A congressional committee visits occupied Berlin to investigate G.I. morals. Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, appalled at widespread evidence of human frailty, hears rumors that cafe singer Erika, former mistress of a wanted war criminal, is "protected" by an American officer, and enlists Captain John Pringle to help her find him...not knowing that Pringle is Erika's lover.Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
When the Americans are flying over Berlin, the scenery outside Phoebe's (Jean Arthur's) window never changes. See more »
Boy, that's strudel! Strudel a la mode! That's the kind of pastry that make you drool on your bib.
You know what they say? They say she was right up there with them big Nazis. Right in the major league! That's what they say. She was Goebbels' girl. Or, Göring's. One of 'em, any way.
How did she get away with it?
How did she get away with it? Just look at her! She's hooked herself some big brass.
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Though the plot of A Foreign Affair is lightweight and has seen service in many other movies (wholesome woman and sexy woman pursuing the same man; man pretends to fall for woman and then really does), the backdrop is deadly serious, compelling, and unusual. We are in the American Zone of Berlin after the war, a sector that, with the British and French zones, would soon become West Berlin, a magnet for many who would struggle to escape to this tiny outpost of the West in what would become Communist East Germany, many of them dying in the attempt. The Berlin Wall would be built to separate West from East Berlin. The Germans in the movie have had their world destroyed, don't know what is going on in the present, and can only wait with helpless terror for the future.
Though we are shown houses pulverised by Allied bombing and people living amongst the ruins, there is a lighthearted aspect to it all--the usual wartime stuff of GI's trading chocolate or stockings for kisses from pretty girls. In reality, however, it was more likely that they would be traded for sex from women desperate to feed themselves and their children, by soldiers reveling in a power they never had in civilian life and oblivious to the disgust and humiliation of the women. Marlene Dietrich says that, when the Russian troops invaded Berlin, "it was hard for the women." That's the understatement of the century! The Russians raped, and gang-raped, any women they could find--women died from being literally raped to death. It is understandable that Billy Wilder did not want to make the milieu too bleak in order to dampen the comedy, but keep in mind that matters were far more brutal and squalid than portrayed here.
It is a rather dark joke that Dietrich is cast in the role of a German woman who has had Nazi lovers and still feels loyal to Hitler. In fact, Dietrich became an American citizen in 1939 and extensively toured US military bases, sometimes at great danger, to entertain the troops. This aroused rage in Germany, and even decades after the war, as the result of protests by locals who called her a traitor, the government backed down and did not name a street in her honour. Can you beat that! An amusing footnote: When Dietrich tries her wiles on an officer, he says, Don't be silly, I've just become a grandfather. I don't know whether this was coincidence or intentional, but at the time the movie was made, Dietrich became a grandmother--an event that gave her a label that was very popular, but which she hated, "world's most glamorous grandmother."
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