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Background to Danger (1943)

Warner Brothers Studios attempts to recapture that Casablanca feeling by once again giving theater goers international intrigue, the pairing of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre opposite  Humphr……. scratch that, opposite George Raft donning the trench coat and doing his best to help lead the allied forces to victory.

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From the outset we see that Greenstreet is a  Nazi agent abroad. When a failed assassination attempt goes awry, he brings the assassin to task. Cut to George Raft who has time for a patented coin flip as he boards a train heading to Turkey. Raft makes quick work of finding a seat in the same car as attractive Osa Massen. When she is spotted by a what appears to be a menacing agent, she uses a classic sob story to lure Raft into taking possession of an envelope to get through security at the next stop. Is Raft just a traveling businessman being taken for a dope? Not likely.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be an American. Free. Independent.” This from Massen as she contributes a classic propaganda line that populated scripts during the height of WW2.

When Raft goes to rendezvous with Massen in her hotel and return the envelope, he finds she’s been murdered and Peter Lorre lurks on the scene. Police are called to the area and as Raft makes his getaway he runs smack into gorgeous Brenda Marshall. She gets a good look at Raft as he fades into the alleyways of Noir cinema only to have Lorre on his tail.

lorre-and-raft

This turns out to be a classic plot of just who one can trust. No one is as they seem. Everyone knows Raft has the envelope but he isn’t giving it up. Not even after Greenstreet sets his SS dogs on George. Thankfully Lorre turns up to save Raft from certain death. Could the pint sized whiny actor be an ally? Raft isn’t so sure but he takes a liking to Marshall who is passing herself off as Lorre’s sister. Peter gets a chance to shine when he and Marshall attempt to convince Raft that they are Russian agents working to rid the world of the German forces. “I want some vodka!”

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Raft’s identity might be forthcoming when he seems to exchange coded pleasantries with Turhan Bey in a smoke shop. Looks a lot like the underground to me. It’s off to Istanbul for more mystery and intrigue with that ever present threat of violence from director Raoul Walsh working under the Warner Banner. Let’s hope that Raft and Marshall can cement American/Russian relations. Even if Peter Lorre actually is her brother as he claims to be all along.

No classic but an above average piece of entertainment from the WW2 era of filmmaking that the majors were issuing to the public. George Raft easily fits the trenchcoat role of the American abroad who might be more than just a machinery salesman. He just might be quick with the fists and one liners.

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Included on the Warner Archive disc is the film’s original trailer. It alone is worth watching as it’s narrated by Greenstreet playing up the mystery angle of the plot. They reference him as “the Fat Man” and I love when they bill Lorre as being “Dangerous because he’s Dynamite.” Hitler’s portrait, SS officers in black and flags of the Swastika are mixed with plenty of action for the fans thanks to the sure hand of Walsh, a script credited to W.R. Burnett and montage sequences from future director Don Siegel make this thriller a fine example of the era and the studios doing there part to win the war on screen.

Finally one should never overlook the Peter Lorre – Sydney Greenstreet factor. They alone should be enough to rope you into a viewing. With that said, I guess it’s about time for another go around with The Maltese Falcon.

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7 Comments »

  1. I’m not a fan of Raft’s work generally, and I remember feeling a bit underwhelmed by this film when I saw it on TV years ago. However, I really like Lorre & Greenstreet, think Raoul Walsh is one of the great directors of Golden Era Hollywood and I’ve always been an admirer of Eric Ambler. On that basis, I decided to pick up a copy of the movie about two months ago – now all I have to do is watch it again to see how I feel about it these days.

  2. I wonder if Bogart was offered this role first…it might’ve made for a good trifecta with Casablanca and Passage to Marseille. And I’ve always had a hard time with Raft, but I didn’t mind him in They Drive by Night, so maybe I’ll give this one a look and see what happens. Like you said, Greenstreet and Lorre should be enough to rope me in!

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