Action in Arabia


1h 12m 1944
Action in Arabia

Brief Synopsis

An adventurous reporter tangles with Nazis in the desert on the eve of World War II.

Film Details

Also Known As
Danger in Damascus, International Zone
Genre
Drama
Thriller
War
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 18 Feb 1944
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Lasky Mesa, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 12m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,760ft

Synopsis

In the spring of 1941, American newspaper correspondents Michael Gordon and William Chalmers land at the Damascus airport on their way home to the United States. The war has turned Damascus, the political center of the Arab world, into a breeding ground for espionage and intrigue. Consequently, when Gordon witnesses French diplomatic official Andre Leroux meet Mounirah Rashid, the daughter of a prominent Arab leader, the reporters are intrigued, and Chalmers decides to follow Leroux while Gordon checks into the Hotel International. At the hotel, Gordon is greeted by Mathew Reed, a member of the American Consulate, who accuses the reporter of stirring up trouble and orders him to leave town the following afternoon. Then, in the lobby, Gordon encounters Eric Latimer, a Nazi sympathizer who owns the hotel. When Yvonne, a glamorous woman, sashays through the lobby on her way to the gaming tables, Gordon follows her. As Gordon and Yvonne bet against each other, Latimer escorts gambler Josef Danesco to his office and, after exposing him as a cheat, makes him a proposition. Back at the gambling tables, Gordon wins Yvonne's stake and invites her to dinner to apologize. That night, as Gordon waits for Yvonne in the bar, he is approached by Danesco, who offers to sell him information regarding Nazi plans for the Arab countries. Claiming that he is not interested, Gordon joins Yvonne at her table. As the two begin to dance, Yvonne explains that she is in Damascus to care for her sick aunt. Their dance is interrupted by the police, who take Gordon to a camel market to identify Chalmers' dead body. After the police warn Gordon that he is under suspicion for Chalmers' murder, the reporter visits Reed at the American Consulate to question him about Leroux. When Reed refuses to provide him with any information, Gordon, feeling guilty about his friend's death, returns to the camel market to question the Arab who found Chalmers' body. When the man shows Gordon the German currency that the men whom Chalmers was following used to pay for his camels, the reporter realizes that Leroux is a Nazi collaborator. The next morning, Gordon returns to the the market and meets Danesco, who offers to sell him Leroux's address. When Gordon goes to the house, however, he finds Yvonne playing the piano. After Gordon refuses to believe Yvonne's story that she is Leroux's niece, she claims that she is a Free French agent who has been assigned to protect him from the Nazis. When he is prevented from leaving the house by armed guards, Gordon attracts the attention of a passing police car by throwing a table through the window. Escorted from the house by the police and Reed, a passenger in the car, Gordon tells the Consul that Latimer, Danesco and Leroux are all involved in a Nazi plot. In the market, Gordon's suspicions are confirmed when he sees Danesco and Latimer drive off together and discovers that their destination is an abandoned airstrip. Reed, concerned that Latimer may try to interfere with a meeting between the Arab leaders and the Allies, which is to be held that day at Rashid's desert estate, declares that he is now off duty and is joining Gordon's quest. At the airstrip, Gordon and Reed watch as Latimer and Danesco drive up, followed by Yvonne. Realizing that Latimer plans to fly to the desert summit, Gordon knocks him and his pilot unconscious and forces Danesco to board the plane and direct them to Rashid's estate. Yvonne jumps into her car to pursue them and is followed by Latimer and his men. From the air, Gordon and Reed observe caravans of Arabs convening in the desert and realize that Latimer has planned an Arab insurrection that would draw Allied troops away from the Suez Canal, thus making it vulnerable to Axis armies. Arriving at the Rashid estate just as Kareem, a tribal leader, gallops off, Gordon introduces himself to Mounirah and warns her that Kareem is planning to lead the assembled Arab tribes against the Allies. Believing that the tribes are residing peacefully in their camps, Mounirah refuses to believe Gordon until Reed appears and confirms his report. At that moment, Yvonne drives up and, after warning Gordon that he is in danger and must leave at once, admits that Danesco is her father. Ignoring Yvonne's warning, Gordon insists on telling his story to Rashid. Rashid discounts Gordon's claims of Kareem's treachery until the reporter burns Leroux with a lighted cigarette, causing the Nazi agent to cry out in German. Exposed, Leroux orders his agents, who have infiltrated Rashid's household, to kill his staff. Gordon tries to overpower Leroux, and is aided by Reed, who shoots the Nazi and throws Gordon some Arab robes to wear as a disguise. Before dying, Leroux turns and kills Reed, but Rashid, Mounirah, Gordon and Yvonne don the robes and run into the courtyard unharmed. There they are met by Latimer and his men, who shoot Gordon and take him prisoner. As Rashid and Mounirah escape into the desert to warn their followers of Kareem's treachery, Yvonne stays behind and, after killing Gordon's guard, tricks Latimer's men into loading the reporter into her car. She then speeds away into the desert and, after picking up Rashid and Mounirah, drives to the plane. Taking off just as Latimer and his men arrive, they fly to the Arab encampment, where Rashid exposes Kareem as a traitor. Infuriated by their betrayal, the tribes gallop off to kill Latimer and his men. With the Nazi plot quashed, Yvonne and Gordon board a plan to leave Damascus. In the seat assigned to Yvonne's father, they find a plump women who tells them that Danesco sold her his ticket at a bargain price. Yvonne and Gordon then wave goodbye to Danesco, who is in the terminal, trying to interest a tourist in buying some information.

Film Details

Also Known As
Danger in Damascus, International Zone
Genre
Drama
Thriller
War
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 18 Feb 1944
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Lasky Mesa, California, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 12m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6,760ft

Articles

Action in Arabia


Screenwriter-director-producer Herbert J. Biberman was not far into his Hollywood career (and not far from the end of it either, thanks to the Blacklist) when he made Action in Arabia (1944). It's the story of an American journalist in Syria who unravels the mystery of a murdered reporter colleague and, with the aid of a female secret agent, sabotages a Nazi scheme to blow up the Suez Canal.

After a successful stage career as one of the leading directors of the Theater Guild in the late '20s and early '30s, Biberman came to Hollywood in 1935 and wrote, directed and/or co-produced some low-budget films before penning the script for this picture with novelist Philip MacDonald, who had adapted Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca (1940) for Alfred Hitchcock's screen version. Biberman worked on only four more movies after this before making headlines in 1947 for refusing to answer questions about his alleged Communist Party membership before Congress's House Un-American Activities Committee. Three years later, as one of the famed Hollywood Ten, he was convicted of contempt of Congress and jailed for six months. Both he and his wife, Gale Sondergaard, Academy Award-winning Best Supporting Actress for Anthony Adverse (1936) who also refused to testify about her political affiliations, were blacklisted.

After 1949, Sondergaard began selling real estate and did not appear in another film until playing a small part in Slaves (1969), written and directed by her husband. He made one other film in the interim, the legendary Salt of the Earth (1954), a moving tribute to the hardships and racism faced by Chicano labor activists, based on a real mining strike in New Mexico. Actual miners and their families played many of the leading roles, and the film was financed by a mineworkers' union. But under pressure from the Hollywood Blacklist, union projectionists refused to screen the film. It played to "rave reviews" in only one New York theater, but it was a big success in Europe where it was voted best film of the year by the French Motion Picture Academy and won the top prize at a Czechoslovakian film festival. It was finally given a general U.S. release in 1965.

Much of the interest of Action in Arabia lies in its international cast and crew, many of whom had fled politically torn Europe, such as Russian director Leonide Moguy and actor Marcel Dalio, both of whom resumed successful European careers after World War II. The leads were played by Virginia Bruce, onetime wife of silent screen star John Gilbert, and Russian-born Englishman George Sanders, who had made a name for himself as the suave crime fighter in The Falcon movie series. He later won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for his performance as the cynical theater critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950). In 1972, Sanders committed suicide (something he promised David Niven in 1937 he would do when he got older) in a Barcelona hotel, citing boredom as the reason. Other familiar names in the cast include Robert Armstrong, the adventurer who captured King Kong (1933); Alan Napier, later Alfred the Butler on the Batman TV series; and H.B. Warner, famous as Jesus in DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and as the druggist Mr. Gower in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).

Although a low-budget programmer, Action in Arabia does have one surprisingly stunning climax, an action-packed desert scene with countless extras, horses and camel caravans. The footage had actually been shot years earlier by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper for a film about Lawrence of Arabia they were planning as a follow-up to their hit King Kong.

Director: Leonide Moguy
Producer: Maurice Geraghty
Screenplay: Philip MacDonald, Herbert J. Biberman
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Editing: Robert Swink
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Original Music: Roy Webb, Leigh Harline
Cast: George Sanders (Michael Gordon), Virginia Bruce (Yvonne Danesco), Robert Armstrong (Maxwell Reed), Gene Lockhart (Joseph Danesco), Alan Napier (Eric Latimer).
BW-76m.

by Rob Nixon
Action In Arabia

Action in Arabia

Screenwriter-director-producer Herbert J. Biberman was not far into his Hollywood career (and not far from the end of it either, thanks to the Blacklist) when he made Action in Arabia (1944). It's the story of an American journalist in Syria who unravels the mystery of a murdered reporter colleague and, with the aid of a female secret agent, sabotages a Nazi scheme to blow up the Suez Canal. After a successful stage career as one of the leading directors of the Theater Guild in the late '20s and early '30s, Biberman came to Hollywood in 1935 and wrote, directed and/or co-produced some low-budget films before penning the script for this picture with novelist Philip MacDonald, who had adapted Daphne Du Maurier's novel Rebecca (1940) for Alfred Hitchcock's screen version. Biberman worked on only four more movies after this before making headlines in 1947 for refusing to answer questions about his alleged Communist Party membership before Congress's House Un-American Activities Committee. Three years later, as one of the famed Hollywood Ten, he was convicted of contempt of Congress and jailed for six months. Both he and his wife, Gale Sondergaard, Academy Award-winning Best Supporting Actress for Anthony Adverse (1936) who also refused to testify about her political affiliations, were blacklisted. After 1949, Sondergaard began selling real estate and did not appear in another film until playing a small part in Slaves (1969), written and directed by her husband. He made one other film in the interim, the legendary Salt of the Earth (1954), a moving tribute to the hardships and racism faced by Chicano labor activists, based on a real mining strike in New Mexico. Actual miners and their families played many of the leading roles, and the film was financed by a mineworkers' union. But under pressure from the Hollywood Blacklist, union projectionists refused to screen the film. It played to "rave reviews" in only one New York theater, but it was a big success in Europe where it was voted best film of the year by the French Motion Picture Academy and won the top prize at a Czechoslovakian film festival. It was finally given a general U.S. release in 1965. Much of the interest of Action in Arabia lies in its international cast and crew, many of whom had fled politically torn Europe, such as Russian director Leonide Moguy and actor Marcel Dalio, both of whom resumed successful European careers after World War II. The leads were played by Virginia Bruce, onetime wife of silent screen star John Gilbert, and Russian-born Englishman George Sanders, who had made a name for himself as the suave crime fighter in The Falcon movie series. He later won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for his performance as the cynical theater critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950). In 1972, Sanders committed suicide (something he promised David Niven in 1937 he would do when he got older) in a Barcelona hotel, citing boredom as the reason. Other familiar names in the cast include Robert Armstrong, the adventurer who captured King Kong (1933); Alan Napier, later Alfred the Butler on the Batman TV series; and H.B. Warner, famous as Jesus in DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and as the druggist Mr. Gower in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Although a low-budget programmer, Action in Arabia does have one surprisingly stunning climax, an action-packed desert scene with countless extras, horses and camel caravans. The footage had actually been shot years earlier by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper for a film about Lawrence of Arabia they were planning as a follow-up to their hit King Kong. Director: Leonide Moguy Producer: Maurice Geraghty Screenplay: Philip MacDonald, Herbert J. Biberman Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt Editing: Robert Swink Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman Original Music: Roy Webb, Leigh Harline Cast: George Sanders (Michael Gordon), Virginia Bruce (Yvonne Danesco), Robert Armstrong (Maxwell Reed), Gene Lockhart (Joseph Danesco), Alan Napier (Eric Latimer). BW-76m. by Rob Nixon

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Danger in Damascus and International Zone. According to a New York Times news item, the film was initially planned as an adaptation of M. V. Haberden's novel The Fantastic Fez. When the focus of the war shifted to the Middle East, however, the locale was changed from Algiers to Damascus and the budget increased by $100,000 to capitalize on current events. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item states that this film was based on a novel by Charles Leonard, the Leonard novel is not credited by any other source. The Variety review adds that footage of nomadic Arab life included in the film was shot in 1937 by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper for the unrealized picture Lawrence of Arabia. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, other location footage was directed by Robert Wise at Lasky Mesa, CA. A Hollywood Reporter production chart places Joseph Vitale in the cast, but his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. The picture marked the screen debut of Michael Ansara. George Sanders was borrowed from Twentieth-Century Fox and Lenore Aubert from Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Inc. to appear in this project.