Pepe Le Moko, a thief who escaped from France with a fortune in jewels, has for two years lived in, and virtually ruled, the mazelike, impenetrable Casbah, "native quarter" of Algiers. A French official insists that he be captured, but sly Inspector Slimane knows he need only bide his time. The suave Pepe increasingly regards his stronghold as also his prison, especially when he meets beautiful Parisian visitor Gaby, who reminds him of the boulevards to which he dare not return...and arouses the mad jealousy of Ines, his Algerian mistress. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
When complete cast credits are listed at the start of a movie and at the end, there are usually no changes. In this movie, the end credits reverse the order of the last two credits: Bert Roach follows Ben Hall. See more »
A Pre-War Treasure: The Casbah as Imagined by a Decaying Eurocentrism
"Algiers" is director John Cromwell's remake of the French film, "Pepe Le Moko" which appeared only a year earlier. The Gallic flick starred Jean Gabin, then and now one of the truly great actors to emerge from that country. So Cromwell took a risk giving the lead role of jewel thief Pepe to young actor Charles Boyer. The risk paid off - and continues to do so as this fascinating prewar movie is readily available on budget-priced DVD.
Pepe is wanted in metropolitan France for stealing jewelry but not, apparently, for any crimes of violence. He's hunkered down in Algiers's famous "casbah," the native quarter whose name is evocative of mystery and, of course, sensuality. Pepe seems to be a sort of Great White Crime Boss in the native quarter where locals both protect and respect him. It's never clear how he ascended to that height.
Pepe has a beautiful lover, Ines, played by the truly gorgeous Sigrid Gurie. Legend has it that "Algiers" was to be the vehicle to propel this Scandanavian actress to wide fame but in reality her film career was rather short. The winner in this case, besides Boyer, was newcomer Hedy Lamar whose role as Gaby is central to Pepe's loss of control over his small world and, eventually, of himself.
Gaby arrives in Algiers engaged to a fat, vulgar borderline-loathsome older man who clearly regards her as a trophy bought and paid for. Why she needed this creep isn't clear. What is clear is her falling in love with Pepe who abandons the devoted and clinging Ines for this right-off-the-boat hothouse beauty.
A Parisian police official is in Algiers (Algeria, a French colony for those who don't know history) determined to collar Pepe. His forays into the casbah meet with no success and quiet derision from both the locals and some of the French police who understand that the casbah is honeycombed with escape routes and populated with folks eager to thwart the gendarmerie. A very interesting character is Inspector Slimane, Joseph Calleia. Amused by the foolish antics of his superior, Slimane knows the casbah and in his own way is determined to bring Pepe to justice. His mission isn't kept from Pepe and the two have a cordial relationship with the cop telling the crook that eventually he will be the cause of his own downfall.
Sarcastic, witty and observant, Slimane is an arresting character (pun intended). It's not clear if he's a native gone over to the police or a Frenchman who has jumped the reservation and found a more comfortable life straddling two cultures. There's something almost Russian in his outlook and words.
"Algiers" ends with a famous scene that while not at the level of the closing moments of "Casablanca" nonetheless rightfully shares pride of place with that all-time great movie.
Boyer is powerful in a role in which, through circumstances he could have controlled but didn't, he slides into a mortal abyss.
A must-see movie for anyone interested in prewar films that reflect an actually racist view of non-European life at once almost ridiculous but at the same time dramatically engaging.
And let's not forget yesterday's lunacies: Cromwell, a director with many films under his belt, was blacklisted through most of the 50s and his career never rebounded from that extra-legal punishment for non-crimes.
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