The Foreigner (1978)

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TCM has baffled me a bit with this one. I’m not really sure what to think of The Foreigner. Is it a drama? Is it suspense? Is it a modern conspiracy noir? Can it even be considered a damned film at all? I’m still trying to figure that out myself.

The plot for The Foreigner can be summed up as follows: European secret agent Max Menace arrives in New York City. He waits around for his contact to tell him his assignment and along the way becomes involved with some odd situations and characters. However, he never learns why he’s there or what his assignment is.

So that’s the plot in a nutshell, though in the case of The Foreigner, the term “plot” is used very loosely. The plotline is about as messy and jumbled as a plotline can get, short of being on an LSD trip.

Max spends much of his time just wandering around New York City. He walks down streets, he walks down alleys, he walks down the beach, he takes the ferry…you get the picture. When he’s not doing that he spends most of the rest of his time sitting around on his bed trying to look cool

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While listening to his pre-recorded voice over

In one extended shot he lounges on his hotel bed and listens to a news report about the punk-rock scene in Britain. He taps his foot and bobs his head along to the background music while the news man says things like, “They have rejected all values,” and that “They have no future and society offers them nothing.” It’s a long cut, with no dialogue other than that of the anchorman. Max listens intently and seems interested in the documentary, but as for why he’s watching it and why the camera seems so focused on this one scene, we’re never told.

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Is it somehow a symbolic connection between how the foreigner feels in
his new surroundings
and how the punk rockers felt within their own
society?……Nah. That’s too deep for this movie.

Between these shorts of shots of Max’s seemingly aimless wandering, we also lean that Max is being chased by three separate groups of people: a group of mostly anonymous punk-rock-like thugs, the private detective Harlow, and at least one other mysterious individual. Who are these mysterious individual(s) and why are they following him? Never explained. What do the thugs want with Max? No idea. But they chase him all right. Poor Max ends up doing a lot of running in this film.

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So it’s kind of like Run, Lola, Run, but with
less plot.

He also manages to get tied up by a shrill, harpy of a woman, and beat up by another, completely separate group of people, for no discernible reason.

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Whatever you’re here for, Max, is it really worth it?

The amateur production quality of the movie doesn’t do it any favors either. The actors vary from decent to giggle worthy. The film quality is often poor, leading to either low contras or washed out imagery. Sound is another issue. It’s obvious that the production didn’t have access to any kind of boom mic, making certain scenes extremely difficult to hear. I had to turn the volume of my TV up on a couple of occasions, and even then it was hard to hear what was being said, thanks to all the background “fuzz.”

It also could have benefited from a consistency checker. At one point in the middle of the movie a gun is fired multiple times. This is all well and good, except for the fact that you can see the gun beforehand, and then it proceeds to go off no fewer than 13 times.

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Watch this GIF for a full minute to get an accurate representation.

It actually fired more than 13 times. The point is that I lost count. Tie this disjointed collection of situations and execution together and there’s your movie.

Perhaps I should have been suspicious of The Foreigner from the beginning. As I mentioned before, I don’t like to read anything about these seemingly random TCM movies before I watch them, as I like to go in without any preconceived expectations. I do, however, go to the TCM Underground schedule page to see what movies will be playing and what time they actually start (it has a tendency to vary from anywhere between 2-3am depending on how sadistic they’re feeling that night), so that I can either plan to stay up or to set my DVR accordingly. Now, usually they have a nice, long write up of their own on that page, where they talk a little about the film, it’s creators, the process, blah, blah, blah. Basically, it gives you some nice background info about the film. But when I went there after the movie was over to try to see if I could get a better idea of what I’d just watched, I was greeted with this:

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WARNING! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER!

Obviously if TCM can’t come up with more than a one sentence blurb, it must not be too good a sign. Though I must admit, despite it’s shortcomings, The Foreigner does have a couple of things going for it.

For one, it has a couple decent bits of cinematography, including one sticking image shot right below the twin towers…

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…and another of Max being chased by Miss Fem-fatale here…

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I’d think she’d go for a more inconspicuous outfit, but whatever floats
your boat, hun.

The second thing it’s got going for it is the score by Ivan Kral. It’s not perfect, but it has its moments and its sometimes-haunting strums and rattles manage to fit in well with the film. I particularly liked the chase sequences.

And the coupe de grace is the movies less than 2-minute appearance of Debbie Harry.

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Seen here giving you her most subtle f&%# you, expression.

In that short amount of time she manages to outshine everyone else in the film. Granted, it wasn’t really that hard to do, but she should be given mad props for doing it anyway. Feel free to watch her give a nice rendition of what appears to be “Bilbao Moon” from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. Seriously, it’ll only take two minutes of your time.

In some ways, I can see how The Foreigner is considered a ‘cult classic’, yet at the same time I can’t. It’s got a few nice visuals, a decent soundtrack, and some quirky characters. But at the same time, the amateur nature of the film can be painfully obvious: the actors are often hard to hear, there are times when the picture is almost painfully washed out, and the narrative is disjointed. If you’re curious about amateur films, suspense, or movies with a punk-rock inspired edge, than you might want to check this out. If none of that appeals to you, than I doubt you’ll find anything here worth enjoying.

The Foreigner has aired on TCM and is also available on DVD.

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Michi

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