Our Man in Havana (1959) dir. Carol Reed
Starring: Alec Guinness, Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson
“Our Man in Havana” reunites after 10 years the team from “The Third Man” – once again Graham Greene adapts the screenplay from his own story and Carol Reed, that venerable British filmmaker, directs. While not the memorable classic of the former “Our Man in Havana” plays well as a companion piece– a satirical spy film subverting the seriousness of “The Third Man”.
Alec Guinness is Jim Wormwold, a lowly vacuum salesman living in Havana Cuba with his daughter Milly (Jo Morrow). As a single father his personal aspirations and the dream life he imagined were put on the backburner for long hours and hard work. One day, a British secret serviceman offers him a job as a spy for the government. Suddenly this regular working class schmo is learning secret codes and other covert spy-novel tactics. His job – to infiltrate the Cuban elite and recruit more spies to work on his behalf – like a pyramid scheme for spies. When Wormwold starts having trouble finding recruits, he invents them in a series of tall tales of surveillance and espionage fed back to London.
One day a secretary (Maureen O’Hara) assigned to him from London shows up. Suddenly he has to prove that his contacts exist deepening further his web of lies. But when one of his fake recruits is killed by real covert agents Wormwold has to become a real spy to protect himself and Milly.
“Our Man in Havana” links up with “The Third Man” in a number of clever ways. Alec Guinness, like Joseph Cotton, is an innocent man caught up in an ever-deepening web of intrigue. With Wormwold characterized as an affable everyman the tone plays more as a satire of the spy genre - a time before the James Bond films, but when Ian Fleming’s novels were popular. Greene and Reed are not so subtle at mocking the naïve stubbornness of British government whom Wormwold cons with ease.
Reed’s glorious black and white wideangle frames capture all the authentic sights and sounds of the real Havana locations. Even the in-car scenes are shot with a properly mounted camera rig, forsaking the in-studio process technique. Reed has fun dutching the angle of his camera at appropriate times, continuing with the same visual language he used with “The Third Man”. And Guinness’ final confrontation with his nemesis Carter, reminds us of Harry Lime’s famous sewer chase through Vienna.
If you notice the year the film was made, it coincides perfectly with the year of the Cuban Revolution. Remarkably the film was shot mere months after Castro took power. How could this happen? Since the film was made before Castro aligned with the Soviets, once the script was oked by the new regime the filmmakers were allowed complete freedom. The result is one of, if not the last, ‘Western’ film production shot with complete freedom in Cuba. Enjoy.
"Our Man in Havana" is available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment" packaged in their new set of 'Martini Movies'.