Candlelight in Algeria is a short, fun movie, mixing facts and fiction. James Mason plays a British spy who is chased by the Germans and helped by a very feisty American girl. They form a very funny duo and flavour this spy story with elements of the screwball comedy. She is an endearing heroine, really, and in stark contrast to the British spy. She never reacts the way he would expect a woman to react. She is courageous and foolhardy at the same time and pretty much living every moment to the fullest. I don’t think she cares too much about politics. She gets involved with Mason’s character because she loves adventures.
The location, Algeria, makes for some interesting decor, the black and white works well but don’t expect a Casablanca like movie. It is totally different. You won’t find heartache, sorrow, betrayal or an alcoholic brooding silently.
The protagonists meet in Algiers, when the agent Alan Thurston (James Mason) hides in the house of friends of Susan Foster (Carla Lehmann). He is looking for a camera which contains photos that will reveal the exact location where the Allies rehearse the invasion of North Africa. Susan is fascinated by Mason and probably also fancies him from the start and spontaneously decides to help him. The unlikely couple will try to get the camera back and in doing so are constantly hunted by Dr. Muller, an evil Nazi sympathiser. Dangerous and comical moments alternate.
Maybe it isn’t the greatest achievement of British cinema history but it is very likable and I often enjoy the contrasting of British and American characters in movies of the 40s. I found it particularly fascinating as I had just watched Patton before that begins at the very same moment in history which is at the heart of Candlelight in Algeria. This movie is occasionally also mentioned in lists of forgotten noir movies.
Picture this: It is a hot summer day. 45°/113° in the shade. The sun is blaring. Water is scarce. You are more than just thirsty. You have to overcome a lot of obstacles to get out of the sweltering heat. But at the end of the day the coldest lager in the Middle East is waiting for you.
What are you going to say: “Worth waiting for”.
Now this is exactly what John Mills´ character Captain Anson says after they finally arrive at Alex. Ice Cold in Alex tells how they get there.
In 1942 a little group of people, two nurses, two British officers and a suspicious South African officer attempt to cross the desert from Tobruk to Alexandria, crossing minefields and enemy territory. They have to fight more than the heat, flat tires and German attacks. Captain Mills must try and come to terms with his alcohol problem. After his drinking leads to a disaster he swears he will not drink anymore until they are in Alex.
Ice Cold in Alex is a real classic. The black and white makes the actors look twice as expressive as they would have been anyway. It is an adventure story in front of a WWII background.
It is not your ordinary action-driven, combat-flick but a fine piece of British cinema. And the end-scene, when they finally make it to the bar and get their lager is memorable.
Apparently they had to shoot the scene so often that John Mills was really drunk at the end of it.
Another interesting observation: this is probably one of the earliest examples of product placement in a movie.