Friday, September 30, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: The Man from Cairo (1953)

During World War II, the French government apparently shipped a ginormous amount of gold out of the country before those pesky Nazis got their bratwurst-and-sauerkraut-stained fingers on it.  The gold was shipped to various locales throughout Northern Africa…but one consignment valued at $100 million was “liberated” by a contingent of soldiers and, since it has not turned up after all these years, is very much in demand by French Intelligence.  Things have become so dire that an American detective named Charles Stark (Richard McNamara) has been persuaded to do a little digging into the matter…beginning with locating and interrogating one of the only surviving members of that gang of thieves, a man named Emile Touchard (Guido Celano).

I don’t know how Stark got to be a detective…but I suspect it has something to do with the phrase “mail order correspondence.”  You see, Stark proves to be completely useless in The Singular Affair of the Going, Going, Gone Gold.  It’s a friend of Charlie’s, tourist Mike Canelli (George Raft), who will provide the solution to this case—because the Algerian gendarmes mistake him for Stark.  Canelli finds himself up to his neck in intrigue and double crosses during his stay in Algiers, getting involved with femme fatale Lorraine Beloyan (Gianna Maria Canale) and her saloon proprietor boyfriend Basil Constantine (Massimo Serato), not to mention a mysterious professor (Alfredo Varelli) and a transport tycoon.  The local police captain, Akhim Bey (Leon Lenoir), doesn’t seem to be on the up-and-up either.

This is about as much of The Man from Cairo (1953) that I remember; I nodded off a few times as I was watching the DVD so I can’t completely vouch for my ability for total recall where the plot is concerned.  All I could think about while the movie was in progress was “Why the heck is this thing called The Man from Cairo when it takes place in Algiers?”  (It kind of reminded me of 1953’s Abbott & Costello Go to Mars; Bud and Lou actually land on Venus in that film…though one critic was unable to resist ad-libbing in his review: “…and not a moment too soon.”)

When I grabbed The Man from Cairo from the “VCI Forgotten Noir” pile, I became a little excited because…well, this is going to take explanation.  Old-time radio fans will remember a series entitled Rocky Jordan, a program that aired over CBS Radio between 1948 and 1950 and starring Jack Moyles as the proprietor of the Café Tambourine in Cairo—a slightly shady dive that attracted a most disreputable criminal element.  Moyles’ Jordan played amateur sleuth and matched wits with black marketers, murderers, desert raiders, con artists, ex-Nazis, etc. while trying to stay one step ahead of the local constabulary, represented by Captain Sam Sabaaya (Jay Novello), the prefect of police.

Unless you lived in the West Coast listening area, chances are you didn’t hear Rocky Jordan until June of 1951, when the Tiffany network resurrected the show on both coasts as a summer replacement for Mr. Chameleon.  That incarnation, which ended August 22, 1951, replaced Moyles with the man currently being discussed in this blog post: George Raft hisself.  So I was kinda sorta hoping The Man from Cairo would be adapted from the Jordan series…but I guess into everyone’s life a little rain must fall.

My Rocky Jordan hopes dashed to the ground, I sought solace in the suggestion that Cairo might be good for a few chuckles, beginning with its Theremin-laced theme that runs over the opening credits.  (“They’re trying to hypnotize me into watching this thing!” I thought to myself.)  There’s also some unintentional hilarity in an establishing scene where you see the Eiffel Tower, and then “Paris” is superimposed over it.  But you see “Paris” for maybe two seconds, as if someone in the editing room realized “Hell, they know where they are…”  (It’s Kings Island, Lurlene!)  Admittedly, I did laugh out loud when Raft’s Canelli suggests to the Algiers police—after they keep rifling through the suitcases/trunks in his hotel room—that he’ll keep his luggage in the lobby from now on, to save them having to walk upstairs.

Most of time during Cairo, however, I snored out loud.  I’ve stated previously in this space (when I reviewed I’ll Get You [1952]—which looks a heck of a lot better in retrospect compared to this fromage) that Raft was a rather limited actor; he was very good as a bad guy in vehicles like Scarface (1932) and Each Dawn I Die (1940) …but in many of the good movies he appeared in, the heavy lifting was done by others in the cast.  (Sure, They Drive by Night [1940] is a great movie…but if Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino weren’t in it no one would remember the darn thing.)  Raft does not—as he did in the superior Loan Shark (1952)—receive any help from Cairo’s supporting cast; the only bright spot is an appearance from Irene Papas (to whom I pledged my devotion ever since I saw her in Tribute to a Bad Man [1956]), and she doesn’t even make it to the end of the film.  George’s co-star, Gianna Maria Canale, enjoyed a prosperous career as an Italian film star (she’s in Lust of the Vampire and Hercules) but she not only has a significant height advantage over her leading man…I worried she might step on him.

The Man from Cairo spots a dominant Italian cast (whose voices are very badly dubbed); the Italian version of the film (Dramma nella Kasbah/Avventura ad Algeri) was directed by Edoardo Anton (he also co-wrote the script) while the U.S. edition was the directorial swan song of Ray Enright—a former Mack Sennett gag writer who rode herd on a number of Warner Brothers features including Alibi Ike (1935), Hard to Get (1938), and The Wagons Roll at Night (1941).  Enright handles things fairly competently—it’s the dull script that really does Cairo in (from Eugene Ling and Philip & Janet Stevenson); I’m starting to understand why Mark Thomas McGee’s book on Robert L. Lippert (available from BearManor Media) is titled Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive.  Andrew “Grover” Leal and I were discussing on Facebook the other day how some motion picture celebrities often take toxic gigs for a free vacation.  I hope George’s Algerian holiday was a pleasant one.

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