A Foreign Affair (1948)

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Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, Millard Mitchell


A fastidious, spinsterish congresswoman goes on a fact-finding mission to Berlin to investigate the morale (and morals) of the troops stationed there. She determines to prosecute a campaign against the prurience that she finds, centring on a nightclub singer who might have former links with top Nazis, but instead succumbs to the smokescreen of charm thrown over her by the singer's lover, an army captain.

The Review

A curiosity. There is a typical Wilderian tension between the sex comedic aspects (latch keys dropped out of windows, fraternisation of American troops with German women) and the more serious ones (opening shots of urban devastation seen from the air, Captain Pringle's hardnosed, cavalier demeanour with the ladies); there is also tension in the casting: both Arthur and Dietrich (to a lesser extent) are visibly long in the tooth. One can see elements from Wilder's work elsewhere (Ninotchka, One Two Three) and the film clearly inspired parts of Soderbergh's The Good German. Apart from being a competent, deftly played entertainment, with the at times arch Wilder-Brackett dialogue counterpointed by location shooting, the film's interest lies precisely in the dramatic suspense afforded by these factors: surely Lund is not going to end up with Arthur, who still does not literally let her hair down; and what is the script's attitude towards Dietrich's Nazi sympathies? Frivolous or censorious? Ultimately, after flirting with free love and moral pragmatism, the makers must go for the conventional finish but it is a neat reversal of an earlier scene and works well enough as a conclusion.