The movie, made two years after “Casablanca,” owes a lot to that Academy Award winning Humphrey Bogart flick. While “Action in Arabia” could not hope to match the older film, it has plenty of intrigue and style.
George Sanders stars as a newspaper reporter in Damascus, waiting for a flight out of the region when a colleague is stabled to death. Sanders refuses to leave until he finds out why. He starts his investigation by searching for the woman his friend met and went off with. The antagonistic French authorities want Sanders to go home. American not-so-undercover agents want Sanders to go home. A sinister hotel owner wants Sanders to go home. And bunch of other people want Sanders dead as he gets too close to solving the mystery.
The mystery is not much of a puzzle. Nazi agents in the region are stirring up and recruiting Arab fighters to come into the war on their side.
The story line is corny and simple, too many characters are thin stereotypes, and most of the action scenes are just so-so, but the ever-suave Sanders brings a sophistication to the movie. He also wears a white dinner jacket well, as Bogart did in “Casablanca.”
Director Leonide Moguy gives this 75-minute, black and white film a smooth, slick, and very dark atmosphere. Russian-born Moguy, who directed films in France before going to Hollywood, makes the most of this little RKO production. It looks less like the usual Hollywood movie of the time and more like a European film. If the name Leonide Moguy sounds familiar, it may be because Quentin Tarantino used the name for one of his characters in “Django Unchained” as a tribute to a filmmaker whose movies he likes.
Early in “Action in Arabia,” Sanders’ character meets an attractive, mysterious woman, played by co-star Virginia Bruce, gambling at a baccarat table. A surprisingly similar baccarat scene was filmed 18 years later by director Terrence Young for “Dr. No.” Young’s scene introduced Bond, James Bond.