Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Five Doors Bar [khamsa bab] (1983, Egypt)

Fouad El-Mohandes, Adel Imam and Nadia El Guindy shown in an 11x14 still from Nader Galal's Five Doors Bar.

Plot Summary

This film is an Egyptian adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1963 film Irma La Douce starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. In the 40s Kollu Mashi (Fouad El-Mohandes) owned the Five Doors Bar in Cairo's Ezbekiyyah quarter, where illicit relationships were allowed. The prostitute Taragi (Nadia El Guindy) worked with the pimp Abbas (Fouad Ahmed) who took a share of her daily take and protected her and number of the other girls of the night in the neighborhood. The police officer on duty was in the habit of taking a fee in exchange for not disclosing what was happening.

An upright officer named Mansur (Adel Imam) was transferred to the neighborhood; all the efforts to bribe him, as had been done with his predecessor, failed. One night he even took everybody to the police station. The pimp Abbas contrived a retaliatory scheme, with help from Taragi, to stash some narcotics in Mansur's room, then reported him to the police. Mansur was then fired from the police force.

Mansur began working as a ruffian laborer, dominating the neighborhood. He fell in love with Taragi. He tried to save money for her so she could live a better life and disguised himself as a rich foreigner who appeared occasionally as one of Taragi's customers. This is the plot's weakest element, for the viewer is asked to believe that Taragi is sleeping alternately with Mansur and his foreigner alter ego without realizing they are the same man!

Mansur knew Taragi was supporting an invalid son at a nearby rehabilitation facility and paid the boy's expenses. He married Taragi after she repented and gave up prostitution, and the pimp Abbas was arrested after a dramatic fight scene in which Mansur gave him a good clubbing with some sticks he found in an alley.


This film was skillfully acted with the three lead characters played by some of the real giants of Egyptian cinema, Fouad El-Mohandes, Adel Imam and Nadia El Guindy. It had beautiful sets and high production values from Nader Galal, one of Egypt's great directors. The work provided the most wholesome sort of entertainment: a dramatic love story and a tale of moral restoration and evil vanquished.

Yet the film was banned, in all probability due at least in part to the presence among the bar patrons of a male cross-dresser and dancer. This man, though prominently featured, was just an incidental character in the plot; but in 1983 Egyptian authorities might not have been ready for a public exhibition of gay behavior.

Since Egypt relies heavily on its police to maintain order and state control, it is also possible the film's portrayal of a criminal who outwits a policeman might have been deemed inappropriate as public entertainment.

Egyptian film poster for Nader Galal's The Five Doors Bar [khamsa bab] (1983)

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