Pepe Le Moko (Boyer) is a notorious thief, who, after his last great heist, escaped from France to Algeria. Since his escape, Moko became a resident and leader of the immense Casbah, or "native quarter", of Algiers. French officials arrive insisting on Pepe's capture are met with unfazed local detectives, led by Inspector Slimane (Calleia), who are biding their time. Meanwhile, Pepe begins to feel increasingly trapped in his prison-like stronghold, a feeling which intensifies after meeting the beautiful Gaby (Lamarr), who is visiting from France. His love for Gaby soon arouses the jealousy of Ines (Gurie), Pepe's Algerian mistress.
Cast notesAustrian actress Hedy Lamarr made her American film debut in Algiers, although she was already known for her appearance in the 1937 Czech film Ecstasy, in which she appeared nude. Howard Dietz, the head of MGM's publicity department, quizzed her about this, and she admitted to having appeared nude. "Did you look good?" he asked. "Of course!" "Then it's all right," he said, "no damage has been done."
Walter Wanger, the producer of Algiers, purchased the rights to the French film Pepe le Moko in order to remake it, but also bought up all prints of the film to prevent it from competing with his film in the US. Wanger used most of the music from the French film in this remake, as well as background sequences.
The first version of the script for Algiers was rejected by the Breen Office because the leading ladies were both portrayed as "kept women," and because of references to prostitution, the promiscuity of the lead character and his suicide at the end of the film, which was directed to be changed to his being shot instead of killing himself.
Backgrounds and exteriors for the film were shot in Algiers by a photographer named Knechtel, who was based in London. These photographs were later integrated into the film by cinematographer James Wong Howe.
MGM had considered Ingrid Bergman, Dolores del Río, and Sylvia Sidney for the female lead, but, as Boyer tells it, he met Hedy Lamarr at a party and introduced her to Wanger as a possibility for his co-lead. Cromwell says about Lamarr that she could not act. "After you've been in the business for a time, you can tell easily enough right when you meet them. I could sense her inadequacy, Wanger could sense it, and I could see Boyer getting worried even before we started talking behind Hedy's back … Sometimes the word personality is interchangeable with presence although they aren't the same thing. But the principle applies, and Hedy also had no personality. How could they think she could become a second Garbo? … I'll take some credit for making her acting passable but can only share credit with Boyer fifty-fifty."
Boyer did not enjoy his work on Algiers. "An actor never likes to copy another's style," he said, "and here I was copying Jean Gabin, one of the best." Director Cromwell "would run a scene from the original and insist we do it exactly that way — terrible, a perfectly terrible way to work." Cromwell, however, said the Boyer "never appreciated how different his own Pepe was from Gabin's. Boyer showed something like genius to make it different. It was a triumph of nuance. The shots are the same, the dialogue has the same meaning, but Boyer's Pepe and Gabin's Pepe are two different fellows but in the same predicament."
The film earned a profit of $150,466.Best Actor (nomination) – Charles Boyer
Best Supporting Actor (nomination) – Gene Lockhart
Best Art Direction (nomination) – Alexander Toluboff
Best Cinematography (nomination) – James Wong Howe
Joseph Calleia received the 1938 National Board of Review Award for his performance as Slimane.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
In the autumn of 1938, Hollywood Playhouse presented a radio adaptation of Algiers starring Charles Boyer.
Algiers was adapted for the October 8, 1939, presentation of the CBS Radio series The Campbell Playhouse. The hour-long adaptation starred Orson Welles and Paulette Goddard, with Ray Collins taking the role of Inspector Slimane.
The film was also dramatized as an hour-long radio play on two broadcasts of Lux Radio Theatre. Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr reprised their roles in the broadcast July 7, 1941. Boyer starred with Loretta Young in the broadcast December 14, 1942.
Algiers was remade in 1948 as Casbah, a musical produced by Universal Pictures, starring singer Tony Martin and Yvonne De Carlo. The film was directed by John Berry. A 1949 Italian version, Tot Le Moko featured the comedian Tot.
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 Bros. film Casablanca which was written specifically for Hedy Lamarr in the female lead role. However, MGM refused to release Hedy Lamarr despite all efforts by Warners.
Charles Boyer's invitation to "Come with me to ze Casbah," did not appear in the film, but still became the comedians standard imitation of Boyer, much like "Play it again, Sam" for Humphrey Bogart and "Judy, Judy, Judy" for Cary Grant – all apocryphal lines. Boyer hated being reduced in that way, believing that it demeaned him as an actor.
In some part, the lampoon of Boyer spread owing to its use by Looney Tunes cartoon character Pepé Le Pew, himself a spoof of Boyer as Pépé le Moko. The amorous skunk used "Come with me to ze Casbah" as a pickup line. In 1954, the Looney Tunes cartoon The Cats Bah which specifically spoofed Algiers, the skunk enthusiastically declared to Penelope the Cat, "Do not come with me to ze Casbah … We shall make beautiful musics [sic] togezzer right 'ere!"