A Great Sequence: Foreign Correspondent

Johnnie Jones (Joel McCrea) is a crime reporter with a New York paper who has been sent to Europe on the eve of war to “find out what is going on”, to investigate the impending war like a crime and send back dispatches. His editor has renamed him Huntley Haverstock. It sounds better. Johnnie Jones, a newbie, is thrust into the sophisticated world of European politics, which he is able to see with a fresh eye. He doesn’t even know who the main players are. He is naive enough to suggest an interview with Hitler. At any rate, he finds himself at a luncheon in London thrown by an important international peace organization. The organization appears to be the only thing between Europe and disaster. He meets a pretty young woman named Carol (Laraine Day) at the luncheon and assumes, due to her pad and pencil, that she “does publicity” for the peace organization. He falls for her immediately. He doesn’t realize that he has made all sorts of assumptions about her, that she is not a publicist, that she is a major player in the movement. She does not divulge her secret at first. After all, it’s kind of funny when someone thinks you’re a pretty little publicist when you are actually a political activist. The luncheon starts. Johnnie Jones is stuck at a press table. He keeps giving the head waiter notes to pass up to Carol at the main table.

The waiter protests, “I have sent the young lady 13 notes!”

The head of the organization (Herbert Marshall) stands up and makes a brief speech. He then cedes the floor to someone far more appropriate to talk about what the organization is up to … his daughter. Johnnie Jones, assuming that the “daughter” will be the smiling nerdy woman sitting up there, slumps dejectedly in his chair, getting ready for an hour of sheer boredom. Imagine his surprise when it is the “publicist” who stands up and begins to speak.

Carol, an earnest and feisty young woman, begins her speech, making pointed references to the fact that they are perceived as “well-meaning amateurs”, looking right out at Johnnie Jones. She is clearly angry. “I think the time has come for the well-meaning amateurs to take over from the well-meaning professionals …” Her speech is biting, and yet, as she looks out at Johnnie, hoping to see him deflated and contrite, instead she is faced with this.

What on earth is she to do with THAT?

She has serious points to make, she is an activist, she is committed, and he isn’t even listening to her. He’s looking at her like THAT.

She certainly can be forgiven for becoming flustered and losing her place. Wouldn’t you? I mean, that face is RIDICULOUS.

She stumbles over her words. She loses her train of thought. The room waits in silence as she pauses, interminably. Her father, realizing she is lost, whispers, “Here are your notes” and passes them down to her.

Relieved, she glances down at the small pile of paper. The first slip of paper says “Talk about Turkey”, she moves it aside and then is confronted with ….

She moves it aside, only to see that this is the note beneath.

Desperate, with a silent room watching her, she moves that note aside, hoping that the next piece of paper would actually be relevant to her speech, only to see this …

Her speech is a bust. But lovesick Johnnie Jones claps feverishly.

One note: How much fun did the art department person have creating those notes? LOOK at those notes. Look at the illustrations. The image of Johnnie Jones carefully drawing a donut and a steaming cup of coffee is so so funny to me. And look at the “large family”, how it recedes into the distance. Look at how he drew the skirts on the little girls. And the hats. It kills me.

Very funny sequence, so clever, so perfect.

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6 Responses to A Great Sequence: Foreign Correspondent

  1. Lisa says:

    And the handwriting! Remember when we were taught penmanship? ::sigh:: Those were the days. My aunt, a retired schoolteacher, still writes like that.

  2. george says:

    That was a wonderful scene and one of several in an exceptional movie in its peculiarity. The entire movie seems to be premised on Carol’s championing, in her speech, the amateur, and so you have well-meaning amateurs hunting down the bad intentioned professionals. And for funny, Robert Benchley is not to be missed.

    • sheila says:

      Yes, Robert Benchley! There are so many fantastic sequences. The windmill scene is a masterpiece. And when the plane goes down in the water, and then they’re all struggling in the wreckage? It was terrifying – one of the most frightening representations of a plane crash I’ve ever seen in film.

  3. bybee says:

    Robert Benchley’s in it??? I’m there!!!

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