Our Man in Havana (1959)
“Everything’s legal in Havana.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
… good use of authentic locations in Cuba:
… and an all-star cast:
… the story never really coheres. As DVD Savant (actually a fan of the film) describes it:
However, Savant later calls out its “authentic background, expressive direction and interesting characters,” and notes that this “politically astute” film “suggests the horrors of Batista’s police state without making any statements about the revolution to come.” Clearly, one either responds to the approach taken here or not — and it didn’t quite work for me. Reading TCM’s article at least helped to explain why Guinness himself comes across in such a bland and uninteresting fashion:
Morrow also seems miscast as Guinness’s daughter (despite only being 20 years old in real life, she looks older), and her casual relationship with creepy Kovacs simply makes her seem like even more of a dimwit.
Meanwhile, O’Hara’s character isn’t given nearly enough distinction (she’s truly just a beautiful “Girl Friday”):
… and other supporting players (Coward, Richardson, Ives) are either vague or underdeveloped. I didn’t mind being confused for most of the beginning of the screenplay, given that spy yarns are inherently complex, and the addition of made-up narratives would necessarily complicate things further — but I wasn’t quite able to follow along as dominos began to fall. Perhaps a rewatch would help, though I’m not especially inclined.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
One thought on “Our Man in Havana (1959)”
First viewing. A once-must, as a good show and for Guinness’ performance. The assessment states, “Clearly, one either responds to the approach taken here or not…” – and clearly I did. I don’t really find it an uneven film. As well, in spite of Guinness and Reed not responding well to each other, I believe almost any good actor would say to himself, ‘Well, it’s going to be *my* performance up there on the screen. I better do *something*.’ Maybe my overall enthusiasm is rooted in recently becoming a Greene fan (though I’ve not yet tackled this particular novel). As it happens, I bought the blu-ray in its limited release before Twilight Time went out of business – and I’m glad I did, as I plan to see the film again.
As per my 5/3/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):
“Oh, there are lots of other jobs that aren’t real.”
‘Our Man in Havana’ (1959): In pre-revolutionary Cuba, a modest vacuum salesman and single father (Alec Guinness) finds himself concerned about future security for his now-teenage daughter. As fate would have it, he falls into the path of a British Secret Service rep (Noel Coward) who offers him a potentially lucrative position as an agent. His having no experience as an agent is not a deterrent: he needs money; he takes the job. But how will he *do* the job?, he wonders. Easy – or so a German friend (Burl Ives) tells him: make stuff up. So he does… and complicated consequences ensue.
If I’m not mistaken, this may be the only attempt on the part of author Graham Greene and director Carol Reed to concoct an actual comedy. But to designate the film as such would be misleading. This is the kind of film that seems to slowly insinuate itself until the plot locks in. At that point, it does appear to be quite funny (in a droll sort of way)… until what’s funny turns darker and deadlier.
I’d never seen this film before – and I loved it! Of course, Guinness is (again) perfection but so is everyone around him. I especially liked Ernie Kovacs (of all people but brilliant) as the Cuban police captain (“One never tortures except by mutual agreement.”) – and Maureen O’Hara gives one of her loveliest performances as the person the Secret Service sends in to be Guinness’ secretary.
In a teensy role as a professor is Ferdy Mayne (who would go on to star as Count von Krolock in ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’; I *must* look for him in other films).
Also of note is the superb – enhanced by blu-ray – work of DP Oswald Morris (who also filmed ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Lolita’ and another espionage classic ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’).