Foreign Affair, A (1948): Billy Wilder in Post-WWII Berlin, Starring Marlene Dietrich

Director Billy Wilder was criticized by some for the comedic elements in A Foreign Affair, set in Berlin right after WWII.  These reviewers accused Wilder of moral bankruptcy, challenging him to prove what could be funny about the Nazi war guilt, the bombed-out city, the postwar European black market, and so on.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

A Foreign Affair

Theatrical release poster

These elements are in Foreign Affair and they have humor—dark humor to be sure.

John Lund plays American army officer, Captain John Pringle, who has an affair with older cabaret singer Erika von Schluetow (Marlene Dietrich), a former Nazi.  She accepts his attentions so long as there are benefits, like contraband cigarettes and nylons.

Meanwhile, Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is sent as member of an American fact-finding delegation to Berlin, and Lund is forced to change his ways. Despite her initial shock at the corruption around her, straitlaced Arthur eventually falls for Lund, but Dietrich has been at this game longer.

A Foreign Affair is a good companion piece to Wilder’s 1961 Cold War comedy One, Two, Three.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Richard L. Breen

Cinematography (black and white): Charles B. Lang, Jr.

Oscar Awards:

Oscar Context:

The Writing Oscar went to John Huston for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

William Daniels won the Cinematography Oscar for The Naked City




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


Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Charles Brackett
Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen, Robert Harari (adaptation), Story by David Shaw
Music by Friedrich Hollaender
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Doane Harrison

Production and Distribution: Paramount Pictures

Release date: June 30, 1948 (USA)

Running time: 116 minutes
Box office $2.5 million (US rentals)