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A Foreign Affair

Released Aug 20, 1948 1h 56m Musical Comedy List
100% Tomatometer 14 Reviews 77% Audience Score 1,000+ Ratings
Idealistic Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) touches down in postwar Berlin on a fact-finding mission about legendary cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich), long rumored to be the former mistress of one or more high-ranking Nazi leaders and now reportedly intimately involved with an unidentified American military officer. Frost falls for her military escort, Captain John Pringle (John Lund), unaware that the handsome American is the singer's secret paramour. Read More Read Less

Critics Reviews

View All (14) Critics Reviews
Edwin Schallert Los Angeles Times The bitterness of A Foreign Affair is thus likely to linger after its laughs have passed. Apr 29, 2019 Full Review Dave Kehr Chicago Reader As usual, it's more clever than meaningful, but this 1948 film is one of his most satisfactory in wit and pace. Aug 14, 2007 Full Review Time Out This may not be Wilder at his best -- the story develops along fairly predictable lines, with Arthur switching her starchy uniform for a glistening evening gown -- but there are some precious set pieces. Jan 26, 2006 Full Review Tom Beasley VultureHound While there are undeniable flourishes of Wilder's genius throughout, the film is more of an inconsistent, mixed bag than most of his great works. Rated: 3/5 Aug 19, 2020 Full Review Nicholas Bell It's a tall order for a romantic comedy, and yet, Wilder instills an effortless tone which makes even its morbidity escapable, at times. Rated: 4/5 Aug 11, 2020 Full Review Danielle Solzman Solzy at the Movies A Foreign Affair isn't the best Wilder comedy but it's certainly a cynical film for the era. Rated: 4/5 Jul 13, 2020 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

View All (77) audience reviews
Steve D Interesting and well acted but doesn't leave enough of an impact. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 06/06/23 Full Review Matthew D Marlene Dietrich plays a seductive Nazi opposite Jean Arthur's persnickety congresswoman. Director Billy Wilder's romantic comedy-drama A Foreign Affair (1948) is a fascinating post-war thinkpiece as well as a cute romance movie. Wilder's direction is swift and thoughtful with cute flirting and reflective writing about Germany after World War II. Wilder's direction ensures A Foreign Affair looks like a fiercely dark and brooding film noir with a decaying, destroyed Berlin in the backdrop. Cinematographer Charles Lang uses darkness and shadows to cascade Berlin in a grim sorrow and inescapable desolation. Wilder is having fun with his characters maneuvering between silly investigations into a captain's cover-up of a Nazi affiliate, while also portraying soldiers as mad for German women. I found Wilder's direction sympathetic towards the tired and horny soldiers in postwar Berlin after marching and fighting for years with no hope. Writers Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Richard L. Breen alongside David Shaw and Robert Harari poke fun at fastidious Republican women with their supposed moral superiority, Nazis hiding out in postwar Berlin, desperate Germans bartering for foreign goods, and lonely American soldiers fraternizing with desperate German women trying to survive. It's quite clever about questionable morals. Jean Arthur is hilarious as the ultra fastidious and embarrassingly conservative Iowa Congresswoman Phoebe Frost. Arthur is a riot trying to pretend to be loose, when her character is super straight laced and meticulous by nature. It's cute watching her attempt to flirt or be afraid of his advances in the silliest way possible. She has real chemistry with John Lund's crooked Captain John Pringle. He can be charming and flirtatious, but his best moments were actually defending the lonely soldiers, frustrated and exhausted after WWII, now seeking companionship in German women. He humanizes the sleazy soldiers going around after the local Berlin ladies enough to make the film seem lighthearted, but earnest in its sympathies. Marlene Dietrich is gorgeous and alluring as the German singer Erika von Schlütow. I found her subtle expressions of jealousy or intelligence to be impressive. Dietrich demonstrates how a German Nazi woman could seduce her way through gullible and desperate American officers for favors. She makes an effort to be as evil and manipulative as possible to entertain audiences, but also shows sympathy for the plight of women with no options anymore. Her sultry jazz club singing is enticing and playful. She's a delightful third wheel in the love triangle and a fine femme fatale villainess in A Foreign Affair. Millard Mitchell is hysterical as the blunt Colonel Rufus J. Plummer. His jaded and dispassionate tours through the haunting ruins of Berlin are a scream. I found his blatant defense of soldiers' pursuit of German ladies to be both touching and funny. His shrewd intellect and thoughtful responses to any questions made him one of A Foreign Affair's best characters. Peter von Zerneck cameos as the wicked Nazi remnant Hans Otto Birgel with cruel intentions in his eyes during his lone appearance. Stanley Prager's Mike and William Murphy's Joe are humorous side soldier characters. Composer Friedrich Hollaender cameos as Marlene's pianist at the Lorelei night club. Editor Doane Harrison deftly juxtaposes the strict military protocol with the fast and loose bribing of eager soldiers trying to impress German women. Art direction from Hans Dreier and Walter H. Tyler makes up grim rooms to match the real ruins of Berlin in the background. Their emphasis on the ruined bricks and dark shadows everywhere enshrouds Berlin in bleak darkness. Sam Comer and Ross Dowd's set decoration put old props and postwar era furniture everywhere for realism. Composer Friedrich Hollaender made really fun and metaphorical songs to represent what was happening in Berlin for his music. His songs for Marlene play into her temping persona and the German women wanting fine things from men in the lyrics. Sound designers Walter Oberst and Hugo Grenzbach let the rubble crunch underfoot and Marlene's pretty vocals ring out clearly even above noisy crowds. Costume designer Edith Head gives Jean Arthur humble and conservative suits to her repressed congresswoman. I adore Head's lavish evening gowns for Marlene Dietrich with a glamour all in Marlene's high fashion chic style. Wally Westmore's makeup also makes Jean Arthur look natural and ordinary, while Marlene glows with a lush blush and piercing lipstick. Marlene's fancy hair and slick eyeliner is neat too. In all, A Foreign Affair is an entertaining 116 minutes of old Berlin and hard choices by soldiers and locals alike. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 06/05/23 Full Review Mark A Billy Wilder directing Marlene Dietrich. It should have been better. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 12/20/22 Full Review william d Ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film works better as a slice-of-life look at Berlin in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Arthur and Dietrich are their usual wonderful selves, but I felt John Lund lacked the acting chops and charisma needed for his role. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Audience Member The best comedy movie ever made! Rated 5 out of 5 stars 02/26/23 Full Review Audience Member What an interesting, conflicting film this is. Jean Arthur plays a congresswoman visiting Germany after the war to check up on the troops stationed there. Marlene Dietrich is a cabaret singer rumored to have been a mistress of one of the top Nazis, and now carrying on an affair with an American officer (John Lund). As Arthur probes into Dietrich, Lund tries to run interference by getting involved with her romantically, thus setting up a love triangle. There are many great things about the film, starting with the footage of Berlin, which was still absolutely devastated by the war. It's sobering, and even as we think of the atrocities Hitler and the Nazis committed, it's still very sad. The film gives us an interesting window into the dynamics of post-war Germany. How does one sort out responsibility and guilt amongst the Germans? The simple question Lund asks Dietrich at one point, "How much of a Nazi were you, anyway?", without deep accusation in his voice or even too concerned with her answer, has a lot of depth to it. One of the difficult things to watch is American soldiers hunting down impoverished German women, and using material goods like chocolate to take advantage of them. It's cringe-worthy on its own, and then more so when the behavior is explained by saying the men had been pushing the entire war, and now hard to control by just putting a stop sign up in front of them. It may be an honest reflection of reality though, and I loved Arthur's criticism "In your admirable effort to civilize this country, our boys are rapidly becoming barbarians themselves." Lest you be outraged that the Allies, the true heroes of this war, may be unfairly treated, don't be alarmed - the American characters point out many sites of Nazi activity now mostly in ruins on a city tour, and allude to their atrocities. I thought the balance was good, and frankly pretty amazing considering director Billy Wilder was Jewish, and lived in Austria and Germany until leaving for Hollywood at 27 in 1933. Marlene Dietrich is iconic, and as a German-American who had to be convinced to take the part of a Nazi collaborator since the idea was so repugnant to her, her performance is filled with soul and depth. I loved the scenes with her singing in the cheap, crowded, and smoky Berlin nightclub, and the move she makes to take a puff on a cigarette before putting in into her pianist's mouth is silky smooth. There is something magical about her performances, and her world-weary, sophisticated character in general. And how ironic is the 'grandfather' comment an officer makes at the end, when Dietrich in real life was just about to become a grandmother? I was intrigued by the contrast between Jean Arthur and Dietrich in the same film, and I loved the fact that they were 48 and 47, respectively. Unfortunately, I was less of a fan of Arthur here, and it kills me to say that. I think the biggest issue was with the role itself, which has her character going from serious congresswoman to puddle of goo after the smallest overture by Lund. Suddenly she can't even dress or apply lipstick without his assistance, nor resist his advances. As an actor she ends up being caught in the middle - not serious enough to deliver a performance which would have further delved into the realities of war amidst the rubble, but not charming enough to be truly endearing. She just doesn't have chemistry with Lund, and her performance of the "Iowa Corn Song" is not great, to put it mildly. The situation she ends up in following a raid of the cabaret is contrived, though how the love triangle plays out is reasonably good, and Arthur delivers in her somber moments. Overall, a film that gives you post-war Berlin, Dietrich singing in a smoky cabaret, and some food for thought. It's flawed and feels too light, but to show more of the reality of the devastation and squalor may have been too much. Wilder gets his points in, and tells us a story on top of it. It also stuck with me. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 01/13/23 Full Review Read all reviews
A Foreign Affair

My Rating


Cast & Crew

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Movie Info

Synopsis Idealistic Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) touches down in postwar Berlin on a fact-finding mission about legendary cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich), long rumored to be the former mistress of one or more high-ranking Nazi leaders and now reportedly intimately involved with an unidentified American military officer. Frost falls for her military escort, Captain John Pringle (John Lund), unaware that the handsome American is the singer's secret paramour.
Billy Wilder
Charles Brackett
Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen, Robert Harari, David Shaw, Billy Wilder
Paramount Pictures
Production Co
Paramount Pictures
Musical, Comedy
Original Language
Release Date (Theaters)
Aug 20, 1948, Wide
Release Date (Streaming)
May 3, 2017
1h 56m
Sound Mix
Aspect Ratio
Flat (1.85:1)