Filmsite Movie 

Foreign Correspondent (1940)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Foreign Correspondent (1940)Jones' next cable-gram (dated August 26, 1939) from Powers in the New York Globe's office ordered him, for his first official assigment, to attend a Peace Conference in Amsterdam and establish contact with Van Meer, adding: "EXPECT IMPORTANT SPEECH AFFECTING EUROPEAN WAR."

An overhead camera tracking shot moved over the packed city streets (filled with pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport and automobiles). A rainy downpour brought out a number of British-styled umbrellas, raincoats, and hats. A crowd of onlookers, police and photographers was assembled on both sides of a grand series of steps, leaving a pathway from the Amsterdam Town Hall to the public square below.

The camera located Jones standing on the top landing of the stairs, wearing a trenchcoat (with a derby hat), where he greeted Stephen Fisher - both were awaiting the arrival by limousine of the diplomat. Fisher mentioned that he was doubtful and concerned about worsening peace prospects (they were "under the shadow of war"), and was leaving to return to London later in the day. Mrs. Appleby and Dr. Williamson (Paul Irving), two attendees at the earlier luncheon, had been assigned by Fisher to assist Jones in his work ("take him under your wing") in the unfamiliar location.

The sequence that followed was one of the film's most spectacular set-pieces. Jones broke away when he noticed diplomat Van Meer (Samuel Adams, Van Meer's impersonator) climbing the steps alone, and walked down to greet him on the stairs - but the elderly gentleman failed to recognize him even after repeated reminders:

Mr. Van Meer. How are you? We somehow seemed to lose each other the day before yesterday. I'm so sorry you were called away. Don't you remember me? We shared the same cab together on the way to the luncheon.

A press photographer stepped up to them and asked permission for the diplomat's photograph. A gun was concealed or hidden by his camera, and the assassin (Charles Wagenheim) shot Van Meer to death at point-blank range in the middle of his forehead. It was a daring act of murder right before Jones' eyes.

[Note: The entire scene was reminiscent of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925, USSR) with its massive set of steps, and a point-blank murder.]

After Van Meer's body tumbled down the steep stairs, Johnny pursued the killer - the murderer's rain-drenched escape could be followed (from a high angle view) through a mass of black umbrellas that bobbed up and down as he pushed his way through the spectators in the crowded public square. At the bottom of the steps, the gunman also shot a policeman dead and a bicyclist (when aiming at Jones). Jones chased the assassin through the streets, dodging more bullets. When he was thrown off the black getaway car, he then hopped into another parked vehicle, and demanded that the driver, newspaper-man Scott Ffolliott (George Sanders) (pronounced "with a double f...both small f's"), follow the gunman's escaping car. He was surprised that the driver's passenger was Carol Fisher. Jones described the murder to them:

Ffolliott: Tell me. Who has he shot?
Jones: Van Meer - Assassinated.
Ffolliott: Dead?
Jones: Looked like it.
Ffolliott: Bad show.
Jones: Couldn't be much worse from his point of view.

As the pursuit moved into the countryside with large Dutch windmills visible on the roadsides, the assassin shot at them, hitting a headlight and the windshield. Scott Ffolliott gave a non-sensical description of the origin of his unusual name during the frantic chase:

Ffolliott: With a double f...They're at the beginning. Both small f's.
Jones: They can't be at the beginning.
Ffolliott: One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry Vlll. His wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion...
Jones: How do you say it, like a stutter?
Ffolliott: No, just a straight 'fuh.'

In a rural village, one of the residents attempted several times to cross the road, but was kept back by a steady stream of cars passing by, and he finally gave up. There were many cars involved in the chase including the two main vehicles, and a squadron of police cars and motorcycles. Ffolliott stopped their car beside a windmill, where it appeared that the assassin's getaway car had suddenly disappeared (Jones: "Well, that's the most amazing disappearing trick I've ever seen"). The entourage of other official vehicles pulled up next to the windmill, where Carol, Jones, and Ffolliott stood by their vehicle - as Carol declared: "Vanished!" The police vehicles proceeded onward.

In a second classic scene in a huge simulated Dutch windmill outdoor setting, Jones lost his derby hat in the wind and went running for it. He turned back and noticed that the windmill had stopped revolving normally (counter clock-wise) and had begun to turn in the opposite direction (clockwise, the wrong way, mysteriously against the wind). When he returned to Ffolliott and Carol, he described how he suspected a windmill signal of some kind, but then it had reverted back to normal by that time (Jones: "I could have sworn they were going against the wind"). He asked them to go and summon the police to return, while he did some "snooping." As they drove off, the windmill again changed direction and began turning clockwise - a signal for an airplane circling above to land nearby ("It's a signal for that plane to land").

Jones opened one of the windmill's entrance doors to investigate, and discovered the getaway car inside. Hearing voices, he climbed stone steps and warily entered the front door. [Note: The set was reminiscent of the film Frankenstein (1931) with turning gear wheels, various levels, winding stairways, etc.] He noticed three men speaking a foreign language on an upper level (a pay-off of some kind was in progress with the assassin), and through a small entry-door window, he saw two other men from the plane approaching. He crept up the winding stairs and hid near the top where he watched from above. Jones entered another door to a store-room and found Van Meer seated and mumbling mostly incoherently after just being drugged with a sedative. Jones was astounded that Van Meer was alive:

Why, Mr. Van Meer. It isn't possible....But I saw you shot just outside the conference hall. I saw it!...But the man I saw shot was a dead image.

Van Meer confirmed that his death had been faked with a look-alike decoy or doppelganger, and that he had been kidnapped and held hostage by some unknown organization: "The man you saw shot, it wasn't me. He was a substitute that looked like me....They want the world to think that I've been assassinated. Yes. To conceal the fact that I'm in their hands." Van Meer struggled to scribble incomprehensibly on a piece of paper, then stared off into space unaware of his surroundings. Jones hid behind the noisy, giant-sized revolving windmill gears when the other men came to retrieve Van Meer. For a moment, Jones was terrified when part of his trenchcoat became enmeshed in the rotating cogs, and he was forced to strip off his coat to avoid being sucked into the gears. He escaped from the room onto the roof of the windmill, then precariously re-entered through a dormer window, climbed down a rickety ladder and descended the stairs. However, he then found himself in-between the two groups of men above (the two with Van Meer) and below (the three other gang members), but he was able to avoid them and flee undetected to the outside.

Jones attempted to report his experience to two Dutch policemen, but the language barrier (even with a schoolgirl interpreter) was almost insurmountable. He tried to describe the mill with broken phrases: "Big old prisoner. Old mill," then led the police (and a crowd of others, including Ffolliott and Carol) to the windmill, but there was no trace remaining of the gang or the assassins' car (Jones: "They've gone....That car was here"). In the upper store room, one of the gang members (Martin Kosleck) (pretending to be a tramp-vagrant who knew nothing) was found sleeping on the floor, as Jones' protestations that there was a "frame-up" were not believed, and he knew he had been set up:

Listen, I know I look a fool, but there's something fishy going on around here. There's a big story in this. I can smell it, I can feel it, and I'm gonna get to the bottom of it if it's the last thing I do. Nothing's gonna stop me. Do you understand? I'm gonna prove that that wasn't Van Meer that was assassinated, but his double.

Without anyone noticing, the suspicious vagrant crouched to the ground and rubbed dirt into his exceptionally-clean hands.

Back in the city of Amsterdam in his Hotel Europe room that night, Johnny (in his striped silk robe covering a long T-shirt and garters holding up his socks) hurriedly typed a telegram to his Globe offices:


A suspicious-looking, unidentified detective (Ken Christy) and policeman knocked on his door and summoned him to the station to tell his "story" to the chief of police. Before leaving, Johnny made a phone call (for "a dinner date with a young lady") and noticed to himself that the line was dead. The camera detected that the phone wires had been cut. He briefly excused himself to the bathroom, where he removed the key from the lock and spied on the two men through the keyhole, and saw them ready themselves with guns. To avoid accompanying them, Jones climbed out his bathroom window onto the ledge of the roof (behind the hotel's neon sign). As he escaped across the ledge, he accidentally knocked off two of the giant neon letters from the sign, leaving it to read, significantly:


He entered the bathroom of one of the other hotel rooms after noticing a party or reception that was being hosted by Carol and the Peace Organization. He found himself in the bedroom of one of the guests, and tried to explain his escapades: "I had quite a chase after that guy outside Amsterdam. It's quite a country, you know. It's interesting. Windmills and tulips."

Carol berated him for making everyone appear foolish before the local police in Amsterdam, for breaking into her hotel suite's bedroom, and for disgracing her in front of Mrs. Appleby, a friend of her father's. He defended his actions and how he had stumbled into "some international dirty business," but everything sounded incredulous to Carol, and detrimental to her peace work with her father:

Jones: I'm escaping...From a couple of fellas in my room about to kill me....Two gentlemen disguised as policemen, waiting to take me for a ride... But I'm not talking through my hat. I've thrown a monkey wrench into some international dirty business, whatever it is. I know Van Meer's alive. That's the reason they want to kill me....Now look, you've got to help me. Not for my sake alone, but this is the biggest story in Europe.
Carol: Look! Your childish mind is as out of place in Europe as you are in my bedroom....All this is going straight back to London and will be common gossip by tomorrow. I don't care for myself, but my father's engaged in a great work. He's trying to help avert a war, a dreadful war, and this is just the sort of thing to discredit him. I know you care nothing about our work. All you're interested in is having fun with windmills and hotel bathrooms.

As he was ordered out and turned to leave, Jones made one final desperate plea for help, describing what would happen when he returned to his own hotel room occupied by the two intruders: "They'll stick to me like a couple of tattoo marks until they get me. They'll stop at nothing. I seem to know too much. And they're right. I don't know the ins and outs of your crackpot peace movement, and I don't know what's wrong with Europe. But I do know a story when I see one. And I'll keep after it until either I get it or it gets me. Sorry you have those derogatory opinions of me, but I guess that can't be helped. Well, so long, it's been nice knowing you." Carol reluctantly agreed to help him, with a smile ("Don't go!").

Meanwhile, back in Jones' hotel room, the two suspicious men heard water overflowing from the tub onto the floor, and noticed it seeping out under the door. Jones phoned the front desk from Carol's room, to alert the hotel management and bring attention to his room: # 537: "My bathtub leaks, my phone's out of order, and I've been robbed. Will you send somebody up right away?" Then he phoned for more hotel services: "Operator, send a waiter up to 537. That's right. And ask the chambermaid to bring up some clean sheets. I've set mine on fire. And I'd like my windows cleaned, the window cleaner, right away. And ask boots to come up and get my shoes, will ya?" He then ordered a summoned valet (Alexander Granach) to enter his room and surreptitiously get a shirt, tie, suit and hat. The ploy worked, and Jones was able to get a change of clothes, and escape from the hotel with Carol. On their way out, the intruders did spot them, but were unable to pursue them.

Carol and Johnny boarded "the night boat to England" - and although they were unable to book a small cabin in the overbooked vessel, they successfully evaded the pursuers who arrived too late and were not allowed to board. The two were forced to spend the night on the cold deck of the ship, huddled together under blankets. In a surprise and inexplicable moment, Johnny proposed marriage ("I love you, and I want to marry you") and Carol promptly accepted by repeating his line, without any resistance or argument. He joked: "Well, that cuts our love scene down quite a bit, doesn't it?" When he asked: "Do you think your father will understand?", she assured him that her father would be delighted by the news.

The next morning in England, they arrived by taxi at her residence, where Carol's father Stephen was having breakfast with Mr. Krug (Eduardo Ciannelli) - recognized immediately by johnny as one of the windmill gang members, although Stephen introduced him as a member of the Baruvian Embassy staff in London. The conversation immediately turned to the assassination of diplomat Van Meer, and Jones admitted that he saw Van Meer die, and afterwards chased after the assassin. Krug abruptly excused himself, but before leaving, he and Stephen were about to retire to the study to write a peace petition. johnny warned Stephen about what had really transpired in Amsterdam:

Van Meer isn't dead....That was his double that was shot. Van Meer himself was kidnapped. I talked to him in a mill outside Amsterdam.

Jones hypothesized that Krug was the sweater-wearing man in the mill, and that the gang had brought Van Meer to England and were hiding him somewhere. Stephen accosted Krug and loudly ordered him to leave his home, before Jones turned him over to the police. But then when Stephen shut his study's door, it was obvious in the privacy of the room that Fisher was one of the gang members, and worried about Jones' discoveries:

Krug: Mr. Haverstock seems to be something of a troublemaker.
Fisher: I thought you said he'd been taken care of by our agents in Amsterdam.

The matter was complicated by Carol's involvement, and Stephen also lamented the fact that she wasn't on their side - and that Jones was a guest in his home:

Please leave my daughter out of it....This is close to home. In fact, it is my home. After all, I'm only a politician. In a sense. And politicians aren't usually called upon to, uhm, do away with their guests, are they?

Krug proposed an idea to rid them of Jones' interference -- they would suggest his protection by hiring a bodyguard or "private detective" named Rowley - a retired assassin and friend of theirs who lived closeby: "You should warn him that it is very dangerous for him to go about London with the knowledge that he has." Stephen returned to Jones and Carol and informed them that Krug was sent on his way "not to rouse Krug's suspicions," and then advised that Jones keep his breaking news story quiet, in order to prevent any further harm to Van Meer. Jones objected to Fisher's suggestion - eager to broadcast his story:

Keep it quiet?! A famous diplomat's kidnapped right under my own eyes and I muzzle myself? I'm sorry, Mr. Fisher, but this is a story with facts in it. This is the kind of story I was sent over here to get. This is the kind America's waiting for.

But he agreed (with Carol's urging) to wait a few hours, in order to get a "bigger story" about Van Meer's whereabouts and the "curious business" behind his kidnapping. And then, Fisher recommended that Jones hire some "protection," but he wasn't convinced: "I've covered beer mob killings and race riots since I was a tot without even carrying a rabbit's foot." Fisher described the danger he was in (aptly describing his own 'unscrupulous' espionage activities):

These people are criminals, more dangerous than your rum-runners and house-breakers. They're fanatics. They combine a mad love of country with an equally mad indifference to life - their own, as well as others'. They're cunning, unscrupulous and inspired.

Jones was reluctant to hide: "I'm gonna be a fine foreign correspondent hiding in an attic somewhere," although he accepted Fisher's offer of contacting "a very efficient private detective agency" and arranging to provide a bodyguard to watch out for him. Shortly later, the jovial, middle-aged Mr. Rowley (Edmund Gwenn) arrived at the front door - ominously inspecting his hands while awaiting Jones. As Johnny departed with Rowley, Carol begged for him to be careful, and almost dissuaded her father (with second thoughts) from carrying out his evil plan.

While awaiting a cab on the curb to take them downtown to Jones' office on Fleet Street and to the American Club for a luncheon date, Rowley deliberately pushed Jones into the path of an oncoming truck. It swerved and avoided him, and then Rowley explained to the grateful Jones that he had done it to save him: "If I'd have pulled you back, you would have been caught. It was push or nothing." During their ride, Rowley spoke about imaginary pursuers ("I've got an idea two men just took another cab to follow us") and recommended giving them the slip by changing their route, AND then changing cabs: "Go down Victoria Street, round past Buckingham Palace....Our best plan is to pull around the next corner and change cabs." As they walked down the street, Rowley suggested that they should slip into Westminster Catholic Cathedral to hide, where a Requiem Mass ("a mass for the dead") was being performed and chanted by the choir. Rowley suggested that they take an elevator up to the observation deck of the cathedral's tall tower, "to put 'em off the scent."

Suspenseful moments were about to occur in a murder attempt on Jones' life. Atop the cathedral's tower, school-children ran about and repair tools and signs alerted visitors to dangers to stay clear of. Rowley held up a schoolboy (Raymond Severn) who complained he couldn't see, when the child's hat ominously blew off in the wind. [Note: It wasn't the loss of Jones' derby hat this time, but there was the implication that Jones might lose his entire life from the top of the tower.] Rowley also cautioned Jones: "You better be careful too, sir."

When the group of visitors exited on the elevator and the deck was mostly cleared of people, Rowley described the fatal and "nasty" fall of a man on a bridge in Switzerland (one of his earlier 'jobs'). He also recommended and pointed out some scenic spots within view: the Houses of Parliament, St. James' Park, St. Paul's and the horse guards at Buckingham Palace. As Jones leaned over, contract killer Rowley backed up a few feet to take a running leap at him, the camera switched to a POV of Rowley's hands rushing at the camera - and the screams of a woman on the street below. A body fell through the air from the top of the tower - it was would-be-murderer Rowley's body that fell to the pavement. Witnesses to the 'accident' on the street level included two nuns who crossed themselves, as the chants of the choir's Requiem Mass were heard.

A newspaper column reported a detailed account of the "MAN FALLS FROM CATHEDRAL TOWER - STRANGE ACCIDENT" - with a dotted line showing the trajectory of the body from the tower around noon. The camera pulled back, revealing that Jones wasn't the victim. In the Fleet Street offices of the newspaper, Jones recalled to Stebbins what had happened - and stressed Fisher's guilty involvement:

Well, there but for the grace of God. I still don't know what instinct made me step aside when he came at me...I heard the lift coming up, and I turned. I saw that look in his eyes as he came toward me. In that split second, the whole thing flashed through my mind. All I could think of was Fisher. Fisher planned this. Then I guess I just stepped aside and over he went.

Stebbins suggested that Carol Fisher was possibly "the moll of the gang" - but Jones wouldn't hear of it, and Stebbins retracted his statement, now referring to her as: "a fine girl - upstanding, honest, and a great soul." Jones refused to publish his side of the story until Van Meer was found safe. Ffolliott entered the office and described how he had been tracking the suspicious Fisher for about a year, but he didn't know about Krug (whom he had followed back to London). He also conjectured that the sleeping tramp in the windmill was an imposter who had "dirtied his hands with some of that nasty Dutch soil." Ffolliott suggested that they work together to "catch Fisher" and "find Van Meer." They had a number of questions to ponder:

  • Why was Van Meer kidnapped?
    Van Meer was one of two signatories to a treaty, and the most important clause in that treaty was never written down, just memorized by the two. It was "a piece of information that would be very valuable to the enemy in the war that breaks out tomorrow, weather permitting."
    [Note: The secret clause in the treaty, memorized by Van Meer, was Hitchcock's MacGuffin. It was the reason for Van Meer's faked assassination and kidnapping, and could either be used to avert or start the war.]
  • What strategy could be used to "catch Fisher...forcing Fisher's hand" to divulge Van Meer's location?
    Ffolliott proposed a scheme: "The neatest thing we could do would be to kidnap Fisher's daughter...Gives you a chance to get a bit chummy, Haverstock, and keep her out of this mess, happy at your side while we batter away at old Papa....I let Fisher know in a very nice way that his daughter is in the hands of someone who means business just as he means business when he kidnaps people and I think he'll see things our way."

Although Jones disagreed with the plan, he was convinced to accept it if they only pretended to kidnap his fiancee. He also asserted that he was a reporter and couldn't run from the war, but decided to get out of London with Carol for safety's sake, and accompany her to the country to the residence of her Aunt Margaret at Harpenden. To be even safer, they planned to go out even further, to Cambridge. Once they left, the conniving and smug Ffolliott told Stebbins that he had phoned Carol a half hour earlier and suggested that she agree to their retreat to the country. 35 kilometers from London and still 30 kilometers from Cambridge, Carol declared that she was the one who had kidnapped Jones from his "so-called duties." A stack of telephone messages at the Fisher home phone indicated that Ffolliott's calls weren't being received.

At the College Arms country inn in Cambridge, Johnny was moody and preoccupied by the events swirling around him - obviously distracted from being happy with Carol, but then confessed: "I'm so in love with you, I'm going mad." He demanded that she not immediately leave for London, but stay for dinner with him: "You can't run out on your kidnapper like that...If you knew how much I loved you, you'd faint." He was notified of a phone call - it was from Ffolliott who urged Jones to keep Carol overnight, because he had been unable to reach Fisher:

I'm afraid you'll have to keep the girl there much longer than we planned. I don't know what time he'll be back, but I've got to catch him alone. I think you'd better keep the girl there for the rest of the night.

Although Johnny didn't like the idea, he went to the registration desk and requested an extra room for Carol. Without his knowledge, she overheard him making a reservation for another room next to his - and then she promptly disappeared (and drove back to London), clearly insulted or distressed, but unaware of or misunderstanding his intentions.

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