Algiers (1938)

JOHN CROMWELL

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1938. . Screenplay by , additional dialogue by , based on the novel Pepe Le Moko by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by , . Production Design by . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by , .

Producer Walter Wanger followed 1937’s arthouse hit Pepe Le Moko with a Hollywood adaptation a year later, this time starring as the unofficial prince of the titular city’s famed Casbah district.

Pepe is a French jewel thief who hides in the shadowy maze of Algiers’ old town, evading the Paris police who have just arrived in search of him, told by the local authority that they have no idea what they’re in for in trying to find someone in as busy a multicultural den of iniquity like the Casbah. One of Pepe’s contacts, Regis () is happy to give the cops information for cash, but his squealing gets someone close to our hero hurt, while the appearance of a beautiful Parisian lady (, who is stunning) inspires Pepe to want more than the grimy life he has settled for in this place.

The plot is more or less the same as the original (with a marked difference in the final moments), though the telling of it has been cleaned up a bit thanks to the imposing of classic Hollywood scriptwriting structure. This one doesn’t feel like it’s sitting around soaking up a lot of exotic style the way Duvivier’s film did, but there’s no doubt that it is sorely missing that style.

Boyer, whose performance would be the inspiration for Pepe Le Pew (and it’s funny that in a cast of characters who are mostly French he’s the only one with that accent) is poised and dashing but he lacks the haunted eyes in Jean Gabin’s otherwise tough face, and Lamarr’s distaste for playing glamour girls clearly shows every time she opens her mouth.

It’s an entertaining film and the original isn’t perfect either, but if you’ve decided to only watch one of the two I would say stick with the French.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Charles Boyer); Best Supporting Actor (Gene Lockhart); Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction

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