Posted by martinteller on May 13, 2015
In Algiers, Pepe Le Moko (Tony Martin) is the Casbah’s most notorious thief. And as Inspector Slimane (Peter Lorre) knows, he’s also the most beloved, which makes him impossible to arrest because everyone comes to his aid before the police can get him out of there. Chief Louvain (Thomas Gomez) wants results, and coerces Moko’s old friend Carlo (Douglas Dick) into being an informer. But Pepe’s true downfall might come from the women in his life: a beautiful tourist named Gaby (Märta Torén), and the jealous Inez (Yvonne de Carlo).
The most well-known adaptation of Henri La Barthe’s novel Pepe le Moko is the 1937 Julien Duvivier film of the same name, starring Jean Gabin. It was remade a year later by John Cromwell as Algiers, and although I haven’t seen the whole thing, what I’ve seen of it makes it look like a straight copy. This 1948 version by John Berry (He Ran All the Way, Tension) is a musical. Well, sort of. It has four songs by Harold Arlen and Leo Robin (sung by Martin & De Carlo) and a couple of dance numbers by Katherine Dunham’s African-American troupe (including Eartha Kitt)… but some of them are pretty brief. It’s more of a musical than, say, Casablanca… but not much. Nonetheless, the song and dance are pretty good, and Martin is a fine crooner.
Unfortunately, he’s also the weakest part of the film. He’s not a bad actor really, he just doesn’t feel right for Pepe le Moko. He doesn’t dazzle, he doesn’t have the easy-going charm you expect from the character. You want a Jean Gabin, but Martin comes off more like a brooding thug. He’s not a disaster or anything, but this movie needs a stronger lead to elevate it above the standard Hollywood product. Which is what this is. Nothing about it is excellent, but it’s all decent-to-good. Nice sets, good tunes, some okay comedy and some reasonably convincing romance. The story keeps moving along. There’s some dialogue that snaps, and it ends on a nice pair of lines.
The supporting cast is solid. Torén is exotic and seductive, De Carlo is fiery, Gomez is amusing and Hugo Haas makes an appearance that’s more satisfying than any of the ones in the movies where he directed himself. Lorre, as one would expect, is the obvious highlight. Slimane’s relationship with Moko is the most entertaining facet of the film, adversarial but friendly and respectful. If you can’t get enough of Peter Lorre, you should check this movie out. For everyone else, it’s nonessential but fun. Rating: Good (74)