Our Man in Havana Film Details
Overview: Jim Wormold, who is a vacuum cleaner salesman, participates as an Agent in the British Secret Service. But he soon realizes that his plans by lying are going to get him into trouble.
Tagline: A murderously funny story, magnificently cast… marvelously made !
Review: Carol Reed directed some matchless films, “The Third Man” among them. He was capable of clunkers too, like “The Public Eye.” This one is somewhere in between but probably closer to “The Third Man.” At any rate, it’s light years ahead of most of the junk showing up on screens today, though they cost a million times more. Alec Guiness, in a performance both effective and casual, runs a vacuum cleaner shop in Bautista’s Havana. He’s not doing that well. The palmetto bugs object to the noise. His daughter, Jo Morrow, though is now a budding seventeen-year-old in a convent school and has expensive tastes. And Guiness wants to send her to school in Switzerland, an expensive proposition. In other words, Guiness finds himself in a dilemma common to us non-millionaires, in a vice whose heads consist of expenses and income. But his life changes. He’s contacted by the prim, cautious Noel Coward who wants to hire him as a spy for the British Secret Service. Guiness sensibly pooh-poohs the proposition until Coward mentions the salary, at which Guiness gulps and nervously accepts. Coward explains the deal. Guiness will receive his tax-free salary and just “keep an eye on things”, sending regular reports to London. He will also have to hire his own agents, who will also receive salaries through Guiness, and who will submit regular reports. A dream come true for the impecunious vacuum shop proprietor. Giddy with delight, he begins making up the names of agents, picking them from phone books and dance hall placards. Pressed for specific information, he draws a picture of one of his vacuum cleaners, claims it is based on the report of one of his agents, that it is a huge installation in the mountains, and sends that in. Regrettably, London takes the report seriously, although Coward remarks tentatively that it looks a little as if it’s made up of vacuum cleaner parts. The Chief, Ralph Richardson, admits that it does, but why not build a giant vacuum cleaner as a weapon? The revelation is important enough for London to send an experienced agent and cryptographer, along with staff and equipment, to Havana, where all lodge in Guiness’s cramped quarters. His chief assistant is Maureen O’Hara. Somewhere around the point of no return, the story turns rather serious. The Havana constabulary get wind of the operation. And there is “another side” that tries to assassinate Guiness. A couple of deaths, one of them tragic, precede the ironically happy ending. It’s usually billed as a comedy and I guess it is, but don’t expect to laugh out loud at any of the dialog or scenes. They’re smile worthy but low key. A good deal of the humor depends on Guiness’s performance and he delivers. But, again, the pace is never frantic. I’ll give two examples. When Coward recruits Guiness, he takes him into the men’s room of one of the local bars, where he checks for hidden microphones, turns on the taps, and makes Guiness hide in one of the stalls so that, should anyone enter, Coward and Guiness won’t be seen together. That’s pretty ridiculous in itself, but it gets worse when Guiness tries by himself to recruit an engineer as one of his agents. He approaches the astonished man in the men’s room and tries to coax him into one of the stalls while explaining that he’ll tell the engineer what to do later. The engineer mistakes Guiness’s intentions. The preceding paragraph was a single example of the humor, though it may look like two. Here comes the second example. It’s short. Ready? After the story takes a serious turn, Coward invites Guiness to lunch al fresco and tells him matter-of-factly that persons unknown are out to kill him by poisoning him. Guiness is in the middle of slurping a Planter’s Punch and does a semi-spit take. Carol Reed frames the shot of Guiness so that he’s almost hidden by a bankful of lillies in full bloom. (Kids: Lillies? Funerals?) Oh, well. Let me add that just before this exchange, in a practiced gesture at keeping their conversation hidden, Coward gets up and closes the door between the bar and the tables outside, but the door, like the wall, is nothing more than a few poles of bamboo criss-crossing wide open space. Whether or not it was intended as a comment on Noel Coward’s own proclivities, everywhere he goes, dressed like a British gentleman, he’s accompanied by an enthusiastic band of mostly young musicians playing guitars and singing, “Donde Va?” Maureen O’Hara is remarkable. She looks magnificent, for one thing. And this is twenty-two years after her film debut. And it’s her finest performance, one of the few in which she’s cast as something other than a caricature. What a woman. The movie’s well worth seeing, keeping in mind that this is not an Ealing comedy or some kind of farce.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English, Spanish
Duration: 111 min
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
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