Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich Headline Billy Wilder’s Postwar Romance.
DIRECTED BY: BILLY WILDER/1948
KINO LORBER STREET DATE: AUGUST 6, 2019
A Foreign Affair is a classic film from the nearly always outstanding director Billy Wilder that balances a love triangle set against one of the most unlikely of backdrops, namely occupied Berlin in post-World War II Germany. While Wilder gets much recognition for films like The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, this is a little hidden gem being offered on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber.
While the Blu-Ray doesn’t offer a lot in the way of extras, mainly due to the fact that films from the 1940’s don’t have a lot of extra material available for more modern releases, what it does offer is a fantastic audio commentary track from film historian Joseph McBride. I will discuss the audio commentary a little bit later in the review. It also features the theatrical trailer.
The film follows a visit to post war Berlin by Iowan Congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur). She is a no-nonsense woman seeking to get to the bottom of American troop morale, and she doesn’t look favorably on the fact that American troops are friendly with many of the young German women, a good number of which were former Nazis themselves. She also isn’t a fan of the extensive black market she finds operating out in the open.
During her tour, she encounters Captain John Pringle (John Lund) who is neck-deep in everything the Congresswoman is upset about. He begins to try to woo her in an attempt to derail her investigation upsetting the balance of what he and the other soldiers have built for themselves in Berlin, and to especially cover up that he is having an affair with a former Nazi woman who sings at a local nightclub, named Erika von Schlutow (Marlene Dietrich). The film has several twists and turns and snappy dialogue that continues to work well when viewed some 71 years later.
It is when you watch the film with the audio commentary track on that you will learn some fantastic information about the shoot and personal importance for Wilder to set the film in Berlin. Its opening shot of the airplane flying over Berlin carrying its passengers, including Congresswoman Frost, is extremely significant as it captured a true sense of the destruction that occurred in Berlin as Allied Forces sought to defeat the evil Nazi regime. Released just 3 years after the end of World War II, A Foreign Affair was one of the first films to begin presenting a post-Nazi look at Germany as the rebuilding of the world was in its infant phases of development. The fact that the film is also a comedy most likely helped a film like this forge a positive view of Germany’s potential after its defeat in the World War.
The picture transfer of A Foreign Affair looks great and the new Blu-Ray is presented in black and white, 1.37:1 and 1920x1080P, with subtitles in English. This is a great film in Billy Wilder’s filmography, and one that isn’t as well known as some of his others. Thanks to Kino Lorber, it can now be seen by many more people, and hopefully rise higher in the discussion of which films make up Wilder’s better offerings.