Writer/director Billy Wilder (in collaboration with producer/writer Charles Brackett) earned his first critical condemnation with A Foreign Affair. Reviewers accused Wilder (as they would so often in the future) of moral bankruptcy, challenging him to prove what could possibly be funny about the Nazi war guilt, the bombed-out city of Berlin, the postwar European black market or attempted suicide. All of these elements are in Foreign Affair, and all are very funny. John Lund is an American army captain carrying on a casual affair with Berlin songstress Marlene Dietrich, who accepts Lund's attentions so long as there are contraband cigarettes and nylons added to the bargain. Iowa congresswoman Jean Arthur is sent as part of an American fact-finding delegation to Berlin, and Lund is compelled to clean up his act--or at least pretend to. Despite her initial shock at the corruption all around her, straitlaced Arthur eventually falls for Lund, but Dietrich has been at this game a lot longer. For an interesting cinematic and sociological exercise, A Foreign Affair should be shown in tandem with Wilder's 1961 Cold War comedy One, Two, Three.~Hal Erickson
A Foreign Affair is not the best of Billy Wilder's films, but it nonetheless is entertaining and enjoyable. Apart from the story, while watching it in high definition on a larger TV I was struck by the shots of the devastation of post-war Berlin. That alone is something to see. The interplay between Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Lund was a treat. I'm glad my congresswoman is not like the character Jean Arthur portrays so well. To my mind, the film could have been more tightly edited and the straight-laced character of the congresswoman at the beginning was too caricatured. Those flaws aside, I enjoyed the film and will be watching it again.