Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr in Algiers (1938)


(director: John Cromwell; screenwriters: from the book Pepe le Moko by Henri La Barthe/John Howard Lawson/James M. Cain; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editors: Otho Lovering/William Reynolds; music: Vincent Scotto/Mohammed Igarbouchen; cast: Charles Boyer (Pepe le Moko), Sigrid Gurie (Ines), Hedy Lamarr (Gaby), Joseph Calleia (Inpector Slimane), Alan Hale (Grandpere), Gene Lockhart (Regis), Walter Kingsford (Chef Inspector Louvain), Paul Harvey (Comissioner Janvier), Stanley Fields (Carlos), Johnny Downs (Pierrot), Charles D. Brown (Max), Robert Grieg (Giraux), Leonid Kinskey (L’Arbi), Joan Woodbury (Aicha), Nina Koshetz, (Tania), Stanley Fields (Carlos), Bert Roach (Bertier), Claudia Dell (Marie Bertier); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; United Artists; 1938)

Never gets over its artificiality, emptiness or lack of suspense.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Cromwell (“Of Human Bondage”) directs this inferior Hollywood romantic drama remake of the French classic Pépé le Moko that starred Jean Gabin (it brazenly uses stock footage from the original film). It’s taken from the book by Henri La Barthe and penned by John Howard Lawson with additional dialogue by James M. Cain. It’s best remembered for Charles Boyer’s often repeated line “Come with me to the Casbah,” which was in the promos but actually was never said on film. Under Cromwell’s elegant direction it sustains its exotic mood (mainly through the luminous black-and-white photography of James Wong Howe), but it never gets over its artificiality, emptiness or lack of suspense.

Notorious French jewel thief Pepe Le Moko (Charles Boyer), wanted by the French police, has lived in Algiers’ Casbah (the labyrinthine fortress has a section reserved for the natives and is also a safe harbor for international criminals) for the last two years, where the local police will not arrest him unless he steps out into the nearby city. Janvier (Paul Harvey) is a hardheaded French policeman who has come to arrest Pepe by any means possible, but soon learns he’s in over his head with his muscle tactics. Inspector Slimane (Joseph Calleia) is in charge of the Casbah; he has a love/hate relationship with Pepe, and believes the only way to arrest the criminal he has regular contact with is by finesse–waiting for him to make a wrong move, like leave the safety of the Casbah.

Regis (Gene Lockhart) is a lowlife thief who is jealous of Pepe and works as a police informer. The slimy character tips the police off that Pepe and his gang are with the fence Grandpere (Alan Hale), but the gang learns through Pepe’s lovesick gypsy girlfriend Ines (Sigrid Gurie) of the police raid as Regis plays a double game and tells her to keep on the good side of Pepe. The gang escapes in a shootout and the Inspector introduces Pepe to the beautiful expensively bejeweled French tourist Gaby (Hedy Lamarr). She’s vacationing with her wealthy businessman fiancé Giraux (Robert Grieg) and another wealthy French couple (Claudia Dell & Bert Roach), and their chance meeting takes place amidst all the excitement. There’s a mutual attraction, but the charming Pepe tries unsuccessfully not to let on to the others that he’s interested.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Regis sends a phony letter through a messenger to Pierrot (Johnny Downs) and he leaves the Casbah with Regis to see his mom, despite being warned by his mentor not to trust him. Pierrot was to be used as bait to lure Pepe outside the Casbah, but the young man shoots his way out of a police trap to finger Regis before dying. Soon after when Pepe and Gaby declare their love for each other, they make plans for Pepe to depart together on her steamship. The Inspector, realizing his big chance has come to nab his nemesis because he has fallen in love, has Giraux tell Gaby that Pepe is dead. When Pepe is at the dock, she’s not there. The jealous Ines further foils Pepe’s plans and betrays him to the police. It ends with Pepe fatally shot at the dock by one of the Inspector’s men who thought he was trying to escape when he was only trying to get closer to wave goodbye to Gaby, who was on the boat unaware that he was still alive.

Entertaining to a degree, reasonably well-acted (at least by Boyer) and kept attractive through its rich visuals, Algiers remains a decent film (and nothing more) that swims along on a tide of glamor and glossy sentimentality.