Algiers (1938)

“The Casbah rises like a fortress from the sea: colorful, sordid, dangerous.”

Synopsis:
While hiding from police in the Casbah, renowned jewel thief Pepe le Moko (Charles Boyer) falls in love with a beautiful Parisian woman (Hedy Lamarr) who reminds him of home.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Unlike most reviewers, Peary doesn’t dismiss this “irresistible, hot-blooded romance” as simply a scene-for-scene remake of 1937’s Pepe le Moko — which it is. In fact, if you watch the films too closely together (as I did), it’s actually somewhat disconcerting to recognize the same exact dialogue and settings being played out all over again; and you’ll wonder why director John Cromwell went to all the bother. Nonetheless, as Peary notes, Algiers remains a “dark, exotic, highly atmospheric film” with “memorable screen lovers” in a “faraway world” — and if you can forget its predecessor ever existed, chances are you’ll find yourself caught up in the romance and excitement of this classic adventure.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hedy Lamarr in her American film debut
    Lamarr
  • Genuine screen chemistry between Boyer and Lamarr
    Romance
  • Joseph Calleia (who reminds me of Stanley Tucci) as Inspector Slimane — cool and confident as he hatches a plot to capture Pepe
  • Beautiful black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe

Must See?
Yes. Though it’s not quite as enjoyable as Pepe le Moko, this film remains a landmark of 1930s cinema — and every film fanatic should see the movie which inspired cartoon character Pepe le Pew’s infamous non-quote (it was never in the film): “Come with me to the Casbah!”

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One Response to “Algiers (1938)”

  1. Not a must. I’d have to see ‘Pepe le Moko’ again to speak of its carbon-copy aspect, but ‘Algiers’ has lost the allure it once had. No doubt, Boyer was one to make the ladies swoon – and Lamarr was stunning (even if she looks kind of strange when she smiles in this film). But though it’s (as noted) “highly atmospheric”, that’s mostly thanks to (noted) how James Wong Howe shot it. (One might be tempted to call any film he shot a must because he was such a remarkable artist…but it does always come down to the film itself.)

    There’s much talk at the beginning about how “dangerous” the Casbah is – but, once we get there, it doesn’t seem so at all (apart from JWH’s shadows, etc.). Granted, it wasn’t a time in filmmaking when such things were generally all that realistically portrayed – but it has kept the film from aging well. The characters don’t seem threatening types either. It becomes laughable at one point when Boyer (a gangster, remember) breaks into song (!) – perhaps the producer thought Boyer’s singing would be appreciated by the female audience? As well, some of what he murmurs to Lamarr is just plain silly: “Paris…that’s you…Paris. …You’re lovely, you’re marvelous…and do you know what you remind me of? – the subway.”

    Apart from her beauty, Lamarr didn’t leave much of a mark on film. Cromwell is not a bad director but here he really only comes up to the plate in the last ten minutes – nicely handled but too little too late. Both he and Boyer left better impressions elsewhere.

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