Ankara in neutral Turkey : World War Two. A town of intrigue and of provocateurs. The Germans are planning to leak maps apparently proving that the Russians are about to invade the country. American Joe Barton is in the know and in the middle, along with Zaloshoff and his sister who may or may not be Russians. What is clear though is that odious Colonel Robinson is a full-blown Nazi.
George Raft ... Joe Barton
Brenda Marshall ... Tamara Zaleshoff
Sydney Greenstreet ... Colonel Robinson
Peter Lorre ... Nikolai Zaleshoff
Osa Massen ... Ana Remzi
Turhan Bey ... Hassan
Willard Robertson ... 'Mac' McNamara
Kurt Katch ... Mailler
t's now part of Hollywood lore how George Raft immeasurably aided the career of Humphrey Bogart by turning down High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. After the last one I guess Raft thought he'd go for a Casablanca type story and the film of Eric Ambler's Background to Danger seemed like a good bet. If working with Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre worked for Bogey...........
Background to Danger only confirmed Raft's wisdom about trying to stick to what he could handle. Had he been in Casablanca, the film today would be a routine action adventure picture not the cinema classic it is.
According to a biography of Raft, Peter Lorre was stealing scenes all over the place and blew cigarette smoke in Raft's face causing him to lose concentration. After repeated requests to stop doing it, Raft clocked Lorre on the chin and that settled the problems they had. On the set that is, on screen Raft registers no presence at all with his fabled co-stars.
Raft is an American agent, Greenstreet a Nazi, and Brenda Marshall and Lorre are a brother and sister team of Soviet agents all looking for a forged document about false Soviet invasion plans for Turkey. The action starts in Turkey's capital of Ankara and ends up in the city of Istanbul.
Background to Danger had to be the first American made film based in Ankara. Before the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, Ankara barely passed for an oasis. Mustapha Kemal selected it for his capital because of its central location on the Anatolian peninsula. The city grew exponentially between the wars and Turkish neutrality in World War II kept up the growth rate though the Ankara we see here is depicted on the back lot of Warner Brothers studio.
All the neutral capitals in the World War II years were good subjects for espionage films. Everyone of them could have been described like Ankara as a city of a thousand plots. Too bad a better film couldn't have been done here.
Yes, it's definitely not a work of art. It doesn't spend much time on character development. However, it moves very fast, never staying in one place for too long. Some good action sequences and scenes on a fast moving train, hotel rooms, in a German headquarters, etc. make this a fun film. The acting is not at all bad despite what you may have read elsewhere. Of course, Sidney Greenstreet plays his usual pompous rearend character that seems to be his one and only characterization but, he pulls it off well, causing the audience to dislike him appropriately. Peter Lorre obviously had fun with his role and George Raft was much better than I expected. Turhan Bey did a great job and his character was very welcomed indeed. All in all, if the viewers don't expect this movie to be the second coming of Casablanca and just sit back and watch the action, they will be rewarded with approximately 80 minutes of a suspenseful and fun movie.
During the Second World War years, Hollywood found in the European-intrigue novels of Eric Ambler a pliable resource for converting into thrillers that beat drums for the anti-Axis cause. So, like tanks off an assembly line, rolled Journey into Fear (1942), Background to Danger (1943) and The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). They benefitted from name directors – respectively, Orson Welles (at least in part), Raoul Walsh and Jean Negulesco – but none of them is particularly remarkable; they're not much more than shortish propaganda programmers.
Background to Danger reunites the sinister but winning Warner Bros. team of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, but, instead of the expected Humphrey Bogart as plucky hero, plunks George Raft down in a strange land, this time Turkey, strategically situated at the convergence of the Middle East, the Balkans and the Soviet Union. The plot involves forged maps which Nazi agent Greenstreet hopes to use to foment a panic about plans to invade Turkey by the U.S.S.R., then an Ally, hence destabilizing the region and the balance of power. But Walsh forgoes the depth that a geopolitical perspective might have lent in favor of bombs and handguns, captures and hair's-breadth escapes.
Raft's wooden affect sometimes paid off in the noir cycle (Noctune, Red Light) but here his gaudy patter only makes viewers wish for Bogart. And while Greenstreet reprises his polished, blustering heavy, Lorre gives a droll, airy performance that verges on the comic (clearly, unlike his Gargantuan partner, he didn't take to type-casting). Raft's love interest, playing Lorre's sister, is Brenda Marshall, a.k.a. Mrs. William Holden or Ardis Ankerson, by all accounts a difficult woman but, judging by Strange Impersonation and her few other movies, not a negligible presence. Turhan Bey shows up as Raft's native sidekick, à la From Russia With Love. He brings a final touch of authenticity to the back-lot Ankara and Istanbul, which Walsh, to his credit, takes care to make more vivid than just generically exotic.
# The three photographs of possible Roumanian secret agents which McNamara shows Joe were those of the Warner Bros. contract players 'Paul Panzer' , Glen Cavender and Stuart Holmes. Those three are not actually in the movie. The fourth photograph was that of Leo White who is seen in an early scene whispering in someone's ear.
# This film is mentioned in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" as the second in a double feature seen by Sal and Dean in a Detroit theater (chapter 11 of part three).