Background to Danger
|Background to Danger|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Jerry Wald|
|Written by||W.R. Burnett
Eric Ambler (novel)
|Music by||Frederick Hollander|
|Edited by||Jack Killifer|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$1.3 million (US rentals)|
Based on the novel of the same title by Eric Ambler and set in politically neutral Turkey (an atmospheric studio version), the screenplay was credited to W.R. Burnett, although William Faulkner and Daniel Fuchs  also contributed. The movie was directed by Raoul Walsh.
The film was designed to capitalize on the runaway success of Casablanca, which had also featured Lorre and Greenstreet. The Russian operative positively portrayed by Brenda Marshall shows an exaggerated degree of cooperation, and the film has a slight pro-Soviet bias akin to Warners' Mission to Moscow from the same year. 
In 1942, Nazi Germany attempts to bring neutral Turkey into the war on its side by staging an assassination attempt on Franz von Papen, its own ambassador to the country. Much to the annoyance of Colonel Robinson (Sydney Greenstreet), von Papen survives and the Russians that his agent provocateur was trying to frame have solid alibis, forcing him to turn to another scheme to inflame Turkey's traditional rivalry with Russia.
Meanwhile, American machinery salesman Joe Barton (George Raft) boards the Baghdad-Istanbul Express train at Aleppo and is attracted to another passenger, Ana Remzi (Osa Massen). She is worried about being searched by customs agents once they reach the Turkish border; she asks Joe to hold on to an envelope containing some securities, all that remains of her inheritance. Joe obliges, but when he later examines the envelope, he finds maps of Turkey with writing on them.
When they stop in Ankara, he goes to her hotel to return her property, only to find she has been fatally wounded. He hides when someone else approaches the room. He watches unobserved as Soviet spy Nikolai Zaleshoff (Peter Lorre) searches the dead woman's luggage. Then, Joe exits through the window. Leaving the scene, he is seen by Tamara Zaleshoff (Brenda Marshall), Nikolai's sister and partner in espionage.
The Turkish police take Joe in for questioning, only it turns out that they are German agents. They take him to their leader, Colonel Robinson. Robinson wants the maps. Joe refuses to cooperate, and is taken away to be interrogated by Mailler (Kurt Katch). Before the Germans get very far, Joe is rescued by Nikolai.
When the Zaleshoffs reveal that they are Soviet agents, Joe agrees to fetch them the documents. Unfortunately, he finds his hotel room has been ransacked and the documents stolen.
The pair head to Istanbul. There, Robinson has bribed a newspaper publisher to print an article claiming that the documents are secret Russian plans for the invasion of Turkey. When Joe barges in by himself, he is quickly taken prisoner. The Zaleshoffs have also been captured. Joe and Tamara get away, but Nikolai is killed during the escape.
Joe kidnaps a German embassy official and learns where Robinson has gone. Joe heads to the newspaper. There he forces the Nazi ringleader at gunpoint to burn the maps. Robinson is handed over to the Turkish police and then to his greatly displeased superior. He departs by airplane, knowing he is doomed for his failure. Joe and Tamara head to Cairo for their next assignments.
- George Raft as Joe Barton
- Brenda Marshall as Tamara Zaleshoff
- Sydney Greenstreet as Col. Robinson
- Peter Lorre as Nikolai Zaleshoff
- Osa Massen as Ana Remzi
- Turhan Bey as Hassan
- Willard Robertson as "Mac" McNamara
- Kurt Katch as Mailler
George Raft insisted on the script being changed so that his character was an undercover American agent instead of an ordinary man.
The film was a box office success.
- "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
- "Writing for the Movies", Daniel Fuchs, 'Commentary magazine', February 1962
- The Hollywood propaganda of World War II, by Robert Fyne, page 105
- Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 104