Director and co-writer of A FOREIGN AFFAIR, Billy Wilder did not approve of the advertising that called the film, “A Funny Affair”.
The Paramount Press Book called it, “The Year’s Top Laugh Hit!’
Wilder had Marlene Dietrich (playing German cabaret singer Erika von Schlutow) say to John Lund (as U.S. army captain,John Pringle):
“What do you think it was like to be a woman in this town when the Russians swept in?”
In a later scene, Marlene says to Jean Arthur,
“Let’s go to my apartment. It’s only a few ruins away.”
So, the film reflects the cynicism/sentimentality of the writers, Wilder and Charles Brackett who are writing this script only a couple of years after the end of the war.
Billy Wilder had brought a small crew to Berlin in 1947 and filmed the bombed- out Berlin, prior to filming of all the indoor scenes at Paramount studio.
Back screen projection showed the ruins of the Reichstag and the black market near the Brandenburg Gate.
‘Black Market’ was one of the songs written by Frederick Hollander for Marlene. He also wrote two other memorable songs , ‘In the Ruins of Berlin’ and ‘Illusions’. All three songs convey so much of life in post-war Berlin and of course Marlene delivers them beautifully.
The composer was filmed accompanying Marlene at the Lorelei Cafe where she works.
”Want to buy some illusions, Slightly used, Second hand…..”
“A Foreign Affair” has Jean Arthur as a prudish Iowa congresswoman, Phoebe Frost, who is a member of a fact finding committee who have come to Berlin to investigate the morale and morals of the American occupation forces.
John Lund is an army captain, John Pringle, who is enjoying an clandestine affair with cafe singer Erika von Schlutow. Unknown to him, Erica is being pursued by an ex-lover , a high ranking Nazi whom the Americans would like to capture.
Pringle romances Phoebe to try and keep her in the dark and she falls for him.
When the congresswoman loosens her inhibitions, she sings a rollicking ‘Iowa Corn Song’, a funny moment for Jean Arthur. And of course a complete contrast to Marlene.
But then Phoebe has her illusions about her romance with Captain Pringle shattered when Erika has her listen in to a conversation with the Captain who makes fun of Phoebe.
Later, Phoebe says to Pringle:
“You are not a funny man, Captain Pringle. But you are quite a dancer. What a waltz we had tonight.”
Of course there is a happy ending for Phoebe if not for Erika ( though we know Erika is a survivor.)
I think this was John Lund’s chance at stardom and in my opinion he did very well. Unfortunately it did not lead to bigger roles. A Foreign Affair was only his fourth film. My other two favourites of his are No Man of Her Own (with Barbara Stanwyck), and Steel Town ( with Ann Sheridan.) It seems a shame he ended up as the dull George Kittredge in High Society.
His last film was in 1962 when he was 51. I wonder what he did after that. He was born in 1911 and died in 1992.
The film’s cynicism about the Allies’ black market operations was not well received in the American congress and it suffered at the box office. The film was not shown in Germany till 1977.
One review said: “The ruins of Berlin is a bit stark and tragic for such corn-on-the-cob nonsense as the romance between Arthur and Lund…..”
Although critic Bosley Crowther liked it, he mentioned ‘the wretched and terrifying problem of replacing the ravages of war.’
Would love to see this picture in color.
This film was Jean Arthur’s first film in four years and turned out to be her second last film. Both she and Marlene Dietrich were in their late 40’s but looked younger.
Jean was well known for her shyness and aversion to publicity.
She ,apparently, was also jealous of Marlene who was often seen on set joking with Billy Wilder and often speaking in German.
Wilder later said that Jean and her husband Frank Ross confronted him at his home and accused him of favouring Marlene. He denied it.
The film is not one of the many of that time with a solid and varied supporting cast. Only the ever reliable Millard Mitchell has a substantial role as John Lund’s boss .
A film I can watch again and again.