World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

A Foreign Affair

A Foreign Affair
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Charles Brackett
Screenplay by
Story by David Shaw
Music by Friedrich Hollaender
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Doane Harrison
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 30, 1948 (1948-06-30) (USA)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Foreign Affair is a 1948 American romantic comedy film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, and John Lund. The screenplay by Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Richard L. Breen is based on a story by David Shaw adapted by Robert Harari. The film is about a United States Army captain in occupied Berlin who is torn between an ex-Nazi cafe singer and the United States congresswoman investigating her. Though a comedy, there was a cynical, serious tone to the overall project.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
  • Awards and nominations 5
  • Home media 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In 1947, a United States congressional committee which includes prim Phoebe Frost of Iowa (Jean Arthur) arrives in post-World War II Berlin to visit the American troops stationed there. Phoebe hears rumors that cabaret torch singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich), suspected of being the former mistress of either Hermann Göring or Joseph Goebbels, is being protected by an unidentified American officer. She enlists Captain John Pringle (John Lund) to assist in her investigation, unaware he is Erika's current lover.

After seeing Erika with Adolf Hitler in a newsreel filmed during the war, Phoebe asks John to take her to army headquarters to retrieve the singer's official file. In order to distract her, John woos Phoebe, who initially resists his romantic advances but eventually succumbs to his charms.

Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell) advises John he is aware of his relationship with Erika and orders him to continue seeing her in the hope she will lead them to another of her ex-lovers, ex-Gestapo agent Hans Otto Birgel (Peter von Zerneck), believed to be hiding in the American occupation zone. Meanwhile, Erika and Phoebe are arrested during a raid designed to catch Germans without proper identification papers at the Lorelei, the club where Erika performs. At the police station, Erika claims Phoebe as her cousin in order to secure her release.

Phoebe, grateful for Erika's intercession on her behalf, goes with her to her apartment, where Erika confesses John is her lover just before he arrives. Humiliated, Phoebe leaves. Colonel Plummer attempts to reconcile Phoebe and John. John is targeted by Birgel at the Lorelei, but Birgel is killed by American soldiers who shoot him first. Erika is arrested and sentenced to serve time in a labour camp, and Phoebe and John are reunited.



While serving with the United States Army in Germany during World War II, Billy Wilder was promised government assistance if he made a film about Allied-occupied Germany, and he took advantage of the offer by developing A Foreign Affair with Charles Brackett and Richard L. Breen. Erich Pommer, who was responsible for the rebuilding of the German film industry, placed what was left of the facilities at Universum Film AG at Wilder's disposal. While researching the existing situation for his screenplay, he interviewed many of the American military personnel stationed in Berlin, as well as its residents, many of whom were having difficulty dealing with the destruction of their city. One of them was a woman he met while she was clearing rubble from the streets. "The woman was grateful the Allies had come to fix the gas," Wilder later recalled. "I thought it was so she could have a hot meal, but she said it was so she could commit suicide."[1]

Marlene Dietrich was Wilder's first choice to play Erika, and Friedrich Hollaender already had written three songs - "Black Market", "Illusions", and "The Ruins of Berlin" - for her to sing in the film (the lyrics were very integral with the plot), but the director suspected she would be opposed to portraying a woman who collaborated with the Nazis. En route home from Berlin, he stopped in Paris to visit her, ostensibly to hear her opinion about a screen test he had made with June Havoc. "She kept making criticisms and suggestions ... and finally I said, like I had thought of it just that moment, 'Marlene, only you can play this part.' And she agreed with me", Wilder said.[1]

Wilder persuaded Jean Arthur, who was attending college at the time, to come out of retirement to play Phoebe. Throughout filming, the actress felt the director was favouring Dietrich, and late one night she and her husband Frank Ross went to Wilder's home to confront him with her suspicions. "Marlene told you to burn my close-up", an extremely upset Arthur insisted. "She doesn't want me to look better than she does." Wilder, knowing such insecurities were common when two very different personalities were working together, tried to reassure her he was not playing favourites, although of all the actresses he directed, he admired Dietrich most of all. "The crews adored her ... She liked to find somebody with a cold, so she could make chicken soup for him. She loved to cook", Wilder recollected. Years later, Arthur called Wilder to tell him she finally had seen the film and liked it, apologised and said she would act in any future Wilder project.[1]

John Lund was a Paramount contract player, and although he did not have a particularly successful career, this is probably his best role, handling comedy with Wilder's cynical dramatic turns very well. Location shooting, much of it in the Soviet occupation zone, began in August 1947, and filming continued at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood between December 1947 and February 1948. The film was edited within a week after principal photography was completed, and it premiered at the Paramount Theatre in New York City on June 30, 1948, shortly after Wilder's The Emperor Waltz opened at Radio City Music Hall.[1]


Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called the film "a dandy entertainment which has some shrewd and realistic things to say" and added, "Congress may not like this picture . . . and even the Department of the Army may find it a shade embarrassing. For the Messrs. Brackett and Wilder, who are not the sort to call a spade a trowel . . . are here making light of regulations and the gravity of officialdom in a smoothly sophisticated and slyly sardonic way." He continued, "Under less clever presentation this sort of traffic with big stuff in the current events department might be offensive to reason and taste. But as handled by the Messrs. Brackett and Wilder . . . it has wit, worldliness and charm. It also has serious implications, via some actuality scenes in bombed Berlin, of the wretched and terrifying problem of repairing the ravages of war. Indeed, there are moments when the picture becomes down-right cynical in tone, but it is always artfully salvaged by a hasty nip-up of the yarn."[2]

In later years, [3] while Andrea Mullaney of Eye For Film thought it was "talky, intelligent, cynical" and "as relevant to the current American involvement in Iraq as if it had been made yesterday."[4]

Awards and nominations

Charles Lang was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Black-and-White Cinematography but lost to William H. Daniels for The Naked City. Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Richard L. Breen were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to John Huston for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and the Writers Guild of America Award, which was won by Frank Partos and Millen Brand for The Snake Pit.[5]

Home media

A Foreign Affair has been released in both VHS and DVD formats. On 27 November 2006, it was released as part of the 18-film Marlene Dietrich: The Movie Collection for the UK market.[6] However, in April 2007 Dietrich's estate, Die Marlene Dietrich Collection GmbH, obtained an injunction which forced Universal Pictures to withdraw the DVD set due to an alleged contract breach.[7][8]

In 2012, Universal through TCM released a 2-DVD set "Directed by Billy Wilder" featuring "Five Graves To Cario" and "A Foreign Affair" (as of 2014, it is still in print).


  1. ^ a b c d Chandler, Charlotte, Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster 2002; ISBN 978-0-7432-1709-5, pp. 136-141
  2. ^ reviewNew York Times,; accessed August 14, 2015.
  3. ^ Channel 4 review
  4. ^ reviewEye For Film Archived March 10, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Writers Guild of America archives". Archived from the original on 2010-10-22. 
  6. ^ Marlene Dietrich Movie Collection in NovemberThe Digital Fix, 27 November 2006: Linked 2013-12-14 Archived December 18, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Marlene Dietrich's Daughter Stops Dietrich Box Set From Being Released",, April 16, 2007; accessed August 14, 2015
  8. ^ "Dietrich's sticky situation",, April 13, 2013; relinked August 14, 2015. Archived April 18, 2009 at the Wayback Machine

External links

Streaming audio

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.