Bogey is an American gunrunner (and yes, club owner) in 1925 Damascas (That’s Syria, to you), seeing much financial gain in arming rebels involved in a struggle, completely ambivalent about the politics. The struggle involves Syrians rebelling against a French-mandate given by the League of Nations, but Bogey’s taken a profit-viewed stance, not a moral one. Then he meets and falls for Marta Toren, the icy main squeeze of moody, possessive (yet quietly honourable) French Intelligence Chief Lee J. Cobb. Cobb, a somewhat peace-minded but temperamental chap, is trying to keep his superior (a terrific cameo by Everett Sloane) from executing five Syrian hostages for every French soldier killed, something Cobb thinks will only make things worse. But he’s having a bugger of a time talking to the other mob, too. Zero Mostel has a fun small part as a fellow smuggler (with even less scruples than Bogey), and a nearly unrecognisable Jeff Corey also has a cameo as one of Bogey’s contacts.
1951 Curtis Bernhardt (“The Blue Veil”, “Beau Brummel”) riff on “Casablanca” might not have that film’s prestige, but it moves at a quicker pace, gives us a few interesting characters to gravitate towards (not to mention a conflict that is still somewhat relevant today), and offers some minor pleasures. Chief among these is the terrific B&W cinematography by Burnett Guffey (“From Here to Eternity”, “Bonnie and Clyde”), focussing a lot on back alleys and underground tunnels, all gloriously captured at night.
Bogey is fine in one of his most interesting roles (despite a few similarities to his “Casablanca” character), Cobb solid as ever, though Toren is no match for Ingrid Bergman. Scripted by A.I. Bezzerides (“The Angry Hills”), and Hans Jacoby (The Claude Rains version of “Phantom of the Opera”), this is no “Casablanca” (much as I’m not a fan of that film, really), but is still maybe worth a look and a minor diversion. It’s not bad.