Monday, October 24, 2011

Background to Danger (1943)

This was a pretty entertaining, but not great, spy movie. On the surface, it sounds like quite a winner. The plot is intriguing. Set in WWII, in neutral Turkey. The Germans aim to break that neutrality and give Germany a chance to take over by convincing Turkey Russia plans to evade. They've cooked themselves up a nice little scheme, complete with a fake invasion plan, photos, maps, etc. that the main German instigator (Sidney Greenstreet) plans to publish in a Turkish newspaper. Standing in the way of the nifty German plot are an American spy (George Raft), and several Russian ones (including Peter Lorre and Brenda Marshall).

The movie starts out promising enough. Raft manages to obtain the photos and plans, but the woman who gives them to him is murdered and Raft framed. He's then kidnapped by Greenstreet's men -- not before hiding the plans, of course. Greenstreet does not remotely play nice in his quest to recover the plans, and when Raft refuses to cooperate, our hero gets kicked down to the cellar, only to be rescued from torture by Peter Lorre, and the race is on to see who can obtain the plans first -- and stay alive while they're at it.

Alas, the second half of the movie isn't as fun as the first, but it's livened up considerably by Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. How can you go wrong with either? Lorre plays a good guy for once, albeit a devious, tricky spy, who loves his vodka. He's delightful, and his lines and delivery made me laugh outloud more than once. He's definitely worth the price of admission alone. I love when he finally tells Raft the truth, isn't believed, and kind of throws up his hands. And the way he sits crosslegged on top of a table to tell his story. He's just plain fun in this movie!

Sidney Greenstreet plays one of those pontificating bad guys who likes to hear himself talk. But, he also smart, one step ahead of the good guys most of the movie, and isn't afraid to do his own dirty work when it comes down to it (though he prefers to do it in comfort). And while he may speechify an awful lot, his dialogue is filled with dry humor and some really nice turns of phrase that also made me grin.

Brenda Marshall plays Peter Lorre's sister, and I hate to say it, but she appears to have hated making this movie or something... she put zero personality into her role. She has no chemistry with Lorre or Raft or even the scenery. She's the weakest link here, her part is unnecessary anyway (token female good guy and tacked on love interest), and I really wish her part had been cut completely. She at least gets to drive the car in the big car chase... but she's pretty expressionless there too.

George Raft turns in a mostly average performance, with a few really good moments and a few snappy lines of his own. I still adore the man. I do love when he gets that stubborn set to his jaw and that defiant look in his eye, and I love the back and forth with Peter Lorre he gets to do as both try to play each other to get what they need, and as they alternate who has the drop on the other. Not nearly enough fisticuffs from him, but there's still plenty of running and scrambling around to show off his physical grace. And he sure does know how to wear a hat and coat well.

The rest of the supporting cast was excellent, I loved the train sequences (trains in old movies are never a bad thing!), the wild, fish-tailing car chase was exciting, shadows and dark alleys abounded, and I loved the confrontations between good guys and bad guys. There was also a lame epilogue, and a couple of lame deaths, but for the most part, it still kept me solidly entertained in a B-spy movie way.

6 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading this! I have to admit that, as much as I want to like her, I've always found Brenda Marshall on the bland side. I don't *dislike* her, but she just seems to be missing a certain spark when I see her on screen. I've always wished Olivia deHavilland played her role in THE SEA HAWK (grin).

    Best wishes,
    Laura (this replaces a comment with a confusing typo!)

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  2. A couple weeks ago, I did a post on the George Raft film, "Red Light," and you left me a comment saying that you were really interested in seeing that one. I wanted to let you know that I was looking at TCM's November schedule, and it is scheduled to be on November 30th. Hope you will be able to catch it.

    So, although you adore George Raft, he was only mediocre in this film. I think being able to say that is part of being able to be a good reviewer. WE have to be objective. Though I totally adore William Holden, Gary Cooper, and now Robert Ryan as well, there are certain movies they made that I just couldn't get into or where I thought they weren't on par with their usual works. While I HATE to say less-than-great things about them, I do have to be honest. And that's what you've done here.

    I've seen Brenda Marshall (Mrs. William Holden!!!) in a few films, but I don't know her all that well.

    Oh, I'm now following your blog.

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  3. Hi Laura - yeah, good way to put it. I didn't dislike her either, she just was a blank slate, didn't seem to give anything of herself.

    Patti - Sadly, I don't have television, so no TCM at the moment. If it's not on DVD or video or nowadays, online, then I'm not going to be able to see it.

    Yep, I'm pretty honest in my reviews. There's even several William Holden movies I just rather hated, and I had to state that up front too. Like you said, makes me sad, but hey, they can't all be winners!

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  4. Peter Lorre as a good guy? How delightful! I think that other than Casablanca and 20,000 Leagues, I've only ever seen him as a bad guy or, at the least, rat fink. Nifty!

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  5. And Hamlette, he's hilarious in this. Really funny. Worth seeing for him alone. I just loved his role!

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  6. I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I'm a huge fan of Eric Ambler's writing and Lorre & Greenstreet are hard to beat together. But it just didn't work for me. I guess it doesn't help that I don't particularly like George Raft.

    Another Ambler adaptation featuring Lorre & Greenstreet, and I'd say their best, that has Lorre as the good guy is Mask of Dimitrios - a movie that really deserves to be out on DVD somewhere.

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