Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940). Alfred Hitchcock’s second Hollywood picture is basically a trial run for all slam-bang entertainments that would follow in his career. On the leading edge of World War II, a New York newspaper sends a metro crime reporter (Joel McCrea) to Europe, hoping that his bulldog instincts will yield hotter stories than the usual foreign correspondents’ drab transcribing of diplomatic pronouncements. Sure enough, our dogged journalist stumbles upon a broad scheme of espionage, centered on the faked assassination and kidnapping of a Dutch official (Albert Bassermann), which allows Hitchcock to play around with a regular Joe thrust into extraordinary circumstances, a longtime favorite scenario. Hitchcock’s almost unrivaled command of the mechanics of narrative cinema is fully in evidence in Foreign Correspondent, even if his greater ingenuity only flits in now and then. A set piece inside a raggedy windmill is prime example of the Master becoming the Master. The film is probably most notable for its startlingly direct efforts in urging U.S. audiences to support their nation coming to the aid of European nations beset by the aggressions of Nazi forces. It’s a remarkable example of plain entertainment as stern political advocacy.
The Rape of Recy Taylor (Nancy Buirski, 2017). As the title suggests, Nancy Buirski’s documentary isn’t an easy watch. As best she can without diminishing the crime, Buirski tries to be relatively restrained in recounting the violent sexual assault perpetrated on Alabama woman Recy Taylor in 1944, perhaps because there’s plenty of outrage to be had from the institutionalized injustice that followed. Taylor was blocked by bigotry at every turn, her basic human dignity cast aside in favor of the perceived importance of preserving the reputations of the white teens who took her to the outskirts of town and raped her. Even decades after the fact, after the Alabama legislature (hardly a hotbed of woke activism) voted to issue an official apology to Taylor, Buirski can still find heartless ghouls, such as a self-proclaimed state historian, who will gladly signal their disdain for her and her story to the camera. The intent of the documentary in unassailable, but it sometimes feels like Buirski is straining to get limited material to feature length. With little archival footage of Taylor available, Buirski relies heavily on old movie dramatizations of similar crimes, and a long digression about Rosa Parks, who took up Taylor’s case as part of her activism, is interesting but feels out of place. Mainly, the passage about Parks implicitly makes the case that the Civil Rights icon is overdue for a fresh documentary about her life, one that showcases the amazing range of her social justice efforts beyond that one day on the bus.
In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2019). A wild, warped horror film and consumer culture satire, In Fabric swirls its narrative around the vicious acts perpetrated by a sentient, murderous red dress. Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a divorced woman struggling with a series of cloddish men as she reenters the dating scene. In an effort to boost her self-esteem, she springs for a lush new garment. As hoped for, the dress turns heads, but it also swoops ominously around the flat at night and thrashes the washing machine into metallic debris. Writer-director Peter Strickland is admirably committed to the bit and occasionally approaches levels of bleak, weirdo comedy not seen much in this type of fare since the days when David Cronenberg was at his most delightfully unhinged. The gag isn’t strong enough to sustain the film’s nearly two-hour running time, though, and it grows deeply boring well before the conclusion. Fatma Mohamed gives a consistently amusing performance as a department store clerk with a proclivity for ornate language and ludicrously complex sentence structures.