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Missing from Home Video: TANGIER (1946)

MontezTANGIER011946’s international intrigue thriller TANGIER produced at Universal — the best of the second-tier Hollywood studios — is a juicy mash-up of Warner Brothers’ CASABLANCA, with a little of 1938’s ALGIERS thrown into the mix.   There’s a chic nightclub populated with gents in white dinner jackets and uniforms of various loyalties, shady deals with political motivations, and even a final sequence with a guy and gal at a misty airport climbing in a twin-engine plane departing for Lisbon.   But instead of Dooley Wilson entertaining the customers with “As Time Goes By,” you get Sabu singing “Polly-Wolly-Doodle” (keeping “She’ll Be Coming ’round the Mountain” for an encore).

[I can hear the story conference at Universal right now:  “Tangier, Algiers, Casablanca:  what’s the diff??”]  

While it’s fun to detect the parallels in these films, there are even deeper pleasures in discerning the unique Black-and-White splendor of TANGIER, including the goddess-like screen presence of its star, Maria Montez, and the focused eloquence of its director, George Waggner.

Born in the Dominican Republic and dubbed “Dominican Dynamite”, “The Caribbean Cyclone” and “The Queen of Technicolor” by the publicists of Universal, Montez was the embodiment of exotic allure during WW2, whose lurid over-the-top films such as ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES, WHITE SAVAGE and SUDAN later inspired comedy (Carol Burnett TV sketches), literature (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Gore Vidal’s Myron) and sumptuous artwork by rebel artists such as Jack Smith, whose films BUZZARDS OVER BAGHDAD, FLAMING CREATURES, and performance pieces like I WAS A FEMALE YVONNE DeCARLO were all virtual love songs to Montez.

George Waggner toggled between directing and producing at Universal, helming one of the best of its classic-era horror films, THE WOLF MAN (1941), and producing the most worshiped of all Montez films, COBRA WOMANTANGIER was another testament of his filmmaking talent.  

Waggner creates tension and atmosphere in TANGIER.

Waggner creates tension and atmosphere in TANGIER.

The plot involves Maria Montez as a dancer in one of Tangier’s toney nightclubs during the era when Morocco was still under Spanish (i.e., Franco) rule.   Her dancing is only a cover because she’s on a mission to find the Fascist officer who tortured and killed her father and brothers during the Spanish Civil War.   [Other story elements include a stolen diamond and a fugitive Nazi with a knife in his back.]   Her leading man is Robert Paige who as a contract player had performed opposite the full range of Universal’s talent, from Lon Chaney Jr. (SON OF DRACULA) to Deanna Durbin (CAN’T HELP SINGING).
"What'll it be?? <em>Polly-Wolly-Doodle</em> or <em>She'll Be Coming ’round the Mountain</em>?"

What'll it be?? Polly-Wolly-Doodle or She'll Be Coming ’round the Mountain?

Despite the from-the-roster casting of the leading man, this film was a step up in film calibre for Montez:  she actually had a dance double for this movie (in previous films where she had exotic hoochey-coochey numbers, Montez performed them herself, proving that dance was not her strongest talent).   Also, instead of wearing clothes made by Universal’s in-house designer Vera West, she was dressed by Travis Banton who had built the deifying wardrobe for Dietrich in her films for Josef von Sternberg.
Girl and Guy leave for Lisbon from a misty airport at the end of TANGIER

Girl and Guy leave for Lisbon from a misty airport at the end of TANGIER

Some of the best performances come from the supporting cast, including the neglected B-Movie demi-diva Louise Allbritton (whose subplot affair with Montez’ dancing partner lifts images and situations from the Sigrid Gurie – Charles Boyer subplot in ALGIERS) and Preston Foster as the corrupt and powerful police colonel (his 1932 performance in THE LAST MILE was one of the strongest and most understated performances in early talking movies).

J. Edward Bromberg (center)

J. Edward Bromberg (center)

The great N.Y. theatre actor J. Edward Bromberg played a mysterious character hanging around in the shadows of the nightclub.   When Bromberg was later blacklisted as a Communist, the strain was such that he died of a heart attack in 1951.   Actress Lee Grant delivered his eulogy at the funeral which, according to a TV interview, blacklisted her from the film industry too:   a banishment that lasted 15 years.

However, soaring above the waves of murders, switcheroos, acts of bravery, and passing of secret messages were the gorgeous camera angles and sculpted images bursting from the imaginations of director Waggner and cinematographer Elwood Bredell.     Nothing speaks about the voluptuousness of TANGIER like its luminous, burnished images.   I’ll end this post with a collage of frame captures:


Doug / PoMo Joan

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7 Comments to “Missing from Home Video: TANGIER (1946)”

  1. I LOVE YOUR SITE! You are the most insightful person I’ve seen on the internet in quite some time. I really dig the style you use, I mean it. I’ve been writing a review every day since January 1st, and I wish every day that I could write like this. You’re going up on my blogroll right this instant!

  2. Doug says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words. They’re very much appreciated. Looking forward to reading your site!!

  3. […] favorites (think Casablanca, Pal Joey, That’s Entertainment, Singin’ in the Rain, Tangier). It was a marvelous way to mature into adulthood, and this family tradition has obviously […]

  4. Jim Healey says:

    Robert Paige was my 1st cousin. I’m his biggest fan. After 1944’s “Can’t Help Singing” in tecnicolor with Deanna Durbin, Paige got only 2 film roles at Universal, “Shady Lady”1945 and “Tangier”. Then he was released. Tangier is my favorite because he seems so macho and two-fisted
    in it. He got better as he aged. How about his big dying scene in “Split Second”, 1953 and his pal role opposite Susan Hayward in “The Marriage Go Round”? I’ve held some film festivals in his honor, calling him “The King of the B’s. I think his best notices were for his work in “Son of Dracula.”

    • Doug says:

      Jim, I *totally* agree that Paige is a great tough guy in this film. I’m so glad to hear that you promote the work of this frequently-overlooked actor. I loved SPLIT SECOND when I was a kid, but haven’t seen it recently; I’ll have to look out for it. How cool that Paige was your cousin. Did you see him a lot when you were growing up??

      • Jim Healey says:

        I saw Paige a couple of times when I was a kid, then again when I was in grad school at UCLA. In 1980 he and his wife came to my house in Hayward to “see his shrine” as he put it. He got a big two page interview in our local paper written by my friend Ray Orrock, entitled “Paige From History”
        I have a huge scrapbook about him, lots of his film posters and about 43 of his 67 films, even the Decca album from “Can’t Help Singing”.

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