Algiers (1938): John Cromwell’s Campy Melodrama, Starring Charles Boyer in Oscar-Nominated Role and Hedy Lamarr in Star-Making Performance

In an Oscar nominated role, Hollywood-based Gallic actor Charles Boyer plays Pepe Le Moko, a professional thief and lover who operates out of the Casbah, the notoriously shady bastion in Algiers, then under French occupation.
Algiers 1938 Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster
Producer Walter Wanger purchased the rights to the French film “Pepe le Moko,” starring Jean Gabin, in order to remake it.  Shrewdly and selfishly, he also bought up all prints of the French picture in order to prevent it from competing with his American film. 
In his remake, Wanger shaelessly used most of the music from the French film, and the background sequences.
In their scenario, John Howard Lawson and James M. Cain accentuate the noir and sex elements of Roger D’Ashelbe’s novel (of the same title), which had been previously filmed in France as “Pepe Le Moko,” starring Jean Gabin.
Sought by the police for stealing Jewelry, Pepe hides in the Casbah, but he is carefully watched by detective Slimane (Joseph Callelia), who’s helped by an informer (Gene Lockhart).
There are two beautiful women in Pepe’s life, Ines (Sigrid Gurie), who’s devoted to him, and the seductive femme fatale Gaby (Hedy Lamarr), who’s engaged to another man, the inspector.
At the time, the give-and-take dialogue and the seductively erotic scenes between Boyer and the gorgeous Lamarr achieved notoriety, catapulting Lamarr into an international star, considered to be “the most beautiful face ever filmed in Hollywood.”
The encounters between Pepe and Gaby are high-camp, unintentionally.  He does most of the talking–“when I think of you, we’re in the subway.”  She’s listening quietly, occasionally staring at the ceiling.  In a reversal of conventions, Gaby’s the one who offers him a cigarette and then lights it up.
They meet nightly at the Casbah, despite threatening efforts of Gaby’s fiancé t prevent her.  Playing the femme fatale to the hilt, Lamarr is both seductive and tough.  When Pepe wants assurances that she’ll come back, Gaby says, “I never break a promise.”  She lures him with her expensive jewelry, which he holds in a fetishistic manner, taking her bracelet off and then putting it on her again–by her request.
The first version of the script was rejected by the Breen Office because both women were portrayed as “kept women,” and because of references to prostitution, promiscuity, suicide 0f Boyer’s character, which was changed into him being shot instead of killing himself.
There’s the requisite chase scene in the Casbah, and later on, Boyer gets to deliver a song, “C’est la vie,” joined by the merchants, peddlers, and petit criminals.
John Cromwell’s direction is smooth and production values are polished, particularly James Wong Howe’s cinematography and Alexander Toluboff’s art direction, both nominated for Oscars.

Commercial Appeal:

Made on a budget of $700,000, Algiers made only a small profit in its initial release.  However, in later years, the film acquired a larger following due to the campy dialogue, re-evaluation of Lamarr’s career and life, and countless jokes by comedians and animators about Boyer’s heavy accent and utterance of a sentence that was actually never in the picture, “come wiz me to ze casbah.”

Though the movie made Lamarr an international star, her future career was rather disappointing and she had never fulfilled the promise shown in this picture.

The print shown on TCM is in very bad shape, technically.
Oscar Nominations: 4
Actor: Charles Boyer
Supporting Actor: Gene Lockhart
Cinematography; James Wong Howe
Interior Decoration: Alexander Toluboff
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was Spencer Tracy for “Boys Town” and the Supporting Actor was Walter Brennan for “Kentucky.” Both Tracy and Brennan had previously won Oscars.
Joseph Ruttenberg won the Cinematography Award for “The Great Waltz,” and Carl J. Weyl the Art Direction for Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling vehicle, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
Directed by John Cromwell

Produced by Walter Wanger
Written by James M. Cain (additional dialogue), screenplay by John Howard Lawson
Based on Pépé le Moko 1937 novel by Detective Ashelbe and the French movie Pépé le Moko
Music by Vincent Scotto, Mohamed Ygerbuchen

Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by Otho Lovering, William H. Reynolds

Production company: Walter Wanger Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: August 5, 1938

Running time: 99 minutes
Budget $691,833
Box office $951,801