Thursday, December 29, 2016


I watched BACKGROUND TO DANGER, a 1943 Warner Brothers WWII spy thriller, for the first time the other night and loved every minute of it. I was not familiar with this one going in but watching it reminded me of the good old days when local television stations would run old movies late at night. Of course, there was always the monster/horror/science fiction stuff that I loved but sometimes, I 'd take a chance on an old film I hadn't heard of and of a different genre and experience the joy of discovery. That's how I first saw CASABLANCA (1941) and several other vintage Warner Brothers films.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER has many similarities to CASABLANCA. It's set in an exotic locale, Turkey, in the midst of WWII and features two of the stars of that film, Peter Lorre and Sydney cGreenstreet. I love these guys and I'll watch anything they appear in together. Lorre excelled at playing weasels while Greenstreet exuded rotund menace (he was often filmed from below, his bulk filling the frame) in every scene. Add in tough guy George Raft (filling in for Bogie, and replete with trench coat) and you've got one checkuva fun little film.

Raft stars as American Joe Barton, a salesman of oil field equipment in the middle east. In fact, he's introduced in a early scene that takes place in, of all places, Aleppo, Syria. Barton soon becomes caught in the middle of a Nazi scheme (engineered by Greenstreet), to flood Turkish newspapers with plans for a Russian invasion into the neutral country. The threat of war would allow the Germans to enter Turkey on the premise of defending them from the non-existent Russian advance and conquer the country. Lorre and Brenda Marshall are two Russian spies who are treated somewhat sympathetically (remember, at this point in the war, the United States and Soviet Russia were allies). But all is not what it seems. SPOILER: Barton is really an American agent and he ultimately teams up with Lorre and Marshall to defeat Greenstreet.

There's plenty of gun fights, car chases, narrow escapes and reversals of fortune to keep the plot moving at a good clip, making the eighty minutes of running time fly by. The screenplay, by W.R. Burnett (with contributions by William Faulkner and Daniel Fuchs) is based on Eric Ambler's 1937 novel UNCOMMON DANGER. Director Raoul Walsh makes good use of the Warner back lot, stock footage (one scene is lifted directly from CASABLANCA) and miniature work to create a Turkey that could only exist in a Hollywood film. Future director Don Siegel edited the many montage sequences that appear in the film, a task he also performed on CASABLANCA.

BACKGROUND TO DANGER isn't a classic, masterpiece by any means. But it is one helluva good little movie, one which I thoroughly enjoyed. One thing I really liked was the title card of the film:

A font style that was later used here:

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