A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.
A congressional committee visits occupied Berlin to investigate G.I. morals. Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, appalled at widespread evidence of human frailty, hears rumors that cafe singer Erika, former mistress of a wanted war criminal, is "protected" by an American officer, and enlists Captain John Pringle to help her find him...not knowing that Pringle is Erika's lover. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
When Billy Wilder arrived on location in Berlin, he saw that the city had cleaned up a little since he was there right after the end of the war, but the results of close to 400 Allied bombing raids were still very much evident. Nearly half a million of the city's buildings had been destroyed, and although resilient Berliners were finding ways to survive, food was still scarce, the black market was thriving, and military police were everywhere. Filming in this virtual war zone suited Wilder's purposes very well, since he needed to show a destroyed city in chaos. See more »
Though the character played by Jean Arthur is an 'unmarried' American Congresswoman, the actress's real life wedding ring is visible in many scenes especially close-ups during the latter part of the film. See more »
Erika von Schluetow:
Black Market. Laces for the misses. Chewing gum for kisses! Black Market. Cuckoo clocks and bangles! Thousand little angles!
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Although A Foreign Affair turned out to be a big success for all involved, biographies of Billy Wilder, Jean Arthur, and Marlene Dietrich all talk about the difficulties they had in this film. Especially Wilder and Arthur.
Paramount put up some big bucks for this film, even including sending Billy Wilder and a second unit team to film the surviving city of Berlin from World War II. It all paid off quite nicely and you can bet the footage found it's way into films not half as good. It looks far better than the standard newsreel films that are often used as background for foreign locations.
Marlene Dietrich plays the girlfriend of former Nazi bigwig Peter Von Zerneck who is presumed dead by the public at large, but the army knows is very much alive. How to smoke him out is the problem that Colonel Millard Mitchell of the occupying forces has. He decides to use the growing relationship that Captain John Lund has with Dietrich as Von Zerneck is the jealous type.
But into the picture comes Jean Arthur, part of a group of visiting members of Congress touring occupied Berlin. Arthur departs from the group and starts conducting her own investigations and in the way Joseph Cotten was doing in occupied Vienna in The Third Man blundering his way into an investigation in the British sector there, Arthur threatens to blow up all of Mitchell's plans. Especially since Lund is starting to switch gears and drop Marlene for Jean.
Dietrich comes out best in this film. Not only was she German, but she was born and grew up in Berlin. Marlene may have invested more of herself in her character of Erika Von Schluetow than in any other film she did. She gets three great original songs by Frederick Hollander, Black Market, Illusions, and The Ruins Of Berlin that speak not to just her character, but to the sullen character of a beaten people. By the way that's composer Hollander himself accompanying her at the piano.
Dietrich and Wilder got along just great, both being refugees from Nazism. They got along so good that Arthur felt she was being frozen out and Wilder was favoring Dietrich.
Both Frank Capra and Cecil B. DeMille spoke of the difficulties in working with Jean Arthur and Billy Wilder also echoes what his colleagues said in their memoirs. Arthur was a terribly insecure person and it took a lot of patience to work with her. The results were usually worth it to the movie going public, but for her fellow workers on the film it could be painful. A Foreign Affair may have been good training for Wilder when he later had to get performances out of another diva, Marilyn Monroe.
Wilder came in for a lot of criticism showing our occupying forces in a less than perfect light and also making fun of a member of Congress and a Republican at that as Jean was in the film, most definitely not in real life. Millard Mitchell's a smart and tough professional soldier, but he's a bit of fathead as well as extols the virtue of teaching German youth baseball as a method of deNazification. As if it were that simple. But A Foreign Affair has held up very well over 60 years now and is Billy Wilder at some of his satirical and cynical best.
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