Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Déjà Vu

Film: Algiers
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes you watch a remake knowing it’s a remake. Sometimes, that sneaks up on you. In the case of Algiers, I discovered this was a remake a few moments after the credits. I had no idea going in that I’d already seen this, but once the text crawl started, I knew I was covering familiar territory. Algiers is an almost shot-for-shot remake of Pepe le Moko from the year previous. Evidently, producer Walter Wanger bought not only the rights to Pepe le Moko but also as many prints as he could to prevent it from being competition for his production of Algiers. Fortunately, he didn’t buy up all of the copies of Pepe le Moko, since it is a superior film in virtually every regard. In fact, the only things we get from Algiers is that it’s evidently the source of cartoon character Pepe le Pew and was Hedy Lamarr’s American film debut.

Don’t get it mixed up here: Algiers is a virtually shot-for-shot remake of Pepe le Moko. The character names are the same, the plot is the same, even the music is reused from the original film. The only changes are the cast, the fact that it was shot in English, and the ending. Even that change isn’t so much a change in what happens but a change in how it comes about. Apparently, director John Cromwell would screen a piece of the film for the cast and then instruct them to duplicate what they’d seen as much as they could. This might be the most unnecessary film until the shot-for-shot Vince Vaughn/Anne Heche remake of Psycho.

If you’ve seen Pepe le Moko, there’s not a lot for you here. If you haven’t, it’s pretty easily summarize. Expert thief Pepe le Moko (Charles Boyer) has made it out of France and come to Algiers in Algeria. Here he has hidden out in the Casbah area, since it is essentially a place where the police have no power. Here he has shacked up with Ines (Sigrid Gurie) and made friends with Grandpere (Alan Hale) and Pierrot (Johnny Downs), does his best to avoid police informant Regis (Gene Lockhart), and even cultivates a friendship with Slimane (Joseph Calleia), a cop who sort of works in the Casbah.

Everything changes with the arrival of Gaby (Hedy Lamarr), who is immediately entranced with Pepe and vice versa. The bulk of the film involves Slimane and the police attempting to get Pepe out of the Casbah while Pepe and Gaby attempt to meet up with each other. Pepe is entranced enough with her that he doesn’t bother to hide it, even going so far as to talk about her in front of Ines. And eventually it ends.

I honestly have nothing against Charles Boyer. In fact, I rather like him. He’s just no Jean Gabin and he couldn’t be. The bigger problem is Hedy Lamarr. To my knowledge this is the first movie I’ve seen with Hedy Lamarr in it. I can only hope that she got better as her career progressed. In Algiers it looks as if her acting coach was a large piece of balsa wood. I won’t for a second impugn her beauty, but she couldn’t act her way out of a burlap sack.

I’m disappointed completely in this. It’s been sitting on my DVR for about a year, and now I wonder why I bothered. Had this not been on one of my Oscar lists, I’d have turned it off 20 minutes in once I realized it was not merely a remake but a carbon copy of a film I had already seen. The hell of it is that I didn’t even like Pepe le Moko that much. I don’t dislike the film, but it’s not one that I’m excited to see again. The story is too simple and the love between Pepe and Gaby too sudden and too strong to be believed.

I’m struggling to find a good reason that I spent 95 minutes watching this today and I’m coming up empty. In fact, only Gene Lockhart matches the original version as Regis. If you want to watch this story, Pepe le Moko is the version to watch. It’s not only first, it’s better.

Why to watch Algiers: You’re a Charles Boyer completist.
Why not to watch: Pepe le Moko is better, and it’s not that great.


  1. Your right this isn't a great movie but sometimes swoony romanticism with pretty people can be entertaining. That's more or less what this has going for it.

    I wouldn't say Lamarr ever progressed to the point of award winner but over time she did become more comfortable on screen, her best work is probably in H.M. Pulham, Esq. and The Strange Woman (an interesting noir that requires some suspension of belief since both Hedy and her father are supposedly Maine natives but she speaks with a Viennese accent and her father an Irish one!)

    If you think this is an unnecessary picture you definitely want to avoid the musical remake of this called Casbah with Tony Martin as Pepe Le Moko!

    1. At least a musical version would add, y'know, music. I got everything I wanted from this from the original film, and aside from Gene Lockhart's Regis, there was nothing new or interesting here. I've got nothing against swoony romanticism, but Charles Boyer is no Jean Gabin.

  2. I've seen Algiers (and Pepe Le Moko) and I liked them both OK, I guess. It's been a while. I saw them at a revival theater as a double feature and I don't remember liking one over the other.

    I don't remember Hedy Lamarr in Algiers at all. I think it was her first American film. It would be wrong to judge her by this film. She was not a great actress of the Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis type, but I think she had a wicked sense of humor and understood her limitations as an actress very well. I've seen many of her films but in those I've seen, I've always liked her, even if the movie is not so great.

    She's hilarious in White Cargo as a native girl who talks like Tarzan is her English tutor. My Favorite Spy is not Bob Hope's best movie but it's still pretty funny and Hedy shows that she can be funny and sexy. And then there's Samson and Delilah, which is very silly but not particularly silly for a 1950s Hollywood bible movie. Victor Mature is unintentionally hilarious. It's a very entertaining movie nonetheless, certainly more watchable than Solomon and Sheba, and most of the success of Samson and Delilah is because of Hedy Lamarr and George Sanders and ... Angela Lansbury? Yup.

    1. In the second paragraph, it should read "I've not seen many of her films ..."

    2. I looked through her filmography--this is the first film I've seen her in. I won't judge her by this, but I have to say I can only hope she got better from here.

      She's not quite into Jennifer Jones territory, but she's certainly flirting with it.

    3. With Duel in the Sun and Beat the Devil in her filmography, Jennifer Jones is the Big-Budget Queen of Camp Films. She may not be a great actress but she's a great performer.

    4. We'll disagree on this. I think she had beauty and not much more.