Boyer and Hedy LamarrReleased in 1938, Algiers was based on Julien Duvivier's French screen adaptation of "Pepe le Moko". Boyer is Pepe, a master criminal forced to remain in the sanctuary of the sinister Casbah quarter of Algiers, where policemen dare not enter. 

Pepe "holds court" in his domain, surrounded by various unsavory characters, and his existence, although drab, is at least tolerable....until a gorgeous woman (Hedy Lamarr) comes to the Casbah on a thrill-seeking visit. The two are fascinated by each other, and enter into a secret affair.

But Pepe le Moko eventually cannot remain apart from her at all, and leaves the Casbah in search of her -- forfeiting his safety with tragic results.

"Algiers" became a trademark film for Boyer -- much to his chagrin. It was a parody that became famous: the "great lovair" saying, "Come wiz me to za Casbah..." (A line he never says in the film.) He believed it created the impression that he was not a serious actor.

"In America," he said, "when you have an accent, in the mind of the people they associate you with kissing hands and being gallant. I think this has harmed me, just as it has harmed me to be followed and plagued by a line I never even said."

Boyer and Hedy LamarrApart from its star's dissatisfaction, "Algiers" is a good film, although not a great one. Director John Cromwell credited Boyer with delicately pulling co-star Hedy Lamarr through: "She had presence, but no personality. He sensed a lack of confidence in her, which she sometimes revealed in a slight arrogance. He acted with sincerity and with integrity, and she responded to it." Critics almost unanimously declared her a deficient actress, and then spent long paragraphs extolling her luxuriant beauty.

"Algiers" is an extraordinary mood piece, more European in flavor than any American film of that time. It was nominated for four Academy Awards: James Wong Howe's cinematography, Alexander Toluboff's art direction, Best Supporting Actor (Gene Lockhart), and...Boyer for Best Actor. Although he didn't win the Oscar (Spencer Tracy did, for "Boys Town"), "Algiers" established Boyer firmly as a hot Hollywood property.

 

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