A Look at Algiers the Movie
Cast of Characters
1 hr 33 min Drama/Romance 1938 7 stars
Director: John Cromwell
Cast: Charles Boyer - Pepe le Moko
Hedy Lamarr - Gaby
Sigrid Gurie - Ines
Joseph Calleia - Slimane
Alan Hale - Granpere
Gene Lockhart - Regis
Stanley Fields - Carlos
The Main Actors
To Set the Roles
Algiers is a movie about a crime boss who loves and is loved. It is dramatic; it is romantic, it is psychological. The lead roles are played by Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, but perhaps the main character is not a person at all but a place – the Casbah. It is a unique neighborhood within the city of Algiers. Its unique attributes enable this story to exist.
This is the story of two friends who are on opposite sides of the law. One is the internationally wanted fugitive, Pepe le Moko played by Charles Boyer. The other is Inspector Slimane who vows to his friend, that one fine day when the time is right he will bring him to justice. Slimane, in my opinion, is the most fascinating character in the movie. Le Moko is safe in the confines of the Casbah because that is his domain and he rules it. Though it is the legal jurisdiction of Slimane he is really only a guest there when he makes his rounds each day.
The movie opens with an explanation of the Casbah, a labyrinthine quarter within the city, but beyond the law. A French official has come to Algiers to get his man, le Moko, and he cannot understand why the local authorities have not simply picked him up. The official is impatient with the seeming sluggishness of the police department there. Inspector Slimane counters his arguments masterfully when trying to explain the difficulty in operating within the Casbah, that this operation will take time and patience. The official demands that a group storm in there, but he is informed that they’d be targets before they know it. Slimane says, “When one can’t use guns, one uses brains. The official says, “I prefer guns.” Slimane subtly slams him by saying, “in your case such a preference is unavoidable.”
The official chides Slimane by saying that he’s only trying to protect his own skin. Slimane wisely responds, “It’s the only skin I have.”
The police enter the Casbah at night and bungle the operation as had been predicted.
Ines who has a crush on le Moko
To Set the Romance
Pepe le Moko escapes capture and the viewer gets the idea that he always escapes, that he is unapprehendable. But there is a woman, Ines, played by Sigrid Gurie who has a crush on the dangerous le Moko. He spurns her advances and instead he falls for a visitor, a wealthy French woman who has come to Algiers and is intrigued by the Casbah and the mysterious le Moko. Gaby, played by Hedy Lamarr captivates le Moko’s attention but it is not her beauty that firsts draws his eyes, it’s her jewelry. The camera is very obvious in portraying the sequence of his attraction. He looks first at her bracelet, then her pearls and then finally he sees her face. He is, after all, first a jewelry thief. But he falls in love with Gaby and when she returns to visit him it is obvious that she too is falling in love with him. Ines notices this and becomes jealous. Slimane notices this and becomes intrigued. He hatches to draw le Moko out of the Casbah because if he comes out he can be arrested. The plot doesn’t work because le Moko is not that gullible, but he begins to feel that he is stuck in the Casbah; it is his domain. But he longs for Paris, his home and Gaby is from Paris. When they’re together they reminisce about their mutual love for that city. She represents Paris to him.
Ines, on the other hand, represents the Casbah and at one point she yells at him, "I’m the Casbah, I’ll keep you; just try to get away and you’ll find out.” Later she tells him, “You’re in prison already.”
Le Moko’s yearning for Paris grows much stronger as does his desire for Gaby. She tells him, “If I can’t see Paris when I open my eyes in the morning I want to go right back to sleep.” She draws him just as Paris and freedom beckon him. She teases him by taking off her expensive bracelet and hands it to him, then extends her arm towards him and asks him to put it on her. It is a particularly seductive move because it appeals to his jewel lust. Still, their relationship is interesting she being vulnerable and he letting his guard down slightly. He is holding her and she asks him to let her go.
“Why should I”, he asks.
“Because I asked you.”
“You’re rude,” then she looks away. He has let her go.
Le Moko meets Gaby
To Set the Capture
Shortly afterwards is the ugly scene of the underside of the life of a crime lord. An informant has been caught. He has orchestrated what amounted to the wounding of a young man who was like a son to le Moko. The young man dies and the informant is shot and killed. Le Moko then becomes depressed. Now more than ever he feels jailed in his own domain. The talking of his friends bothers him. A blind beggar comes to his door chanting some annoying line over and over again. Le Moko loses it and tosses a pot at him. But these are just the daily noises of the Casbah. He had had enough. He resolves to leave, though it would mean certain arrest. Slimane phones headquarters. But as he makes his way towards the edge of the Casbah Ines chases after him. Remember, she is the Casbah and will not let him go so easily. She catches up with him and lies to him, saying that Gaby is waiting for him at his house. Although she lied he realizes that she has saved him from capture and he appreciates her. But then Gaby does come and he’s elated.
“What did you do before the jewels?” he asks her.
“I wanted them,” she answers.
He’s in love and the next day he breaks into song. When le Moko sings the Casbah dances! Ines thinks he is happy and content to be there, but then he speaks up saying he has a date at the “Place Blanche” a location in Paris. He has once again resolved to leave. This was the last straw for Ines and she speaks to Slimane.
Le Moko traverses the winding streets and stairways which lead out of the Casbah all the while dreaming of Parisian scenes. But he had learned from an informer that within the past day Slimane had told Gaby that le Moko had been shot dead. He also learned that Gaby was sailing that day for France. The informer who was acting as a double agent also told him, falsely, that Gaby was awaiting him at her hotel. In fact the police were awaiting him there.
But le Moko knew that his informer was setting him up so he went to board the ship from France rather than to meet Gaby at the hotel. Slimane and the police would have been frustrated in their attempt to apprehend him if it weren’t for the jealous Ines coming to them and telling them that le Moko was boarding the ship for France. They have just enough time to go and arrest him. With le Moko in handcuffs he asks Slimane to please allow him to see the ship depart. It’s allowed, but he begins to run towards the ship and Slimane’s deputy shoots him fatally. As Slimane holds the dying le Moko in his arms he apologizes for his fellow officer saying. “He thought you were trying to escape.”
Le Moko responds with his last words, “And so I have, my friend.”
Ines betraying le Moko
An excellent movie in many ways, Algiers brings together many great personalities. Slimane is the most fascinating character of the movie. His personality shows wisdom, patience and humility. He has been hunting le Moko for quite some time, but biding his time until just the right moment. He truly liked le Moko and considered him a friend, but business is business and he had a duty to arrest criminals. Slimane is very clever in how he goes about his job employing his wisdom, patience and humility. In his cleverness he used what he saw of the relationship between Gaby and le Moko. He used Gaby to lure le Moko out of the Casbah and she was never the wiser. He used the jealousy of Ines to set up the final scene.
Gaby was also very clever, though she did not plot an elaborate scheme like Slimane. She knew, very much how to reel le Moko in to her embrace expertly using her feminine wiles. But she never realized the result of her actions.
Pepe le Moko was well loved by the people of his domain, the Casbah. He was the benevolent crime boss. When he sang everyone danced, not out of fear, but because they shared his joy. He was well loved, even by his nemesis and friend, Slimane.
The psychology of the movie is intriguing. It gets into the head of this man Pepe le Moko and shows the viewer the deterioration of his realm from within himself. He longs for freedom verses the increasing restriction he is feeling in the Casbah. That tension is portrayed as a tale of two cities. Paris and Algiers (or more specifically the Casbah) and that portrayal is reflected in the tale of two women, Ines who, as mentioned earlier, claims to be the Casbah and Gaby who loves the Paris that le Moko loves, and longs for it as she once longed for the jewels that now adorns her which le Moko also longs for.
The execution of the bad informer, Regis, contains a wonderful special flair. Just before the deadly shots are fired Regis stumbles against a player piano which starts up with a disturbing tune which heightens the intensity of the whole scene.
Ines is the sad character whose devotion to Pepe le Moko gets her nowhere. It is only natural that she would be jealous of Gaby. But Gaby is not her problem, the Casbah is. It and she confine le Moko. He wants to leave and be free. It is her, in the end that will not allow him that freedom, will not allow him to go to Gaby, to Paris, who tells the police and foils his plans. To her the Casbah is the whole world and it is big enough. She cannot understand why le Moko would ever long for somewhere else. Gaby understands him and shares that longing. Ines is willing to go, at one point, but le Moko says she belongs right where she is. She’s rebuffed but suggests that again. From that point on her only wish is to keep him there. She will not allow him to live outside the Casbah.
It is very poignant, therefore, that he says to Slimane in his dying breath that he has escaped and that he calls Slimane his friend.
Indeed, as adversarial as their positions were they had a unique friendship that transcended their vocations yet facilitated the demise of the one or put another way, his escape.