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A Foreign Affair Reviews

A stinging satirical look at black marketeering in post WW II Berlin, A FOREIGN AFFAIR has Arthur heading a congressional investigation into the corruptive moral influence Germans are having on occupying GIs. Arthur arrives with a birthday cake for Lund, baked by one of his old girl friends in the US. He immediately sells the cake for a mattress, which he presents to his German sweetie, Dietrich, an aristocrat turned torch singer in a Berlin bistro, the Lorelei. Arthur pretends to be a German girl and is picked up by some GIs and taken to the notorious club to hear and see Dietrich vamp out some tunes, and she learns that Dietrich is Lund's mistress. She later turns up a photo showing Dietrich with high-ranking Nazis, including Hitler (Bobby Watson). Lund is ordered to continue his affair with Dietrich so he can locate a top Nazi still on the run, Von Zerneck. He can't object since he's altered her records, concealing her earlier political affiliations so she can stay in Berlin. When confronted with her notorious past, Dietrich delivers a typically biting line: "Politics? Women pick out what's in fashion and change it like a spring hat. Everything is forgiven the eternal female." But she is not forgiven, and when Von Zerneck tries to make contact with her, he is shot. She is taken away by no less than five MPs, all of them nervously eyeing her and themselves, uncertain whether they can resist her allure. Arthur has been humanized by the experience and, at film's end, discards her spinster-like ways, openly kissing Lund in what appears to be the opening round in a lasting love match. Dietrich, who had dipped in popularity, came back to full box office force in this trampy role, which recalled her successes of the 1930s, particularly in THE BLUE ANGEL. At first she declined the role, always worried that her German background would associate her with the Nazis, but clever Wilder showed her a test June Havoc had made for the part and her natural competitiveness caused her to take on the part. She sings five songs written specifically for her by Hollander: "Iowa Corn Song," "Meadowland," "Ruins of Berlin," "Black Market," and "Illusions." Hollander himself acts as her accompanist in the nightclub scenes, a not unfamiliar role for the composer who had performed the same chores in the wedding scene of THE BLUE ANGEL and again in MANPOWER. Her revealing costumes were created by the venerable Edith Head who later commented: "You don't design clothes for Dietrich. You design them with her." Wilder did some setup shots in bombed-out Berlin, which gave the impression that the entire film was shot on location, but most of the filming was done at the Paramount Studios. This is Wilder at his most acerbic and cynical, and the film was originally attacked by critics who considered it a monument to tastelessness. But the hypnotic performance he draws from sultry Dietrich shows his continuing mastery of the medium. Brackett, Wilder, and Breen garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and Lang was nominated for Best Black-and-White cinematography.