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Sunday, May 13, 2012

CASBAH (1948)

Play it again, Pépé. It’s the third time out for the criminal gang who live & work with the infamous PÉPÉ LE MOKO/’37 in the twisty lanes of the CASBAH in the old fortress quarter of ALGIERS/’38. A few tunes were added & the third act’s rejiggered, but most of the familiar story remains. Le Moko is still a ‘wanted’ man, hiding in plain sight with his local squeeze (Yvonne De Carlo), safe as long as he stays in his exotic aerie. But when he meets a beautiful Parisian who’s taking a tour, he loses his heart . . . and his mind. He knows he’ll have to follow her. So does his ‘shadow,’ the patient inspector who’s been waiting to grab Pépé outside the gates of the Casbah. Crooner Tony Martin doesn’t exactly ignite the screen with the stoppered passion that Jean Gabin & Charles Boyer gave to the part, but he’s smooth, handsome and might have been a good deal more if debuting Märta Torén, an Ingrid Bergman wannabe, made more of a connection. The best reason to check this out is to watch Peter Lorre’s wily inspector playing just the sort of role he usually ceded to Sydney Greenstreet. Songsmiths Harold Arlen & Leo Robin came up with a couple of good ballads and a real swinging number, "Hooray For Love,’ which doesn’t seem to belong in here. But where’s the rest of the score? Helmer John Berry hurts the cause with set ups that won’t cut, and a minimal budget that keeps the Casbah from being properly maze-like. But he does grab a neat trick from his Mercury Theatre past, restaging a famous bit from Orson Welles’ legendary JULIUS CAESAR production when a couple of cops get surrounded in the Casbah. And watch for a sweet backtracking shot right at the end that flaunts a cutaway set to board a plane without a cut.

DOUBLE-BILL :Julien Duvivier’s PÉPÉ LE MOKO/’37 stands head & shoulders above its English-language imitators with a fatalistic-romantic pull that's as strong as ever.
NOTE: This title is currently available (at a collector’s price) only on VHS.

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