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Adventure in Iraq

Adventure in Iraq(1943)

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In the studio system era of Hollywood there was little differentiation among non-white foreigners. Beyond the distinction between Africans, who were generally depicted as ignorant savages, and everyone else, studio writers rarely saw the need to touch on more than surface differences among the various inhabitants of Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Arabian nations. As a result, it's hardly surprising that Warner Bros. had no problem re-making The Green Goddess, the twice-filmed tale of a duplicitous, lustful Himalayan Raja, as Adventure in Iraq (1943), the tale of a duplicitous, lustful Iraqi sheikh. In truth, the writers seem to have expended more effort updating the story to World War II than they did changing the location and the villain's cultural background.

The Green Goddess had been a stage triumph for George Arliss, the venerable British character star who seems to have spent his entire life playing men much older than his age. Written by noted critic William Archer, the play had been a hit in London and New York. Arliss brought it to the screen as a silent in 1923, and then as a sound film in 1930, winning an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor (he lost to himself in 1929's Disraeli). Drawing on popular Western images of the East, it presented Arliss' character, the Raja of Rukh, as a scheming, inscrutable villain who plans to sacrifice three Western plane crash survivors in retaliation should the British execute his three murderous half brothers. Even as he threatens his captives' lives, he succumbs to lust for the one woman in the group (another popular notion at the time was that all Easterners lusted after white women). Only a last-minute distress call saves his captives, who are rescued after a British bombing raid that provided for spectacular special effects on stage and screen.

The film had done well enough for Warner Bros. in 1930 that a remake was inevitable. With the U.S.' entry into World War II, that studio, along with the rest of Hollywood, was looking for ways to bring the war effort to the screen. With the North African and Arabian campaigns against the Nazis making headlines, it made perfect sense to transplant the story to Iraq. The nation's oil supplies were crucial to the war effort, and the British had fought a month-long war to win it back after a coup that overthrew a more sympathetic government in 1941. Turning the villain into Sheikh Ahmid Bel Nor, who hopes a Nazi alliance will help him overthrow British colonial influence, seemed the perfect way to update the two decades old story.

Unlike other war-based dramas of the time, like Casablanca (1942) and Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Adventure in Iraq was hardly an A-picture. Warner's assigned the production to William Jacobs, who had been producing low budget films for them since his move from the writer's wing in 1940. Director D. Ross Lederman was another B-movie specialist, having come to Warner's after a career directing Tim McCoy Westerns for Columbia.

The cast of Adventure in Iraq was also made up of low-budget veterans. Unlike many Warner's B films, the picture didn't even feature any of the actors like Craig Stevens, Faye Emerson or Julie Bishop who would eventually find leading roles in the studio's A product. John Loder, cast as the very British leading man, had come to specialize in such roles in lower budget films since coming to Hollywood at the start of World War II. The World War I veteran and one-time pickle manufacturer, had scored a brief success in British films, most notably as the lead detective in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Sabotage (1936). Although some saw him as a more cultured alternative to Clark Gable, he was more famous as one of Hedy Lamarr's husbands and the father of two of her children. He left Hollywood after wedding an Argentine heiress in 1958.

Loder's screen wife, Ruth Ford had a fascinating life, but her Hollywood years were more of a footnote to it. The former model was a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, with which she appeared on Broadway in revivals of Danton's Death and The Shoemaker's Holiday. Welles' influence got her contracts at Columbia and Warner Bros., where she languished in B movies despite her great beauty. After leaving Hollywood, she married actor Zachary Scott, with whom she would work on television and Broadway, where their co-authored adaptation of family friend William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun was a critical hit. Although Scott died penniless, her apartment in New York City's Dakota, where she led a salon attracting such writers as Edward Albee and Truman Capote, was valued at almost $5 million. She also owned an apartment there left by her brother, surrealist artist Charles Henri Ford. When she died in 2009, she left both apartments, valued at close to $10 million, to her butler, whom she had also inherited from her brother.

Only the villain, Paul Cavanagh, achieved any kind of distinction in Hollywood, eventually moving into notable supporting roles after a long career in B movies, mostly as staid British characters. In Adventure in Iraq, his accent was explained as a product of the Sheikh's British education, which added to his duplicity in that he had turned on the nation from which he derived his cultured manners. In other films, he was simply cast as either Englishmen or highly cultured Americans. That typing won him supporting roles in "A" pictures such as Night and Day (1946), with Cary Grant and Alexis Smith, and, most notably, Humoresque (1946), in which he plays Joan Crawford's oblivious husband.

Producer: William Jacobs
Director: D. Ross Lederman
Screenplay: George Bilson, Robert E. Kent
Based on the play The Green Goddess by William Archer
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Art Direction: Clarence Kolster
Score: Heinz Roemheld
Principal Cast: John Loder (George Torrence), Ruth Ford (Tess Torrence), Warren Douglas (Doug Everett), Paul Cavanagh (Sheik Ahmid Bel Nor), Barry Bernard (Devins), Peggy Carson (Timah Devins), Martin Garralaga (High Priest).

by Frank Miller

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