UK / 84 minutes / bw / George King, British Aviation, British Lion Dir: George King Pr: John Stafford Scr: Brock Williams, Katherine Strueby, John Clements Story: Dorothy Hope Cine: Otto Heller Cast: James Mason, Carla Lehmann, Raymond Lovell, Enid Stamp Taylor, Walter Rilla, Pamela Stirling, Lea Seidl, Sybilla Binder, Hella Kurty, Paul Bonifas, Leslie Bradley, Harold Berens, Cot D’Ordan, Richard George, Meinhart Maur, Jacques Metadier, Michel Morel, Bart Norman, Richard Molinas, MacDonald Parke, Graham Penley, Albert Whelan.
Although this is often listed as a war movie, it’s barely more so than, say, CASABLANCA (1942), which was set in roughly the same place, time and circumstances: North Africa; 1942; in theory the war hasn’t yet spread here but in practice the various forces are jostling for advantage preparatory to what they know is coming. It’s odd that two movies so highly dissimilar should share the same basic elements.
Susan (Carla Lehmann) eyes Alan (James Mason) and That Mustache.
We find Susan Ann Foster (Lehmann), from Kansas, recovering consciousness in a bed at the Hospital of the Little Sisters, Tunis, shortly after the Allies have liberated Tunisia. She tells one of the sisters (Seidl) the story of how one night, alone in the house of her uncle and aunt in Biskra, Algeria, she came upon Alan Thurston (Mason), a British soldier on the run from the Nazis—and in particular from the sinister Dr. Müller (Rilla), the local representative of the German Armistice Commission. Müller arrives, Alan hides, and Susan does her best to fool Herr Doktor, even though the latter quite obviously knows that Alan’s somewhere around. As Alan explains once the Nazi has gone, Müller doesn’t in fact want to catch him—just to follow him to the location of a particular camera, hidden by Alan’s dead comrade in the bureau of the popular singer Maritza (Taylor). Inside the camera is a film containing a photograph of a map that’s of crucial importance to both Allies and Axis . . .
Susan (Carla Lehmann) inquires after Alan at the Cafe Toutgout.
In due course Susan infiltrates Maritza’s Algiers apartment, steals the camera and fends off the lecherous attentions of Maritza’s elderly Nazi lover, Kolonel Gottlieb von Alven (Lovell). That night Susan dines at the Hôtel Meditteranée with Henri de Lange (Bradley), a French soldier who loves her deeply and yearns to marry her, but is prepared to settle for friendship. When she’s spotted by both Maritza and von Alven, she flees . . .
The sinister Dr Müller (Walter Rilla).
. . . straight into the arms of Müller’s goons, who take her to their master. Müller, unaware that Susan in fact has the camera secreted in her evening purse, seems prepared to torture its location out of her. Before he can do so, however, she’s rescued by Alan, who takes her to his pad in the Casbah—where, he maintains, they’ll be perfectly safe and the Germans would never dare to come. Supplies are brought to them by Yvette (Stirling), the Parisian waitress/”hostess” at the Café Toutgout, who loves Alan passionately but accepts she can never have him. (She’s the movie’s second character, after Henri, to be in this situation.)
Susan (Carla Lehmann) knows she can rely on her best bud Henri de Lange (Leslie Bradley).
Step on it, Pierre!
Despite Alan’s prediction, Müller arrives; Alan and Susan overpower him; Yvette shoots dead Müller’s head goon Schultz (Maur). Schultz had just received a telegram indicating that the Nazis have cottoned on to what’s happening at the lonely house indicated on the map on the camera film. So the pair steal Müller’s car and drive posthaste to Cap Hazard, where the house is, to warn the Allied military bigshots assembled there that Müller and his Nazis aren’t far behind. Without that warning, the Allied invasion of North Africa might not have succeeded . . .
Yvette (Pamela Stirling) and Susan (Carla Lehmann) build bridges.
Obviously this fast-paced movie was intended as a morale-booster and to rally support in the US for the British and French stand against the Nazis. Even so, it manages to do this with the minimum of preachiness, the sole lapse being toward the end, when the US General Mark Clark (Parke) and the Frenchman who owns the lonely Cap Hazard house, M. Brizet (Bonifas), are discussing the fact that they must put a lamp in the window to indicate to submariners offshore that the coast is clear. Says Brizet:
I know that when I light this candle I light a flame that will drive the enemy out of Africa, a flame that will be carried across the waters and across the continent of Europe to the very heart of Berlin.
The plot relies heavily on the MacGuffin of the camera and the map it contains, but that aspect is handled quite adroitly; it tends to be only after the movie is over that you realize how ramshackle the plot’s underpinning actually is. Mason is his usual self, although he spends the first part of the movie encumbered by a RAF-style mustache that Susan derides—quite correctly—as ludicrous. Lehmann holds her own, and there’s a really quite affecting turn from Stirling as the little French waitress who dreams of making it home to Paris so that she might revisit a tree where once, as a child, she carved her initials.
Alan (James Mason) developing the all-important film.
It’s sometimes said that Candlelight in Algeria is very similar to Tomorrow We Live (1943; vt At Dawn We Die), which was also directed by King and based on a story by Hope. Not to be confused with Edgar G. Ulmer’s film noir TOMORROW WE LIVE (1942; vt The Man with a Conscience), this is set among French Resistance fighters and, frankly, I fail to see the similarity.
On Amazon.com: Best of British Classics: Candlelight In Algeria