Foreign Correspondent is a spy story in which anything can happen. Similar to films like The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps you never know where such a plot that’s taken leave of its senses will lead next. It’s as mad as a bag of ferrets… but a lot more fun.
World War II is about to break out and our hero Johnny Jones of the New York Globe doesn’t even know it. Obviously (this is Hitchcock), he’s just the man to send over to Europe where the career foreign correspondents aren’t speaking plainly enough in their dispatches. Jones is an ordinary, straight-talking American sent to bear witness to a war he would otherwise have known nothing about. The perfect character then, to appeal to America for help. There’s little point in discussing the plot of a film like this but it’s very surprising and sobering to find yourself watching its final scene after so much off-the-wall madness. It ends with a radio broadcast where our hero continues his description of events in London when the lights go out. This ending was shot after Hitchcock visited his homeland before the film’s release. The blitz hadn’t yet begun but it was anticipated. Within months of its recording and inclusion, what it depicted was a reality. Jones’ monologue before the microphone in the dark is chilling. Perhaps it is a little cheesy now, but not considering the sincerity of its plea to America for help. Maybe stop reading and watch the film, I’m going to quote it. Hairs stood on the back of my neck.
“I can’t read the rest of the speech I have because the lights have gone out… so I’ll just have to talk off the cuff. 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, 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 bombing planes and battleships around them. Hello America. Hang on to your lights – they’re the only lights left in the world.”
As Jones makes this final speech begging for the US to intercede, the Star-Spangled Banner gently rises in the background, before it takes over as the lights all go out. The addition of the music is almost too much to swallow but history has shown US intervention to have been essential. They entered the war over a year later. The Irish state didn’t participate in the war but plenty of men did go to die if necessary so people like me wouldn’t end up speaking German… or Russian. IRA subversives were interned to prevent them from collaborating with the Nazis, which they officially did. Indeed senior IRA man Seán Russell died on the German U-boat U-65 while actively collaborating with them. There’s a statue of him in Fairview park, Dublin. It should either be destroyed or held up for ridicule.