A Foreign Affair (1948)

A Foreign Affair
Jean Arthur, John Lund and Marlene Dietrich

'A Foreign Affair' is a cleverly crafted romantic comedy set in Berlin at the end of World War II. It was made in 1948, directed by Billy Wilder and stars Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur and John Lund. Made only three years after the end of the war its witty and cynical script pulls no punches in showing American servicemen engaging enthusiastically in the Berlin black market.

It received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Charles Lang) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Richard L. Breen), but it was denounced on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, and criticised for being tasteless and painting a false picture of the occupying American army. The movie was banned from being shown in Germany and, under pressure from all sides, it was eventually withdrawn by Paramount from general release.

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The action of the movie takes place in the ruins of Berlin at the end of World War II. Jean Arthur plays Phoebe Frost, a prim and proper Republican member of Congress who travels to Berlin to investigate reports of corruption and lax morals among the occupying American forces. She focuses her attention on Erika von Schlüaut;tow, a cabaret singer played by Marlene Dietrich, who is believed to be the former mistress of a top Nazi and who is being protected by an unidentified American officer.

She meets, and falls in love with Captain John Pringle, played by John Lund, unaware that he is actually the officer who is protecting Erika. The three get involved in a comic triangle of deception, intrigue and romance tinged with sardonic humor and social commentary.


Billy Wilder had fled Nazified Europe in the 1930's to start a brilliant writing and directing career in America. He and Charles Brackett had a highly successful screenwriting partnership extending back to 1938 with 'Bluebeard's Eighth Wife' and including movie classics such as 'Ninotchka' in 1939, 'Ball of Fire' in 1941 and 'The Lost Weekend' in 1945.

Wilder spent some time in war-ravaged Berlin just after V-E Day as part of his duties as a U. S. Army officer approving or denying artistic performance licenses for German companies. He saw for himself the poverty of the Berliners and how the Germans and the Allied occupiers were co-existing and he began to evolve a movie that would take a comedic look at life in the city from both points of view.

He took the original story by David Shaw, and adapted by Robert Harari and he and Brackett, together with collaborator Richard L. Breen, wrote the brilliant screenplay.

Several titles were suggested, including "Operation Candybar," "Out of Bounds," "No Limit," and "Two Loves Have I" before they reverted to the original "A Foreign Affair."

Berlin had been hit by over 400 Allied bombing raids and was still completely in ruins in mid 1947 when Wilder began shooting the exterior backgrounds. The scenes from the aircraft, shown at the start of the film, are still extraordinary, and show quite clearly an utterly devastated city.

After the location shooting, filming continued in Hollywood at Paramount's Studios for three months from December, 1947, eventually premiering in New York City on June 30, 1948.

Marlene Dietrich was German, but the complete opposite, in terms of loyalty, to the character she eventually played. She became a naturalised American citizen in 1939 and during the war she spent a great deal of time visiting troops, often on the front line, and speaking out against Naziism. Her first reaction on reading the script was to refuse to play the role of a woman with a Nazi past, but she was swayed by Wilder's promise to her that her songs in the picture would be written by her old friend Friedrich Hollaender, who had accompanied her singing in 'The Blue Angel' at the start of her career. She was also aware that her waning screen popularity needed reversing with a hit movie

Jean Arthur was on the point of retiring from movies completely. She was tired of acting and had not made a movie for 4 years. She was persuaded by Wilder's promise of top billing and $175,000 plus more for additional weeks.

Dietrich and Wilder were good friends and enjoyed working with each other, but their constant jokes and talking in German annoyed Jean Arthur. Dietrich did not like her co-stars, referring to Jean Arthur as "that ugly, ugly woman" and to John Lund as a "piece of petrified wood."

Main Cast

Jean Arthur was promised, and received, top billing, but despite her brilliant acting, the movie belongs to the wonderful Marlene Dietrich

Jean Arthur ... Phoebe Frost
Marlene Dietrich ... Erika von Schlütow
John Lund ... Captain John Pringle
Millard Mitchell ... Col. Rufus J. Plummer
Peter von Zerneck ... Hans Otto Birgel
Stanley Prager ... Mike
William Murphy ... Joe
Raymond Bond ... Congressman Pennecot
Boyd Davis ... Congressman Giffin
Robert Malcolm ... Congressman Kramer
Charles Meredith ... Congressman Yandell
Michael Raffetto ... Congressman Salvatore
Damian O'Flynn ... Lieutenant Colonel
Frank Fenton ... Major Mathews
James Larmore ... Lieutenant Hornby
Gordon Jones ... Military Police
Friedrich Hollaender ... pianist at the Lorelei night club

John Lund(1911-92)
Lund began his movie career in 1946 in 'To Each His Own' with Olivia de Havilland after earlier successes on Broadway. His excellent leading man performance in 'A Foreign Affair' was his best known movie. He never quite arrived at top Hollywood star status, although he appeared as Grace Kelly's ,George Kitteridge in 'High Society' in 1956
Marlene Dietrich (1901-92)
Her role as a cabaret singer and former mistress of a Nazi official was one of the most iconic roles of a magnificent career. She changed career direction several times, starting as a cabaret artist and chorus girl, then film actress in 1920's Berlin. She made the transition to Hollywood to become an international movie star for two decades interrupted by the Second World War, during which she became a forces entertainer on the frontline.
Her final self-invention was as a topline international stage performer which lasted from the 1950's to her retirement in the 1970's. Her fame grew steadily and remorselessly and she became one of the greatest entertainment icons of the century.
Jean Arthur(1900-91)
Jean Arthur was a marvellous screen comedienne and a beautiful and talented actress who appeared in a total of 89 films, and who made her name with some memorable performances in classic Hollywood movies of the Golden Age including 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' in 1939 and 'Shane' in 1953. Her other unique quality, highly unusual in an Hollywood actress, was her shy, introverted nature which eventually caused her to turn her back on the publicity machine. Jean received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in 'The More the Merrier'.


Director ... Billy Wilder
Producer ... Charles Brackett
Screenplay ... Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen
Original Sory by ... David Shaw
Adapted by ... Robert Harari
Music ... Friedrich Hollaender
Cinematography ... Charles Lang
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures
Release date ... June 30, 1948
Running time ... 116 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Black-and-White Cinematography ... Charles Lang
Best Adapted Screenplay ... Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen