Sunday, September 08, 2019

Tonight's Movie: A Foreign Affair (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), directed and cowritten by Billy Wilder, was released on Blu-ray last month by Kino Lorber.

The movie, set in postwar Berlin, concerns handsome Army Captain John Pringle (John Lund) and the shenanigans which ensue thanks to his simultaneous involvement with two very different women: Erika (Marlene Dietrich), a German nightclub performer of apparently easy virtue, who may have been a Nazi collaborator, and Phoebe (Jean Arthur), a strait-laced Congresswoman from Iowa touring Berlin as part of a Congressional delegation.

Phoebe is concerned about American soldiers spending their free time consorting with German women, especially a woman like Erika whose wartime activities are suspect.

John doesn't want Phoebe to find out he's been dallying with Erika in his off hours, so he spends time with her to distract her -- then unexpectedly finds himself falling for Phoebe for real. Erika is not happy...nor is his commanding officer, Colonel Plummer (Millard Mitchell), who actually needs John to be romancing Erika in order to draw her jealous Nazi lover out of hiding! John isn't happy being pushed into the role of "love commando," as not only does he have growing feelings for Phoebe, but he feels differently about Erika after seeing newsreel footage of her sharing laughs with Hitler.

When I first saw this film over a decade ago, I frankly didn't care for it very much, to the point I wasn't sure I'd want to ever see it again. But in the years since I've had a niggling feeling that the movie might have caught me on a bad day, especially as Arthur and Lund are two big favorites.

I took the opportunity to revisit the film thanks to Kino's new release, and I'm glad I did; I'm happy to say I enjoyed the film much more on this viewing. While I don't expect it to ever be a top favorite, I feel I appreciated what the film had to offer this time around.

I attribute this to a few things; one is simply that I knew what to expect on this viewing. Swayed in part by the film's posters, I think I'd been expecting a lighter romantic comedy on my first viewing, and the film is fairly dark and cynical.

Along those lines, last time I found myself focused on the negative depictions of American soldiers, while this time I zeroed in on the more positive aspects, such as Colonel Plummer's speeches about what the U.S. was accomplishing in postwar Germany. He may have been spouting propaganda, as Phoebe charges in a meeting, but the things the colonel cited about the enormity of what the U.S. was gradually accomplishing getting war-torn Germany back on its feet as a democracy were also true.

Also, while Marlene Dietrich is unlikely to ever be one of my favorites, over the past decade I've seen her in a number of films, and even quite enjoyed her in some of them, such as STAGE FRIGHT (1950), NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951), and especially SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932). I feel as though I "get" her screen persona more now and am more willing to watch her films; as a matter of fact, I have tickets later this month to see her in a double bill of SHANGHAI EXPRESS (my third viewing!) and MOROCCO (1930) at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

Lund is excellent, carefully walking the line between being a heel and a sympathetic nice guy, and he makes his sudden attraction to the "corn fed" Iowan Phoebe plausible. Arthur is charming as the initially uptight Phoebe, who was burned romantically in the past; as she slowly unwinds, her longing for love and romance is palpable.

All in all, this time around I found A FOREIGN AFFAIR entertaining rather than annoying, and my viewing experience has underscored the importance of periodically revisiting films, including those I haven't especially liked; it's interesting how perspectives change with the passage of time and a fresh context.

Wilder's co-writers of this 116-minute film were Charles Brackett and Richard L. Breen. Some of the dialogue, naturally, is excellent; in one of my favorite moments, Erika refers to wholesome, plain Phoebe as having a face like "a well-scrubbed kitchen floor."

The movie was filmed by Charles Lang, with some shooting from Berlin locations used in establishing and process shots.

The picture and sound on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray are very good. There are a couple spots which look a bit rougher but for the most part this is a nice-looking print.

Blu-ray extras include the trailer and a commentary track by the esteemed film historian Joseph McBride. A trailer gallery of half a dozen additional titles available from Kino Lorber is also included.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

Ahhh! No Highway In the Sky has a moment between James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich that is beyond beautiful As for John Lund, a personal favorite of mine, and I see yours, he is perhaps the only successful actor that can rightfully be suggested as underrated. Which to me means, in his own time after starting off great guns in To Each His Own, and maintaining something near that until Bride of Vengeance. And then the deluge. Mediocre films at Universal, followed by a tertiary part in High Society, and work for Roger Corman. Nuts. t

11:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really need to watch NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY again, it has been several years since my last viewing and I recently picked up a Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition in a sale.

I very much enjoy Lund; I thought he was especially good in NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, NO MAN OF HER OWN, THE MATING SEASON, and MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS, but I can't think of anything where I didn't enjoy him. I still have TO EACH HIS OWN ahead of me to watch for the first time!

Best wishes,

11:26 PM  

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