction to serve as leverage or as a bargaining chip, in order to learn Van Meer's location:

Carol's being held as a sort of hostage by some people who are very much in earnest, as much in earnest as you are....I want to know where you're hiding Van Meer...The people who've got Carol can take a leaf out of your book....Where's Van Meer?

At that moment, Fisher's phone rang - it was a call from Krug who requested that Fisher join him in order to get Van Meer to talk: "I think I can get our Dutch friend to talk if you come along yourself." After the call ended, Ffolliott again pressed for information on Van Meer's whereabouts without promising anything about returning Carol. Ffolliott's blackmailing pressure to reveal Van Meer's location failed when Carol suddenly arrived safely from the countryside, and he was forced to leave. Carol revealed that she was very upset about Jones' plan to have her remain overnight (she called it "a cheap trick") and vowed to never see him again. And then she became even more unsettled by her father's sudden plans to depart for America "by clipper" due to impending war, although he explained: "It's our last chance. War will probably be declared tomorrow. We have to get to Washington. The boats will all be crowded. We may have to wait two weeks for passage." He also said that the foreign office had taken over the Van Meer situation. He told Carol that after briefly visiting with a few people and concluding some business, they would drive that evening to Southhampton and stay overnight at the Southwestern.

Fisher ordered a taxi (to take him to Van Meer's location) - and as it pulled up outside, he asked to be taken to 242 Charlotte Street at the top of Tottenham Court Road. Ffolliott had hidden outside and heard the address spoken to the cab driver. He instructed Stebbins to await Jones' arrival ("He's bound to come here") to resolve his personal issues with Carol, and then bring him immediately to 242 Charlotte Street. At the same time, Carol answered the phone - it was a call from Krug, but he hung up without speaking to her. Carol knew that Krug was on the other line and became concerned that something was wrong involving her father.

Inside the Maison Rouge restaurant (closed and under renovations) on seedy Charlotte Street, Fisher entered the front door and was allowed to proceed upstairs by two female guards (one armed with a revolver). He was directed to climb a set of dark stairs to a 4th floor room where Van Meer was being tortured by two gang member thugs - under bright Photoflood Lamps while loud music was broadcast from a phonograph record player. The disoriented Van Meer was relieved when the lights and music were turned off and Fisher appeared trusting and friendly to him with his arm around him. He was assured: "I am your friend."

Ffolliott entered and joked: "I represent the Jupiter Life Insurance. Could I interest you in a small policy?" He was followed by one of the female guards with a gun pointed at his back. As Ffolliott sat quietly in the room, the questioning of the confused Van Meer continued by the ingratiating Fisher, who suggested a little game to entice Van Meer to reveal the secret "Clause 27":

They have asked me to get you to tell me what they're trying to find out...You can tell me, Mr. Van Meer. Just that one clause in the treaty. Clause 27. Clause 27. Come, Mr. Van Meer.

Van Meer refused to reveal the clause for fear of aiding the wrong side: "It would help them if they make war. War, Fisher. You don't want them helped, do you?" When Fisher asked for Van Meer to just whisper the secret clause to him, Ffolliott cautioned: "He's not your friend, Mr. Van Meer. Don't tell him." Van Meer became suspicious why he wasn't being rescued and taken away, and then summoned courage to berate his captors who stood in the shadows behind the lights. He accused Fisher of being a traitor, and then described the desires for freedom by "little people" everywhere (the real victims of the war), who were again associated with "birds" - a symbol of peace, freedom and innocence:

I see now. There's no help. No help for the whole poor suffering world. You cry peace, Fisher. Peace. And there was no peace. Only war and death. You're a liar, Fisher. A cruel, cruel liar. You can do what you want with me. That's not important. But you'll never conquer them, Fisher. Little people everywhere who give crumbs to birds. Lie to them. Drive them, whip them, force them into war. When the beasts like you will devour each other, then the world will belong to the little people.

One of the thugs, Kurt, marched over to Van Meer and began torturing him (off-screen), causing moans and shrieks - and pained expressions on the faces of those witnessing the horror.

Outside, Jones (with Stebbins) approached the building and saw shadows of a fight breaking out in the upstairs 4th floor room - Ffolliott was in a struggle with Krug and Kurt, as Fisher fled from the room and escaped down the back stairs. Ffolliott jumped through the window to the street, where his fall was broken by the restaurant's awning. He led them up to the room, where Stebbins attended to Van Meer, while Johnny and Ffolliott chased after the others - seen fleeing in a car.

Later, in the offices of the New Scotland Yard in the city of Westminster, Ffolliott stressed to his obstinate brother, one of the detectives, that they had to stop Fisher before he boarded a plane for the US ("You're a blithering idiot if you don't nab Fisher before he gets on that plane") even if they didn't have direct evidence or "proof against Fisher personally." Without any way to stop Fisher, Ffolliott suggested that they follow Fisher by booking two tickets on the same plane to America, using his connections with his cousin (the director of the airline). Meanwhile, Stebbins was also instructed to visit Van Meer, recovering from his rough treatment in the Hilton Nursing Home. While Stebbins was speaking to doctors in the nursing home, he was promised that once Van Meer was conscious, word would be radioed to the airplane.

The wireless radio and a newsboy on the street reported the breaking news --- War had been declared with Germany.

[Note: It was September 1, 1939 - the date of German's invasion of Warsaw, Poland, followed by Britain and France declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939.]

In one of the more artificial moving camera shots of the film, a Trans-oceanic Airways four-propeller plane (Flight # 4), on its way to the US (a 14 hour flight) was first viewed from a vantage point outside the airplane, and then the camera moved up to one of the windows and entered into the first-class cabin in the front of the plane. Carol and her father Stephen were seated there, while Johnny and Ffolliott were in the rear of the plane in the economy section. A masterful, lengthy dolly shot moved from the front of the plane through the various sections of the cabin to the rear. The radio operator in the flight crew received a transmitted RADIOGRAM message (for Mr. Scott Ffolliott) that was intercepted during its delivery by Fisher. He read disturbing news that had been found out after Van Meer's confession:

Van Meer conscious. Has provided all necessary evidence. Steps have been taken to meet plane other side.

Dreamily looking out the window of their giant 'bird' airplane, Carol offered a significant reflection about flying like innocent birds in the clouds - one of the film's main themes:

It's lovely, isn't it? Sort of makes you forget all about the war and troubles. It would be nice if we could just keep flying for a long time, live in the clouds.

Fisher prepared his daughter for a crash landing - figuratively and prophetically. He confessed to his daughter the truth of his nefarious activities, and how he would be arrested and taken back to London upon their arrival. She had already intuited and suspected that he was a duplicitous spy:

It's time for me to make a landing, a forced landing....Carol, I've got to talk to you. I don't want to, but I've got to. It's the hardest part of the whole thing talking to you now.... I'm to be arrested when we land - as a spy, shipped back to London... It's quite all right, except, just the one phase of it. You. That's why I've got to talk to you. I should like for you to see a little from my own point of view, it might help you afterwards.

He apologized for deceiving her, and admitted he wasn't really English at all: "I fought for my country in my heart in a very difficult way. Sometimes it's harder to fight dishonorably than nobly in the open. And I've used my country's methods because I was born with them. I don't intend on making this sort of plea to the court-martial. I'm making it only to my daughter whom I've loved dearly, and before whom I feel a little ashamed."

When the Van Meer message was returned and redelivered to Ffolliott, Jones could no longer restrain himself and felt compelled to speak to Carol, not as much about her father but about their confused and complex relationship. He felt entirely mixed up: "I'm in love with a girl, and I'm gonna help hang her father." When Jones walked up to Carol and asked to speak to her alone, she began to indignantly defend her father (even though she knew he would be charged as "a traitor and a renegade"), by making multiple claims and accusations against Jones!:

  • Ffolliott's with you, isn't he? And you're both after my father.
  • You're going to have him arrested when we land, aren't you?
  • You've been following him from the beginning. That's why you wanted me out of the way yesterday at the inn, pretended you loved me, tried to keep me overnight so you could...
  • Everything you've ever said to me have been lies.

Jones meekly apologized for any misunderstandings, and tried to convince her that he merely wanted to report his story, and not incriminate her father: "Look Carol, I've got nothing to do with spies or anything. I'm just a reporter and I came here after a story. I'm sorry I ever heard of Van Meer, and I'd blow up the Globe and cut Mr. Powers' throat rather than to do anything to harm you."

The next sequence was one of Hitchcock's most spectacular and convincing set-pieces ever filmed. There was pandemonium aboard the airplane when it was rocked by gunfire from a German warship, 300 miles off the coast of England. The plane began to lose altitude after being attacked. Cool-headed, Carol reached for lifejackets under the seats and began to pass them out. The pilot went to inform the panicked passengers that it was only a " practice" and that they should all be calm. One of the respectable, female British passengers was shot dead as she foolishly complained about putting on the life-jacket, and irately vowed to speak to the British Consul. The gas was ordered to be shut off to two of the prop motors. The radio operator reported that the Germans apologized for firing at them, thinking it was a bomber. The wings shredded as the plane rapidly descended and was about to crash while passengers screamed. The pilots strained to control the deep dive, while some of the passengers fled to the back of the plane (Johnny advised: "When she hits the water, the tail's often the best place").

The crash itself was seen from the point of view of the cockpit (over the shoulders of the two pilots) as the plane dramatically smashed into the surface of the rough seas. Water rushed into the cabin through the sides of the damaged plane. Passengers struggled for air and tried to escape as the aircraft fuselage filled with water (and some drowned at the ceiling), while some survivors made it out of a few of the smashed windows and an opened door, scrambling to the top of the main body of the plane. When the fuselage began to sink, the few survivors shifted onto one of the floating wings. The pilot had made it onto a separate piece of tail wreckage and as he swam over to the already crowded wing - someone yelled that they would all sink with the added weight: "Don't let him on, you fools!" To prevent any more deaths, Fisher heroically attempted to save others from the stormy seas by sacrificing himself - he removed his life jacket and swam off into the rough waters to perish. Carol screamed for Johnny (and Ffolliott) to not follow and drown too ("Johnny, don't go! You'll be washed away"), and they swam back to the floating wreckage. The small group of less than a dozen survivors were rescued by an American ship, the Mohican, that appeared on the horizon, spotted in the pilot's binoculars.

The lucky survivors were safely taken aboard the US ship, that was bound for London and would arrive in a few days. In the Captain's lounge, Ffolliott and Jones had been ordered by the brass-buttoned Captain John Martin (Emory Parnell) to remain "true blue neutral." That meant that they could not radio their news-story from the ship to the press while in "enemy waters." The telephone could be used only for private messages. Ffolliott was upset: "Two days before we get to London, we get scooped on our own story." Jones was still concerned about his weakened relationship with Carol, and vowed not to betray her father:

I came 4,000 miles to get a story. I get shot at like a duck in a shooting gallery, I get pushed off buildings. I get the story, and then I gotta shut up. What are you grinning at? I'm sincere. I'm not gonna throw her father up for grabs. I don't care how he lived. He died like a hero to save her and the rest of us. I guess I'm talking through my hat. Anyway, the whole point of it is, he was her father. And I'm not gonna play Judas to the only girl...

Carol walked in and heard Johnny's defense of her father - she was touched and grateful, but urged Johnny to not sugar-coat her father's involvement with a spy ring, and instead dutifully report the truth: "I want you to send the whole story...You can't help me by protecting my father." Jones vowed his love for her: "I can't hit you over the head with a scandal for a wedding present." She stressed that she would continue to fight for her country as her father did: "The hard way."

In a phone call to the Globe (a pretend call to his "Uncle Powers"), Jones began to speak to his editor Powers on the line, but had to put the phone down when the ship's Captain arrived and reprimanded Jones for lying about not being a newspaperman. Jones apologized for not telling the truth due to the circumstances, and described his incredible story of survival:

My dear Captain, when you've been shot down in a British plane by a German destroyer 300 miles off the coast of England (Latitude 45), and have been hanging on a half-submerged wing for hours waiting to drown with half a dozen other stricken human beings, you're liable to forget you're a newspaperman for a moment or two.

He was reminded that he must not transmit anything from the ship, especially anything that might embarrass the United States government.

However, with Powers (and his staff) listening in to the entire conversation, Jones insisted that he tell his story to the Captain:

You know who the head of that movement was in London? Mr. Stephen Fisher...Yes. The same Mr. Fisher who was drowned a few hours ago. He was using the peace treaty as a cover-up for spies and traitors. He was gonna be arrested as soon as we landed and sent back to England. Those are facts....The same Stephen Fisher who engineered the kidnapping of Van Meer, the Dutch diplomat.

Carol added that she could confirm the truth of the story because Mr. Fisher was her father - and she asserted: "And I want the story printed." Jones spoke briefly to his "Uncle" who was ecstatic with the breaking news and encouraged him further: "Keep on the job."

A montage of the newspaper printing presses at work resulted in a number of Johnny's front page articles published with his coverage of the war. He reported on Germany's invasion of Poland, Denmark, and bombings in Norway.

In the film's conclusion set in a London radio studio, Jones was introduced before a radio broadcast by an announcer (John Burton), with Carol sitting nearby to his side:

We have as a guest tonight one of the soldiers of the press, one of the little army of historians who are writing history from beside the cannon's mouth. The foreign correspondent of the New York Globe - Huntley Haverstock.

Haverstock/Jones began by lamenting the bombings of the blitzkrieg that were destroying England's beauty:

Hello America. I've been watching a part of the world being blown to pieces. A part of the world as nice as Vermont and Ohio and Virginia and California, and Illinois, lies ripped up and bleeding like a steer in a slaughterhouse. And I've seen things that make the history of the savages read like Pollyanna legends.

Midway through his speech, the broadcast was threatened to be postponed due to the bombing raid, but Johnny decided to persevere, knowing that his only audience would be Americans. With Carol's support, he was determined to continue his passionate plea via broadcast radio in the dark (without his script, and "off the cuff"). He persisted with a message for the US to end its neutrality and intervene in the war against the Nazi enemy. It was a challenging call to arms to a "sleeping" America:

All that noise you hear isn't static - it's death coming to London. Yes, they're coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don't tune me out. Hang on awhile. This is a big story and you're part of it. It's too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come. It's as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning there! Cover them with steel! Ring them with guns! Build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them! Hello, America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world.

[Note: This tacked-on propagandistic ending was Hitchcock's prescient contribution to the British war effort. Germany had invaded Poland in September 1939, and by the time the film opened in August 1940, most of Europe had been conquered by Hitler (and Axis allies), and the blitzkrieg of London would soon commence by Hitler's Luftwaffe. The US remained in a neutral stance until the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in late 1941.]

A chorus of The Star Spangled Banner ended the film, with the cast credits scrolling upward.

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