“Our Man in Havana,” (1959) is a black and white almost-famous British mystery/drama/thriller/comedy created by the same hands that created the justly famous, immortal thriller THE THIRD MAN. In this case, the film is based on the celebrated, greatly-esteemed novel of the same name, OUR MAN IN HAVANA, by the admired British author Graham Greene, who also wrote both screenplays. And it’s directed by Sir Carol Reed, who also helmed “Third Man.” And yes, Carol Reed is a man. Greene, apparently inspired by cold war paranoia, penned this cynical comedy about vacuum cleaner salesman Jim Wormold (played by the much-honored Sir Alec Guinness), whose territory happens to be pre-revolutionary Cuba. He is approached by Hawthorne (played by the witty Noel Coward), a high-ranking undercover intelligence agent of the British Government, to become Her Majesty’s man in Havana. Wormold is none too successful, lives above the vacuum cleaner shop with his expensive daughter Milly, and needs more money, so he accepts, without having the slightest idea of what he is to do. His friend, the ex-patriate German doctor Hasselbacher, advises him that the best secrets are entirely fictitious. So Wormold starts exercising his imagination, and for a while becomes quite successful at it, until the wrong people start taking his flights of fantasy too seriously. The movie boasts a distinguished British cast, for the most part. First Guinness, initially considered a comic (KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS), who then became an Oscar winner for the strong war drama THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and then became famous all over again for the Star Wars trilogy. Noel Coward, a popular playwright and actor (THE NOEL COWARD COLLECTION). Sir Ralph Richardson (THE FALLEN IDOL) as “C”, head of British intelligence. Paul Rogers as Hubert Carter, representative of a competing vacuum cleaner firm. Raymond Huntley as the general; Maurice Denham as the admiral, and Maureen O’Hara as Beatrice Severn, sent out from London by British Intelligence to be Wormold’s security-conscious secretary. Then, several American actors were cast. Jo Morrow, as Wormold’s daughter Milly: she looks twenty years too old for the part, has a strong American accent, didn’t convince me for a second. Folk singer Burl Ives as Dr. Hasselbacher: didn’t convince me for a minute. And comedian Ernie Kovacs as local police chief Capt. Segura, who’s supposed to be as fond of torture as the pre-revolutionary Batista regime of Cuba encouraged him to be, and therefore terrorizes the local population, while he lusts for Milly: not for a millisecond. In fact, according to the Internet site IMDb, interviews and diaries of Guinness and Coward make clear that they were unhappy with the casting of Ives and Kovacs, and, from where I sit; it sure seems like a huge mistake. “Our Man,” cynical as it may be at heart, has a tacked-on happy Hollywood ending, gives us great gobs of Greene’s thought, and is extremely slow going, besides. But what troubles me most about it is that it succeeds in making pre-revolutionary Havana, a beautiful tropical city that never slept, dull. Now, IMDb states that Fidel Castro's new government gave permission for this film, which presents the fallen regime of Fulgencio Batista in an unflattering light and condemns American and British meddling, to shoot on location in Havana, only three months after the revolution. However, IMDb adds that the script had to be submitted to Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, which insisted that 39 changes be made, to make life under the Batista regime look even worse. Mind you, Greene, author of the underlying book, always had great serendipity in his wanderings. “Our Man” was published in October, 1956; on New Years Day 1959 the revolutionary Castro came down from the Cuban mountains to sweep into power. Greene’s book gives us Batista’s etiolated Havana on a plate. So where did Havana go?
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