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.
Do NOT mix this up with the US movie with the same title. They are not exactly in the same league. The US movie is very clearly a B-Movie and has absolutely no war theme in it. Tomorrow We Live aka At Dawn We Die is a British movie on the French Resistance. It is unlike anything I have seen before. Apparently the film makers got the support of General de Gaulle. Be it as it may, this is forties cinema at its best. Atmospheric, black and white, gaslight feeling… It seems as if every scene was shot in the studio (and likely was) which makes it look at times like a theater play. It does look artificial but it also has a very special charm because of this. Many of the scenes reminded me of the feel of an Edith Piaf song.
Jean Baptiste, a member of the French Resistance is a fugitive on his way to England. He lands in a little occupied French town swarming with Nazis. A young woman, the daughter of the mayor, helps him to hide and find a place where he can spend the night. There are quite a few female characters who all have an interest in Jean Baptiste. Some want romance, others see their son in him, and others just want to help him and use him for their plans. The mayor and his daughter are seen by many as collaborators. In fact this is just a cover for them. Unknown to anyone they are the leaders of the town’s resistance and organize many acts of sabotage. Like in any Resistance movie you have some vile and treacherous characters who really collaborate.It’s frankly quite entertaining but what I liked most is that it is so dated. Movies like this are not done anymore. They were probably not even done anymore in the fifties. I would say it has an appeal for any cinephile and not necessarily for someone interested in war movies only. Some of the characters are great, reminiscent of Fellini. Many are funny eccentrics. And we got some mean and ridiculous Germans too. The way they are treated is quite amusing. They are so full of themselves, it’s easy to annoy them; loud yawning and singing during a broadcast of Hitler at the cinema will suffice, to infuriate them.
Tomorrow We Live is special and entertaining, the right thing to watch during the festive season. I can see how this was supported by de Gaulle. It bestowed a little light on those dark and bleak days of the Vichy Regime.