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