"A Foreign Affair" is not one of the films, directed by Billy Wilder, that are constantly seen on cable. We saw the movie a few years ago, as part as a tribute to the master. "A Foreign Affair" shows a Billy Wilder at one of his best moments of his Hollywood career. In going back to a destroyed Berlin, a city in which he lived, Mr. Wilder, and his collaborators, presents us with a film that must have been close to his heart.
We are shown a Berlin in ruins right after the war as the US Congressional delegation comes to investigate the morale of the American men deployed in the divided city. It was still a time where some Nazis are still hiding from justice as the Allied forces are looking for them. One of the members of the commission that arrives in Berlin, Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, is carrying a birthday cake for one of her Iowa constituents, sent by his girlfriend.
Berlin in those days was a place where things were hard to obtain. A lot of everyday goods, as well as all types of items, were bought, sold, or bartered, in the streets. We get a glimpse of it, as Capt. John Pringle exchanges his own birthday cake for a mattress that he intends to present to his current love, the exotic Erika, who entertains in the Lorelei, the cabaret that attracts a mixed crowd. Things get complicated as Phoebe Frost, who is a sticker for detail, catches Pringle at the night club. Phoebe, Pringle and Erika will be involved in a web of deception, intrigue and love. The no-nonsense Congresswoman falls in love, against her better judgment with the handsome Pringle.
There are delicious moments in the film that only someone with Mr. Wilder's eye for detail could get from his players. Phoebe Frost is taken for a ride with two GIs who think she is a local. The Congresswoman also plays a number in the Lorelei, a song with the appropriate title of "Iowa Corn Song", one of the highlights of the movie. Also, Erika, sings a couple of numbers, "Illusions", and "Ruins of Berlin" that will stay with the viewer because of the way Ms. Dietrich could only interpret them. Another sequence involves Pringle and Phoebe inside a file room in which drawers are opened and shut with an amazing pace.
Jean Arthur is the best thing in the film. She was an actress who showed every emotion so well in her expressive face. Phoebe Frost has to be one of the best roles she ever played on the screen. Marlene Dietrich is another asset in the movie. Her Erika was a survivor, as she clearly shows. John Lund, makes a wonderful Pringle, the man who ends falling in love with Phoebe. Millard Mitchell is seen as Col. Plummer.
The only thing with the copy shown on TCM, it was so dark, that at times is hard to see what's going on. The photography by Charles Lang shows the devastation and the condition that Berlin looked like right after being repeatedly bombed by the Allies during WWII. At one point in the film, Erika tells Phoebe to accompany her home, "It's the next ruin", she explains.
"A Foreign Affair" is one of Mr. Wilder's best achievements as he gives us an account of the city he knew well.