Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema is from the brilliant Billy Wilder and stars the dazzling Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair.
"The German director and his fellow German leading woman have made this film from the soul. It's more about post-war Berlin. Jean Arthur's talent saves the day and provides the comic relief, but it's Dietrich who shines all the way through -- she is simply divine. She steals the whole film, of course, and the scenes where she sings at the cabaret can be inscribed on one's memory for ever. Don't miss this classic."
Here Billy Wilder talks about making the picture.
A Foreign Affair (1948)
Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Land a Triangle in 'A Foreign Affair' By BOSLEY CROWTHER, NY TimesPublished: July 1, 1948
Maybe you think there's nothing funny about the current situation of American troops in the ticklish area of Berlin. And it's serious enough, heaven knows, what with the Russians pushing and shoving and the natives putting on their own type squeeze. But, at least, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder have been happily disinclined to wax morose about the problems presented by occupation—and by "fraternization," specifically. Rather these two bright film-makers have been wryly disposed to smile upon the conflicts in self and national interests which proximities inevitably provoke. And in their most recent picture, a comedy romance, called "A Foreign Affair," they have turned out a dandy entertainment which has some shrewd and realistic things to say.
Congress may not like this picture, which came to the Paramount yesterday. And even the Department of the Army may find it a shade embarrassing. For the Messrs. Brackett and Wilder, who are not the sort to call a spade a trowel, as was eminently proved by their honest and hard-hitting film, "The Lost Week-end," are here making light of regulations and the gravity of officialdom in a smoothly sophisticated and slyly sardonic way.
Particularly, their interest is in how human beings behave when confronted by other human beings—especially those of the opposite sex. And their logical conclusion is that, granted attractions back and forth, most people—despite regulations and even differences in language and politics—are likely to do toward one another that which comes naturally.
Taking as their point of observation an American Congresswoman in Berlin, accompanying a Congressional committee sent to investigate the morale of American troops, the Messrs. Brackett and Wilder have looked realistically upon the obvious temptations and reactions of healthy soldiers far from home. They have wisely observed that black markets are not repugnant to boys with stuff to trade and that frauleins are simply bobby-soxers with a weakness for candy-bars. They have slyly remarked that Russian soldiers love to sing gymnastic songs and that Americans are nothing loathe to join them of a quiet night in a smoky cafe. And especially have they noted that an American captain may actually fall in love with a svelte German night-club singer and take her beneath his protective custody, even though she may have been the mistress of a former Nazi trump.
Of course, they have made these observations in a spirit of fun and romance. And the shame of the captain's indiscretion is honorably white-washed in the end. But there is bite, nonetheless, in the comment which the whole picture has to make upon the irony of big state restrictions on the level of individual give-and-take.
Under less clever presentation this sort of traffic with big stuff in the current events department might be offensive to reason and taste. But as handled by the Messrs. Brackett and Wilder as producer and director of this film—and also as its principal writers—it has wit, worldliness and charm. It also has serious implications, via some actuality scenes in bombed Berlin, of the wretched and terrifying problem of repairing the ravages of war. Indeed, there are moments when the picture becomes down-right cynical in tone, but it is always artfully salvaged by a hasty nip-up of the yarn.
Much credit is due the performers. Jean Arthur is beautifully droll as the prim and punctilious Congresswoman who has her eyes popped open to the power of love. And John Lund is disarmingly shameless as the brash American captain. Millard Mitchell gives a trenchant imitation of a wise and sharp-eyed colonel in Berlin and three or four other fellows are richly amusing as just plain Joes.
But it is really Marlene Dietrich who does the most fascinating job as the German night-club singer and the charmer par excellence. For in Miss Dietrich's restless femininity, in her subtle suggestions of mocking scorn and in her daringly forward singing of "Illusions" and "Black Market," two stinging songs, are centered not only the essence of the picture's romantic allure, but also its vagrant cynicism and its unmistakable point.
On the stage at the Paramount are Jo Stafford, Georgia Kay, the Lane Brothers and Sam Donahue's band.
A FOREIGN AFFAIR, screen play by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Richard Breen; adaptation by Robert Harari from an original story by David Shaw; directed by Mr. Wilder; produced by Mr. Brackett for Paramount Pictures. At the Paramount.
Congresswoman Phoebe Frost . . . . . Jean Arthur
Erika Von Schluetow . . . . . Marlene Dietrich
Capt. John Pringle . . . . . John Lund
Col. Rufus J. Plummer . . . . . Millard Mitchell
Hans Otto Birgel . . . . . Peter Von Zerneck
Mike . . . . . William Murphy
Joe . . . . . Stanley Prager
Lt. Lee Thompson . . . . . William Neff
Congressman Griffin . . . . . Boyd Davis
Congressman Pennecott . . . . . Raymond Bond
Congressman Kraus . . . . . Robert Malcolm
Congressman Yandell . . . . . Charles Meredith
General McAndrew . . . . . Harlan Tucker
First M. P. . . . . . Gordon Jones
Second M. P. . . . . . Fred Steele
Congressman Salvatore . . . . . Michael Raffetto