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Pepe le Moko (French) inspired Algiers which inspired Casablanca. The latter has the better story but Algiers is a better film. Such a great romance. Such adult dialogue. Such marvelous acting. Made at a time when European culture was the marvel of the world...and you can see why. To modern sensibilities the treatment of "natives" seems racist but people of the time were more honest, less politically correct. Victors thought they were superior and europeans had been victors for centuries. Some of the minor characters are mere caricatures and fail to achieve authenticity but that's forgivable considering how good everything else is. A theme from the score was used in a modern film - Gladiator I think. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can tell me.
Here is the film (and the man) which was the inspiration for my
favorite Looney Tunes character Pepe Le Pew. This film starring Charles
Boyer, Sigrid Gurie, and Hedy Lamarr. The Walter Wanger production was
a remake of the successful 1937 French film Pépé le Moko, which derived
its plot from the Henri La Barthe novel of the same name. John Howard
Lawson wrote the screenplay. Though admittedly, I had never read the
novel or seen the French film. The movie was a sensation because it was
the first Hollywood film starring Hedy Lamarr whose stunning beauty
became the main feature for moviegoers.
The story is like in the original French film (and novel), about a beautiful rich girl Gabrielle (Gaby) ,who is on holiday in Algiers with her fiancé, and meets and falls in love with the notorious jewel thief Pepe le Moko, has for two years lived in, and virtually ruled, the mazelike, impenetrable Casbah, the "native quarter" of Algiers. I had heard of the film and I just had see this film. So I had taped on TCM and I watched it and I love it. And you know that song that was played (and sung) in the film "C'est la vie" it's kind of catchy.
ALGIERS is just like Casablanca -- only slower, sleazier, sadder.
I realize this movie came first, but it's like every single ingredient was copied -- and improved on -- by the team of screenwriters who hammered together CASABLANCA a few years later.
1.) Cynical, Shady Hero. Check. Except that Pepe LeMoko is just a crook. There's no hint of courage or self-sacrifice in his past. Also he sings a love song while polishing his shoes. I wanted to shove him right off the balcony!
2.) Innocent, High-Class Heroine. Check. Except that Gabrielle in ALGIERS isn't really innocent. She's not truly in love with a distinguished freedom fighter, she's marrying a fat, disgusting slob for money. But at least she looks good in diamonds and jewels!
3.) Corrupt, Lovable Police Inspector Who Secretly Admires the Hero. Check. Except Claude Rains in CASABLANCA plays his part like he's having the time of his life -- like it's FUN to be a corrupt cop. And you sense how much he loves Rick, even when Rick is pointing a gun straight at his heart. ("That is my least vulnerable spot.") The guy in ALGIERS is okay, but he looks so sad and depressed all the time. It's almost like he knows how the movie is going to end!
4.) Slutty Bad Girl Who Clings To The Hero. Check. Except in ALGIERS the local girl who's crazy about Pepe is actually tougher, braver, classier, and more loyal than the heroine! And that kind of shoots the main love story right in the foot, don't you think?
5.) A Colorful Supporting Cast Made Up Of The Usual Suspects. Check. Except that Pepe's gang are all wildly miscast (Alan "Little John" Hale as a sleazy Middle Eastern merchant? I bet the Sheriff of Nottingham thought that one up!) And then there's Stanley Fields (still looking for the Island of Dr. Moreau) and a couple of random guys. These people are just, well, creepy. Oh, and watch when they torture the stool pigeon to death for about TEN MINUTES! Great stuff, if you're watching a Cagney movie, but this is a love story. Isn't it? Isn't it?
6.) Bittersweet Tragic Ending Where Our Hero Doesn't Get The Girl. Check. Except that running after an ocean liner just looks stupid. Watching a plane take off is classy. I don't know if anyone even realized just how funny it was when Pepe was bolting down the dock screaming like a banshee -- and then gibbering like an idiot. And what were Pepe's last words? Here's looking at you, kid? We'll always have Paris? No, I think Pepe was saying, let's get it right next time!
While John Cromwell's Hollywood remake of Julien Duvivier's 'Pepe le
Moko' from the year before is evidently the lesser film, still it has
its share of artistic success. Cameraman James Wong Howe establishes a
shifty, exotically attractive and morally uncertain milieu out of the
casbah, the sordid urban jungle that is a city unto itself in the
center of Algiers.
This is where the outcasts live, from all over the world, criminals, prostitutes, go-getters. French jewel thief Pepe lives here too, in exile but surrounded by good, loyal friends of every ethnic persuasion. Here he makes quick escapes over the rooftops and everybody protects him. The police has futile dreams of luring him out of the casbah where they can get to him, and maybe a visiting Parisian siren can be of help? Cromwell's version is very faithful to the original French film, and in every instance that I could think of is it inferior. But Howe's refined cinematography, the lighting and, most of all, Charles Boyer all make this a worthwhile watching experience. He is suave and magnetic, his accent intoxicating, and the scenes between him and the sultry Hedy Lamarr are cinema history, their meeting in the sleazy club where long, lingering closeups show the way he impresses himself on her, and this is one extremely sexy, even smoky encounter.
So, watch it, and then do yourself the favor of looking up Julien Duvivier's film, a vastly better one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Algiers is not a classic, it is a perversion of the wonderful original Pepe le Moko, directed by Duvivier and starring a much more attractive and charming Pepe, Jean Gabin. If you want to fully experience the Casbah and the characters in Algiers, I recommend you don't even watch this movie and see Pepe le Moko instead, for it is much more elaborate, more beautifully filmed, the lines are not clichéd and the characters adhere much more to reality. Furthermore, the ending is so dramatic and key to Pepe's character that you'll find the Algiers version intolerable. Although Algiers does an almost excellent job mimicking each scene, the acting falls short as does the credibility of the characters. Plus, the wardrobe is truly breath-taking in all scenes, particularly Pepe's in the last scene and Gaby's (at all times) but also when she's on the boat. Frankly, Algiers is cheap as far as imitations go.
Reminiscent of - and perhaps a precursor to - Casablanca, this pre-Casablanca movie has all of the atmosphere of the later film it might have inspired for all I know, and a great story line and cast of actors to boot. While it doesn't quite rise to the greatness of Casablanca, it is a fine film in its own right, and a must-see film, for many reasons, not to mention the fine performance put in by Charles Boyer (perhaps his best film next to Gaslight and Love Affair - two other must- see films). With the darkness almost of a film noire movie, you can almost smell the exotic spices undoubtedly wafting down the cramped streets of Algiers' worst neighborhoods as the incredibly taught action plays out. A nail-biter as well as a tragic romance, you won't be disappointed!
After 68 years, the sound on the filming is surely going but "Algiers"
remains a picture of intense intrigue.
A wonderful performance is given by Charles Boyer as the suave, cunning Pepe Le Moko, a jewel thief who has taken refuge in the Casbah-an eerie place surrounded by labyrinths and bullets along the way.
The police can't seem to "smoke" Pepe out of his refuge despite repeated raids. He has his gang of cohorts with him along the way.
Pepe longs for his former life in Paris. In a chance meeting, he meets the Hedy LaMarr character, a young, beautifully vibrant woman who reminds him of his days past and of his current situation hiding out in the Casbah.
Sigrid Gurie is Ines, her evil-looking eyes tells you her intentions. If she can't have Pepe, no one else will either.
There are fine supporting performances by Joseph Calleia as a sinister looking detective and Gene Lockhart, as a traitor who pays the ultimate price for his treachery.
Those Boyer never uttered those famous words, "Come to the Casbah," go anyway to enjoy this well done film.
Take the teaming alleys of the old town of Algiers in North Africa, cramped and multi-national, filled with intentional mystery, and you have the basis of a great movie. A great, exciting, unique, visually gorgeous one.
And it delivers on some of those scores. But why is it also a bit clumsy and forced all he way through? Two main reasons, I think. First, some of the secondary characters are comic caricatures (like Gene Lockhart), and as if to confirm this, they are given some silly lines as well. Second, the direction, under John Cromwell, which is clumsy and patchwork. Some of the most ordinary lines are delivered with avoidable awkwardness. I don't think Charles Boyer is a very convincing Arab kingpin, nor is the chief policeman from Paris a bit believable. All of this stacks the movie against its terrific setting.
The highlight might actually be the simplest to understand--the photography by the great cameraman James Wong Howe. Right behind, but most accounts, is the presence of Hedy Lamarr as a kind of sophisticated femme fatale, bejeweled and bewitching. At least from the point of view of Boyer, who at one point is transfixed by her bracelet, her pearls, and her smile, in that order. The sure sign of a doomed man.
The drama does become more intense, and both the police pressure and the crossed lovers percolate a bit. Boyer remains perplexing as the leading man, as if always aware he's the leading man more intent on being charming (in that 1930s French way) than playing the part of a supposed boss. And just wait for the scene where he breaks into song and everyone comes around to listen. Good thing the photography never relents--you can watch the movie for the visuals alone.
I'm not sure what gives this movie its reputation, but I'll throw up a red flag against it. The exotic local, the mix of nationalities, the odd assortment of actors, and the central romance might make seem to presage Casablanca (in those ways) but the comparison ends there. Don't be discouraged by the first twenty minutes, which is the weakest part. By the end the mood has changed enough to work.
If you're wondering, this is a low budget production from Walter Wanger, a year before he produced John Ford's "Stagecoach." And the filming occurred in Algiers itself, which is part of the interest. Give it whirl. Try to find a sharper version than the lousy one Netflix streams.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pepe le Moko, played by Charles Boyer, is some sort of international
criminal mastermind wanted in countries throughout Europe, and to stay
free he holes himself up in the Casbah, a mysterious part of Algiers
where even the police are reluctant to go, until a senior officer is
sent from Paris to capture le Moko once and for all. For le Moko,
although the Casbah allows him to remain out of police custody, it also
becomes a sort of prison at the same time - a place he can't leave,
because the moment he does, he knows he'll be arrested.
Boyer's performance was good, and I can understand why he was nominated for an Oscar. He captures the essence of such a character - a perfect combination of very dangerous and yet very classy at the same time. The movie itself, unfortunately, was quite a letdown. A number of parts of the story seemed inconsistent, of which I'll mention two. First was the idea that the police wouldn't enter the Casbah. That was stated pretty clearly at the beginning of the film by the local commander, and yet repeated references in the movie suggest that in fact the police did enter the Casbah fairly regularly. So, neither the suggestion by Commissioner Janvier that the police wouldn't enter, nor the statement by Inspector Slimane (also a decent performance by Joseph Calleia) that they could get into the Casbah but not out seemed to make much sense. I also found it difficult to believe that le Moko - hardened criminal mastermind that he was - could be so quickly swept off his feet by Gaby (Hedy Lamarr) to the point where he entertains the local populace by singing love songs and then leaves the Casbah to find her, essentially giving himself up. I understand the irony of the final few scenes, of course, as Pepe leaves the freedom of his prison (the Casbah) only to find real freedom in his capture (because he's shot and killed by the police.) I just found it impossible to believe that someone like le Moko would fall into such a trap.
This is worth watching for Boyer, and to a lesser extent Calleia, but the story is disappointing and inconsistent. 3/10
The benchmark performance in the stereotyping of Charles Boyer. I had never seen the film before and didn't realize that like "Play it again, Sam," he never utters the line "Come with me to the Casbah." I'm glad I saw it for Boyer's performance which is quite well sustained. He is truly a cad. He is truly a prisoner. Because of his success as a jewel thief, he can never leave the Casbah. The police play a waiting game. It's that old respect thing where he becomes the object of their searches and always manages to get away; his legend is greater than his being. However, it always gets us in the end, doesn't it? There are some nice performances and I always like films set in those desert cultures of the thirties and forties. I'm glad I saw it because it filled a hole in my movie knowledge.
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