Hedy Lamarr Goes to the Casbah

Hedy Lamarr goes slumming with Charles Boyer in the Casbah.

Hedy Lamarr goes slumming with Charles Boyer in the Casbah.

“Come with me to the Casbah” is one of those famous movie lines that was never spoken in a movie.

True!

Boyer never used the immortal “Come weeth me to ze Casbah” pick-up line in the 1937 drama, Algiers. But he did use it in the film’s trailer and, astonishingly, this cheesy line still makes the rounds more than 60 years later.

First, what the heck is a “Casbah”? Generally speaking, a casbah (or Kasbah) is a fortress, and the actual Casbah in Algiers is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For our purposes, though, the introduction to the film Algiers describes the Casbah as home to “drifters and outcasts from all parts of the world – and criminals who find this a safe hiding place from the long arm of the law.”

The most intriguing criminal in the Casbah is its de facto ruler, Pepe le Moko (Boyer), a well-dressed man who wears power as comfortably as his tailored suits. Not only is Pepe le Moko the best movie name ever, the character is intriguingly complex – brooding, intelligent, vindictive. Yet he has a big heart for the less fortunate and an intense longing to return to Paris.

However! Boyer can never revisit Paris because he is wanted by the French police. He is a successful jewel thief and, although he is wealthy with ill-gotten gain, he cannot leave the Casbah because even the local police are waiting to nab him. Boyer is safe in the Casbah because the people revere him and they don’t squeal on Pepe le Moko.

But Boyer’s future becomes uncertain when he meets a fellow Parisian (Hedy Lamarr), who is travelling with her fiance. Lamarr is immediately fascinated by the seediness of Casbah, and by Boyer in particular.

Frankly, Lamarr’s character is a bore. She is a humourless socialite, engaged to a rich man she does not love. We are hard-pressed to find her good qualities, other than her fabulous wardrobe and her impressive jewelry collection. These expensive assets, by the way, do not go unnoticed by Boyer.

This is one of those movies that sucks you in without your realizing it. It begins rather methodically, but the story unfolds quickly and becomes so engrossing you forget that it was made in Hollywood. It feels like Algiers, or what we imagine Algiers feels like. By the time the film is over, you feel a bit sad, as though you’re returning home from vacation.

In addition to that, you can’t help but be a little excited about the inevitable outcome of the movie, yet you dread it the whole time. This is because of Boyer’s perfect performance as a man torn by his desire to be remain in exile, and his desire to see his beloved Paris once again. You feel his agony and you feel for him, even though he is a thief who shows no mercy towards his enemies.

The final scene of Algiers is probably our favourite Boyer scene of all time, although we won’t discuss it here. You’ll just have to watch it to see what we mean.

A final thought: Many have said that the Warner Bros. cartoon character Pepe le Pew is based on Boyer’s Pepe le Moko. You may have your own theories about this, but we guarantee you won’t be making that comparison when watching this absorbing film.

Algiers: Starring Charles Boyer, Hedy Lamarr, Sigrid Gurie. Directed by John Cromwell. Written by John Howard Lawson. United Artists Corp., B&W, 1938, 95 mins.

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16 comments

  1. I think I want a Casbah of my own! I love Boyer in this film (and so many others) mostly because he makes e ererything look so exciting. I have never given much thought to how Algiers feels because I assume this movie is spot on, right? Thanks for retrieving the memories of this great film. I cant wait to see it again soon.

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  2. Boyer was wonderful in this film. Then again, it’s hard to think of him in a bad role. And though I agree that Lamarr’s character leaves something to be desired, she does look fabulous here. I imagine the movie’s costume designers having a field day creating her wardrobe.

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    1. That’s true – Lamarr is glamorous and lovely, as she always is. I agree that the wardrobe department likely had a field day here, not just with Lamarr’s fab wardrobe, but with costumes for all the characters.

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  3. I’m intrigued to hear that ‘Come with me to zee Casbah’ was actually in the trailer for ‘Algiers’ – I must give it a look! I recently saw this film (got it in a box set) and I do like it, especially Boyer, but must say I love the French original, ‘Pepe le Moko’, even more. That film stars Jean Gabin, who is fantastic as Pepe – the two films are very similar indeed, with many scenes looking almost identical in both. Apparently the producers of ‘Algiers’ tried to buy up all prints of the French film and destroy it, but luckily they didn’t succeed!

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  4. The 1938 movie Algiers was most Americans’ introduction to the picturesque alleys and souks of the Casbah . It was also the inspiration for the 1942 Warner Brothers movie Casablanca which was written specifically for Hedy Lamarr in the female lead role. However, MGM refused to release Hedy Lamarr despite all efforts by Warner Brothers .

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    1. Yes, Lamarr was scheduled several other projects with MGM, although the rumour mill says she turned the role down. Still, I think Warner Bros. made the right choice in the end in casting Ingrid Bergman.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  5. Again, I’m ashamed I haven’t even heard of this movie. After reading your words and the comments, I have to find it! I love Boyer, so maybe I’ll buy it :) Thank you for another awakening! I can’t wait to see this…

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      1. I do too!! We’re heading to Menard’s later, and they have a gigantic old movie bin for DVDs. I hope it’s in there! Thanks!

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  6. Hedy’s character may be a bore…but she’s still Hedy Lamarr! I enjoyed this fun, informative post. Long ago, I saw the original French film and remember liking it even better than ALGIERS. It’d be interesting to watch both again now.

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  7. Ruth, Algiers is one of those classic movies that I keep hearing about and meaning to check out. I had no idea the “Casbah” line was in the movie trailer, but not the film itself; go figure! I look forward tol checking it out to see it for myself! :-D

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