Background to Danger


1h 20m 1943
Background to Danger

Brief Synopsis

An American gets caught up in wartime action in Turkey.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jul 3, 1943
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Background to Danger by Eric Ambler (New York, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,196ft

Synopsis

In 1942, neutral Turkey is the battleground for spies and agents provocateur who are trying to win the country's support. Joe Barton, an American agent posing as a salesman, encounters a beautiful woman named Ana Remzi on the train from Ankara to Istanbul. Ana tells Joe that she is being followed by an informer and begs him to carry some securities across the border for her. In Ankara, Ana assumes she has eluded her pursuer and telephones Joe, asking him to meet her at her hotel and return her securities. In the meantime, Joe has opened the document that she gave him and discovered that instead of securities, it contains photographs of strategic areas in Turkey. When Joe arrives at Ana's hotel, he learns that she has been killed. Joe hides when another man enters the room and searches Ana's body. Joe then escapes out the back of the hotel, where he is seen by a woman waiting in the shadows. She is joined shortly by the man in Ana's room. Back at his own hotel, Joe is questioned by men claiming to be police, who take him to the home of Colonel Robinson, an agent provocateur working for the Nazis. Robinson offers to buy the photographs, and when Joe refuses to sell them, he turns him over to his men for torture. Joe is rescued by Nicolai Zaleshoff, the man who searched Ana's body. Nicolai's sister Tamara drives them to the Zaleshoff apartment, where Ivor Rashenko, the man who followed Ana from the train, is waiting. Nicolai explains that he and Tamara are Soviet agents who want the photographs in order to prevent Robinson from using them to convince the Turks that Russia plans to invade their country. Joe agrees to meet them at the Russian embassy and turn over the photographs, but when he returns to his hotel, he discovers that his room has been searched and the photographs taken. Joe now goes to a tobacco store to meet his contacts. With their help, he traces Rashenko and the Zaleshoffs to Istanbul. Robinson now has possession of the photographs and bribes the owner of a newspaper into printing them. Joe and his Turkish contact, Hassan, go after Robinson, who asks Joe to become a Nazi agent. Joe tentatively agrees and Robinson asks him, as proof of his loyalty, to shoot Nicolai. Realizing that the gun Robinson gives him is empty, Joe pulls the trigger, but Robinson has only been toying with him and is about to kill him when Joe breaks free. Nicolai is killed in the escape, but Joe gets to the newspaper in time to prevent the publication of the photographs. After Joe turns Robinson over to the Turkish police, he and Tamara move on to their next assignment in Cairo.

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Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jul 3, 1943
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Background to Danger by Eric Ambler (New York, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,196ft

Articles

Background to Danger


Everybody's got a hidden agenda in Background to Danger (1943). There's George Raft as an American agent who gets caught up in intrigue after he's given an envelope by a mysterious woman on a train. Sydney Greenstreet swaps sides as the Nazi spy master bent on retrieving the envelope and Peter Lorre goes "Red" as a Russian operative also looking to get his hands on the secret plans inside the parcel.

The twisting plot of Background to Danger was based on a novel by Eric Ambler called Uncommon Danger. Considered one of the pioneers of the modern, political thriller, Ambler published nineteen solo works during his career and collaborated on four more books under the pseudonym Eliot Reed. Ambler got his start in show business at a very early age. His parents were entertainers, and Ambler's first writing gigs were plays performed in the English music halls. He'd already published four novels, The Dark Frontier, Uncommon Danger, Epitaph for a Spy and Journey Into Fear, by the time he got his first job in the film industry as a script consultant for English producer Alexander Korda. During WWII, Ambler was assigned to a combat photography unit in Italy and eventually became assistant director of British army cinematography. In this position, he wrote and produced almost one hundred training and propaganda films. Ambler's jump to the big screen came in 1943 with the adaptation of his novel Journey Into Fear. The movie, produced by RKO and Orson Welles' Mercury company, starred Welles and usual Mercury Players: Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio and Agnes Moorehead. Welles was also slated to direct Journey Into Fear, but the project was taken out of his hands and given to Norman Foster who finished the job. (Foster's best remembered directing credits include eight Mr. Moto movies, several Charlie Chans and later, episodes of the Batman TV series).

Background to Danger became Ambler's second page to screen adaptation. And aside from a few shifts in locale, the movie remained quite faithful to Ambler's novel. Since the book was written in 1937, before the outbreak of WWII, the villain in the film was also changed. In Ambler's story, American spy Joe Barton battles the Pan Eurasian Petroleum Co. But in 1943, such a villain hardly seemed nefarious, and accordingly, the screenplay pitted Raft against Hitler and the Nazis.

As a movie, Background to Danger had some pretty big shoes to fill. Warner Bros. had high expectations for it, seeing the project as a follow up to Casablanca (1942). The studio hoped the film could recreate the atmosphere and the success of the Bogart-Bergman hit. It was also a chance for George Raft to play a character like Rick in Casablanca -- a role he'd been offered and turned down. From the start, the Casablanca influence is apparent in Background to Danger. The movie uses the same kind of opening as Casablanca - a close-up of a map - to establish the setting and the history. It also features a similar story; this time it revolves around missing war plans instead of letters of transit. And once again, there's plenty of patriotic moments, but in place of a rousing rendition of "Les Marseilles," Background to Danger delivers a recitation of the Gettysburg Address. The ending of is also reminiscent of Casablanca, with a line quipped by Raft that sounds like a parody of Bogart's closing line in the latter film - "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." When asked what he and his Russian spy girlfriend (played by Brenda Marshall) are "going to do in Cairo," Raft replies, "cement Russian-American relations." The movie then closes with a shot of an airplane taking off that could've been stock footage from the finale of Casablanca.

Clearly Background to Danger never quite lived up to the legendary status of Casablanca, but it wouldn't be Ambler's last movie adaptation. The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), based on a novel by the same title and once again starring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, was perhaps Ambler's most successful book based movie. Topkapi (1964), adapted from a book called The Light of Day, also proved to be a popular hit. But Ambler's movie ventures were not limited to adaptations. He penned several scripts not based on his books, including the Gregory Peck WWII war-adventure The Purple Plain (1954) and The Cruel Sea (1953) for which Ambler would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Producer: Jerry Wald
Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett, based on the novel by Eric Ambler
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Film Editing: Jack Killifer
Original Music: Frederick Hollander
Principal Cast: George Raft (Joe Barton), Brenda Marshall (Tamara), Sydney Greenstreet (Col. Robinson), Peter Lorre (Nikolai Zaloshoff), Osa Massen (Ana Remzi Baronvitch), Turhan Bey (Hassan), Willard Robertson (McNamara), Steven Geray (Raeder), Pedro de Cordoba (Old Turk).
BW-81m.

By Stephanie Thames

Background To Danger

Background to Danger

Everybody's got a hidden agenda in Background to Danger (1943). There's George Raft as an American agent who gets caught up in intrigue after he's given an envelope by a mysterious woman on a train. Sydney Greenstreet swaps sides as the Nazi spy master bent on retrieving the envelope and Peter Lorre goes "Red" as a Russian operative also looking to get his hands on the secret plans inside the parcel. The twisting plot of Background to Danger was based on a novel by Eric Ambler called Uncommon Danger. Considered one of the pioneers of the modern, political thriller, Ambler published nineteen solo works during his career and collaborated on four more books under the pseudonym Eliot Reed. Ambler got his start in show business at a very early age. His parents were entertainers, and Ambler's first writing gigs were plays performed in the English music halls. He'd already published four novels, The Dark Frontier, Uncommon Danger, Epitaph for a Spy and Journey Into Fear, by the time he got his first job in the film industry as a script consultant for English producer Alexander Korda. During WWII, Ambler was assigned to a combat photography unit in Italy and eventually became assistant director of British army cinematography. In this position, he wrote and produced almost one hundred training and propaganda films. Ambler's jump to the big screen came in 1943 with the adaptation of his novel Journey Into Fear. The movie, produced by RKO and Orson Welles' Mercury company, starred Welles and usual Mercury Players: Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio and Agnes Moorehead. Welles was also slated to direct Journey Into Fear, but the project was taken out of his hands and given to Norman Foster who finished the job. (Foster's best remembered directing credits include eight Mr. Moto movies, several Charlie Chans and later, episodes of the Batman TV series). Background to Danger became Ambler's second page to screen adaptation. And aside from a few shifts in locale, the movie remained quite faithful to Ambler's novel. Since the book was written in 1937, before the outbreak of WWII, the villain in the film was also changed. In Ambler's story, American spy Joe Barton battles the Pan Eurasian Petroleum Co. But in 1943, such a villain hardly seemed nefarious, and accordingly, the screenplay pitted Raft against Hitler and the Nazis. As a movie, Background to Danger had some pretty big shoes to fill. Warner Bros. had high expectations for it, seeing the project as a follow up to Casablanca (1942). The studio hoped the film could recreate the atmosphere and the success of the Bogart-Bergman hit. It was also a chance for George Raft to play a character like Rick in Casablanca -- a role he'd been offered and turned down. From the start, the Casablanca influence is apparent in Background to Danger. The movie uses the same kind of opening as Casablanca - a close-up of a map - to establish the setting and the history. It also features a similar story; this time it revolves around missing war plans instead of letters of transit. And once again, there's plenty of patriotic moments, but in place of a rousing rendition of "Les Marseilles," Background to Danger delivers a recitation of the Gettysburg Address. The ending of

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

A 19 March 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Warner Bros. originally intended Eric Ambler's novel as a vehicle for Errol Flynn. An August 8, 1941 news item in Variety states that Warner Bros. had promoted Jo Graham, a dialogue director, to full director status and that his first assignment would be Background to Danger. Raoul Walsh, however, directed the picture. In the film, the characters appear to cross a border when they travel between Istanbul and Ankara, but it is unclear what border they are crossing. According to modern sources, William Faulkner worked on the script.