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   A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948) 

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CAST
Jean Arthur
Marlene Dietrich
John Lund
Millard Mitchell
Peter von Zerneck
Stanley Prager
William Murphy

DIRECTED BY
Billy Wilder

PURCHASE


About Marlene




About Wilder




Time: 116 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romance/Drama/WWII

Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.


Dietrich and Arthur receive the Wilder treatment in this unusual romance with a political bent set in Berlin right after the end of WWII. It's clear that Wilder still had affection for the people of his homeland despite the terror the Nazi government wreaked on the rest of the world. Both he and Dietrich escaped before the war and would probably not have survived to become their famous selves if they had not. It must have been incredibly difficult to return and create a story that was somewhat fair in it's treatment of both the American military personal still stationed there and the German people they fraternized with. Dietrich was initially none to happy to be playing a woman with former Nazi affiliations, yet she pulls off this complicated character with charm, honesty and brazenness. Her character, like many Germans, went with the flow, doing what was necessary to survive. That doesn't make her very honorable, but it does make her human. You don't approve of her behavior; however, she's so entrancing you can't blame her and even hope for her escape from punishment.

This isn't one of my favorite Wilder films, but it still has all the elements that make his movies eminently watchable: beautiful, intelligent and funny leading ladies; a leading man whose machinations keep him constantly in way over his head; unique and exotic locations that set the mood; and witty, whip-smart, brutally honest situations and dialogue that make you laugh and occasionally cry. Actors are rarely ever as good outside of his pictures. Arthur and Dietrich have rarely looked better or performed with such vitality and emotional availability. Wilder uses the time and place of the story to add multi-layers to what could have been a simple romantic triangle. Lund gives the performance of his career as the soldier torn between these two diametrically opposed ladies, who are both supposedly head over heels in love with him. Though we're never quite sure if Dietrich's German lounge singer loves him for his personality or his ability to procure black market goods.


"Let's go up to my apartment. It's only a few ruins away from here."

Arthur initially has the thankless role as the uptight Iowa congresswoman on a mission to reform our wayward boys from their carousing ways. She's determined to protect the American taxpayers and uncover what is really happening on the streets of Berlin. What she sees displeases her greatly, lighting a fire of disgust that refuses to be quenched. Lund's captain is a fellow Iowan, who becomes her compatriot in rooting out the evil lurking in the shadows of the city. Her venom quickly finds a target in Lund's secret lover, played by Dietrich, who Arthur is convinced is still connected to the Nazi party. In an effort to protect himself and his lady love, Lund turns into an anxious suitor, turning Arthur's head with declarations of his newfound and uncontrollable love for her. Juggling both women becomes a major headache, especially once Dietrich enounters her supposed rival. She's worked too hard for her survival to allow an uptight, milk-fed American farm girl to steal her meal ticket.

Lund quickly finds himself tangled in a web spun by circumstances out of his control. His life is no longer his own and the woman he thought he loved is not the person he believed her to be. In fact, his ploy to keep Arthur's head in the clouds and out of his private life backfires in a way he could never have anticipated. The final third of the film switches from a romantic comedy to a tense drama as each of the characters is forced to confront their true motivations. Though shot in black and white, it becomes clear that their situation is anything but. They each show sides that completely surprise the others as well as themselves. The ending is a bit over-drawn and chunkily executed, but still adds depth and intensity to what would have otherwise been a fairly lightweight tale. Though boy may win girl in the end, the road to happily ever after in a Wilder flick is always highly unusual and interesting. This film is no exception, though it lacks the flair of some of his later work.

The trio of actors in this film couldn't be more disparate in style, yet he marries them perfectly. Lund is just charming enough to be believable as the man both of these strong-willed women falls in love with. Though his behavior is not exactly above-board, you root for him anyway because he's clearly not a bad guy. Just someone doing the best he can at the time. I doubt I'd be able to resist him. This role should have done more for his career. I can understand why Arthur was originally displeased with her part in the productionl however, she puts in one of the best turns of her career. Her shock and yearning in the scene where Lund declares his love is priceless. Every fiber of her being tries to resist his charm, but the woman buried beneath the politician refuses to be denied any longer. Her transformation from unyielding to understanding is the heart of picture. She gets her heart broken, but her mind opened to the possibilities and realities beyond her small world. It's hard to make someone so initially irritating so completely likeable.

There's not much to say about Dietrich. She nails this role, giving a layered, intense, passionate performance. She's a hard woman we're made to believe is out only for herself, however, the way she interacts with Lund and Arthur tell a different tale. She doesn't have to help Arthur escape political dishonor, yet she does so anyway. Perhaps to gain a favor in kind. Perhaps to open Arthur's eyes to how one must sometimes sacrifice personal integrity to survive in a world out of your control. This could have been a throw away floozy role, but she gives her character heart, intelligence and grace under pressure. She may be a lounge singer, but she's clearly no dummy. Constantly working every angle, there's no doubt she's a woman who will land on her feet every time. Wilder plays Arthur and Dietrich off each other perfectly, letting each display their own strengths. Their battle is what keeps the film interesting. In the end, they grudgingly come to respect each other. If anything, Lund comes out on the losing end of the performance stick, having to compete with two very strong personalities. A film made worthwhile due to the quality of the acting more than the story. It's not horrible, just not as focused and passionate as some of Wilder's other work. A must-see for Dietrich fans.



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