May 22, 2014

Charles Boyer, Algiers

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Prior to watching Algiers, I figured I had to first see 1937's Pépé le Moko as a way of honoring the original. And as it would turn out, I ended up really enjoying the picture as well as Jean Gabin's performance. But I should have known better--as is usually the case with remakes, Pépé le Moko was all I could think about while I was watching Algiers, and what Gabin did as Pépé le Moko was all I could think of while watching Charles Boyer. So the challenge here lies in separating Boyer's work from my own biased idea of what the work really ought to be.

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Perhaps I was so disenchanted by Algiers because it is such a literal remake--with the same footage ripped from the original and a shot-by-shot replication in some scenes--that in turn it made me particularly weary of Boyer. It should come as no surprise that Boyer would be cast as le Moko--he's handsome, suave, and...French. But what seems like slam-dunk casting ends up revealing itself to be a miscasting. Boyer's a little choppy when it comes to the acting. For starters, Boyer isn't speaking in his native tongue like Gabin is, so whenever Boyer speaks it comes off as awkward whereas Gabin comes off as so far more smoother, effortlessly cool, and in control of himself in Pépé le Moko, all of which I feel are critical elements to the le Moko character. This French character speaking English thing didn't bother me as much in Conquest, but the loud speaking fitted Napoleon and any discomfort in the speaking was made up for by Boyer's commanding body language. In Algiers, a lot of Boyer's delivery is stiff--there's a scene that comes to mind where Boyer is yelling and choking a man, and while you can hear his tone of voice voice rise his face is disconnectedly blank, as if he's too focused on saying the words right to act. Further, I found Boyer to be a little too solemn and almost too sophisticated in his nature to successfully pull off a low-life criminal. Thus, I never felt as though his le Moko was a dangerous man, and he's much too graceful a performer to really convince when le Moko becomes more volatile in the latter half of the film. Boyer's range is limited; the roles I've seen of his are more geared towards the extroverted, and he's not very capable of pulling off the introverted cocktail of anxiety, frustration, and imprisonment. I don't see any expressiveness or inner turmoil when I look at Boyer--I just see empty faces that are supposed to read as heavy moments. Compared to Gabin, it's a rather uninspired performance, but even if Algiers wasn't a remake, I would still say that Boyer lacks the galvanization needed to make le Moko work. It's sort of just a watered-down copy of a superior work.