DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A FOREIGN AFFAIR (director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriter: from the story by David Shaw/Charles Brackett/Richard L. Breen/Robert Harari; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang Jr.; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Jean Arthur (Congresswoman Phoebe Frost), Marlene Dietrich (Erika Von Schluetow), John Lund (Captain John Pringle), Millard Mitchell (Col. Rufus J. Plummer), Peter von Zerneck (Hans Otto Birgel), Stanley Prager (Mike); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Brackett; Paramount; 1948)

 
"Despite its predictable story line makes for a somewhat enjoyable satire."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Not one of Billy Wilder's ("Sunset Boulevard"/"One, Two, Three") better efforts, done in collaboration with his usual producer/writer Charles Brackett, but despite its predictable story line makes for a somewhat enjoyable satire. It's set in 1947, just after WWII, among the ruins of Berlin. Prim Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is part of a 5-day visiting congressional committee investigating the morale and morals of the 12,000 GIs stationed in Berlin. Frost delivers a birthday cake to Iowa resident Captain Pringle (John Lund) from his girlfriend. The cynical army captain is involved with the locals in the black market and is having an affair with hottie ex-Nazi chanteuse Erika Von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich), who receives such things from lover boy as cigarettes, nylons and a mattress (gained by selling the birthday cake on the black market). 

The film moves into a cheerful romantic comedy territory oddly set in such depressing times, that is clever but never has any depth or sparkle to justify its questionable motives and poor taste. Frost is shocked when she uncovers Pringle is involved in such illegal activities, but falls in love with him anyway. The naive spinster congresswoman now has to compete against the experienced opportunistic Fraulein siren, and does so by changing out of her stodgy dress and into a revealing evening gown. 

Wilder sets idealism at odds with cynicism, and finds a way to bridge the differences through the characters of Arthur and Lund being their representative archetypes--each must make sacrifices to become less rigid in their beliefs. The charming Lund is the object of desire of both ladies, as in this emotional triangle things will get serious in the third act and you can surely guess who will win the middle American hearth-throb in the end as he returns to his senses. 

The film's best scene was Dietrich's club act. 

The sophisticated comedy has fine performances from the three stars and crackling dialogue throughout, but the political farce seems pointless and the humor never seemed witty enough to warrant its vacuous moral message. It's a film that tried to force comedy upon such a despairing postwar setting and though it managed some honest chuckles it had some guarded moments that just did not get over without feeling strained.

REVIEWED ON 12/8/2005        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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