A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948). Directed by Billy Wilder. A terrific comedy produced by Charles Brackett, who was also a paramount (and Paramount) screenwriter in collaboration with such talents as Ernst Lubitsch, Mitchell Leisen, and later, Wilder ("The Lost Weekend," "Sunset Boulevard.")
Written by Wilder, Brackett & Richard Breen. Shot almost entirely on location --a rarity in those days--with a resulting gritty,realistic look. In post-war Berlin, with its ruins, black market and shady types, Marlene Dietrich, once the mistress of a Nazi bigwig, is a tough survivor. She sings in a cabaret and has a liaison with U.S.Army Capt.John Lund who is literally her meal ticket.
Jean Arthur, a prim Republican Congresswoman from Iowa,leads a fact-finding mission on the troops' morale.She is shocked by the "the moral malaria of Occupation Forces" but finds herself involved in a confusing investigation and in a love triangle too as she enlists,against Dietrich,the help of fellow-Iowan Lund,by now sophisticated by life in Europe.
Dietrich has one of the best and most underrated roles of her career.Alluring, wisecracking, blase and cynical,she steals the show with her pragmatic behavior and her disabused songs.
Jean Arthur plays essentially the kind of wide-eyed innocent of her earlier movies. Her,looks, initially slightly pudgyish and contrasting somewhat with her1930s movies' liveliness, are the opposite of Marlene's rather "used" glamorous-hard appearance. But it is Dietrich's sarcasm that gets Lund and Arthur closer together,something aided by Arthur's transformation into someone better-looking, made-up and fancily dressed.
A most imaginative movie,"A Foreign Affair" is ironical in its milder moments, wildly satirical in the rest. With a cast that is excellent down to the least supporting role,the story abounds in farcical inventions, gags and repartees ranging from heavy to clever to frothily witty. Frederick Hollander's songs (music and lyrics) are perfect and made to order for Dietrich:"Black Market," "The Ruins of Berlin, "and "Want to Buy Some Illusions?". Hollander, the composer of "The Blue Angel" (1930), which launched Dietrich with a bang heard around the world, is seen and heard here as Dietrich's accompanist. Note too the smart instrumental use of "Isn't it Romantic," done like a nod to the musical "Love Me Tonight" where it had appeared much earlier.
Billy Wilder,though often called a cynic,is actually an unsentimental realist. A Colonel in W.W.II, he was involved in the econtruction of Berlin, a city whose toughness and ambiguities are caught extremely well in this film. He shows some sympathy for the Dietrich character and mocks throughout the naive Yanks. Iowa ought not to recover from Arthur's singing of its State song I-O-WAY, in this context made quite ridiculous. And rather oddly for a Vienna-born Jewish emigre, Wilder seems to contemplate the ruins of Berlin without any glee.
The Department of Defense stated that the movie gave a false view of American Occupation Forces."Foreign Affair" was denounced in the House of Representatives as well as by the Motion Picture Export Association. Brackett (collaborator, producer, co-scripter) agreed, but he still worked with Wilder on the 1950 "Sunset Boulevard." Paramount withdrew the film from circulation for some time. (Edwin Jahiel)