The French police, headed by Louvain (Walter Kingsford)) want to bring Algiers criminal Pepe le Moco (Charles Boyer) to justice because “he’s wanted in all the countries of Europe.” Pepe’s advantage is the Casbah, his territory and hideout, which he pretty much rules. Inspector Slimane (Joseph Calleia) is an old hand in Algiers, and has respect for Pepe–to the extent of keeping a loose friendship with him. There we also find Grand Pere (Alan Hale) a confederate, Pepe’s mistress Ines (Sigrid Gurie), and assorted underlings, Janvier (Paul Harvey), and Carlos (Stanley Fields). There’s even an informer, Regis (Gene Lockhart).
“We can play the game, but Fate controls the cards” say the card players, as Pepe tells Regis to get lost. From Paris, Gaby (Hedy Lamarr) appears with her fiancee Andre Giraux (Robert Greig). Meanwhile Ines taunts Pepe that he’s already in prison because he can’t leave the Casbah. Everyone’s suspicious of Regis, as he was with Piorrot (Johnny Downs) when he disappeared. Pepe develops an immediate attraction for Gaby, which she doesn’t exactly discourage.
Piorrot shows up, and tells of his betrayal by Regis. The result is Regis’s macabre execution scene. Piorrot dies from previous wounds; while circus-like music blares from the player piano. Pepe seems to come apart, feeling that his number could be up soon. “You seem to be sick of everything” Slimane tells him. In a rage, Pepe tries to flee the Casbah.
Ines, knowing that he’s keen on Gaby, tricks him into staying around to meet her. He’s upset, but grateful that Ines thought enough of him to want him to stay. Then Gaby actually shows up. They go off, but Slimane follows, undetected. “With you, I escape” Pepe tells Gaby, meaning she reminds him of Paris. All of a sudden, Because he’s in love, Pepe breaks into song, entertaining the whole street. Ines, of course isn’t amused.
The Inspector, figuring that he now has an angle on Pepe, tells Andre that he has to watch Gaby. Confronting her, she kisses him off; but when Slimane tells her that Pepe’s dead, she doesn’t leave Andre after all. Carlos disappears. In his mind, Pepe returns to Paris. Actually, he is planning an escape, with Gaby. But, thanks to Ines, the police are hot on his trail, and intercept him as he boards ship. His hopeful glimpse of Gaby is ironic, as she’s still with Andre.
Poignantly, Slimane is angry that Ines intervened. He would rather, out of chivalry, have let events play out, in which case Pepe would’ve escaped. The final tragic result is that Pepe is shot in a futile attempt to do just that.
The beginning is well-done, as stock footage gives an authentic panorama and narrative of Algiers and the Casbah. Even better, the ending flows quickly, full of action and emotion. For the most part, though, the long middle section drags things down quite a bit. There’s so many characters running around that it’s hard to keep track of who’s doing what. Plus, other than Regis’s murder–admittedly a great scene–there’s really no crime going on.
In fact, this is as much a romantic love triangle as a crime mystery. That part of the plot works well enough (Boyer’s singing, while good, seems out of another movie); both Lamarr and Gurie give convincing performances as rival love interests for Pepe. Boyer is very interesting as the slick, but haunted criminal mastermind; Calleia’s role is, in some ways, the most intriguing. His character has in effect become a doppelganger of his antagonist. Slimane’s more compromised and conflicted than Pepe; being a ‘good guy’ (as an authority figure) means less to him than being a good guy (as a friend/companion).
The exotic atmosphere is set very well at the beginning. But it sort of dissipates as the film progresses. With some adjustments to the background and costuming, we might as well be in Paris, New Orleans, or Shanghai (with the exception of the four leads, most of the of the cast are obviously Americans). The interiors are pretty generic and unremarkable.
Algiers is worth a look for its interesting premise, and some good portrayals. But it lacks focus, seemingly losing its way halfway through. Farmermouse found lots of goodies from the street vendors, so he gives Algiers six pieces of falafel. 6/10.