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China Valdes joins the Cuban underground after her brother is killed by the chief of the secret police, Ariete. She meets and falls in love with American expatriate Tony Fenner. Tony develops a plan to tunnel under the city's cemetery to a plot owned by a high official, assassinate him, and blow up the whole Cuban hierarchy at the ensuing state funeral. Together with a band of dedicated revolutionaries, they begin digging. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Huston wanted a then almost-unknown Marilyn Monroe for a part in this movie. He made it about Cuban rebels at the time Monroe had a contract with Columbia. But producer Sam Spiegel didn't want to spend money for a screen test of Monroe. See more »
The part of a fiery revolutionary in 1933 Cuba seems tailor made for John Garfield. Both his politics and screen persona mesh nicely in the role of Nick Fenner for him in We Were Strangers. As for his lack of Hispanic accent, we are told that he is of mixed Cuban and American parentage. I'm glad Garfield didn't try an accent, he looked downright silly doing one as Porfirio Diaz in Juarez.
John Huston directed We Were Strangers and even second drawer Huston is better than first drawer of most directors. The film is about a really far out plot for a Coup d'etat against President Gerardo Machado of Cuba in 1933. Garfield has sold them one a plan to assassinate the president and his entire cabinet by means of a bomb at a funeral internment. As it happens Jennifer Jones's house is located across from Havana's main cemetery. The idea is to first kill a right-wing Senator and then when the funeral takes place and the deceased is interred at the family mausoleum, to blow up the place as the president and a lot of top bigwigs are sure to attend.
The scheme involves tunneling from Jen's house to the mausoleum and We Were Strangers starts to resemble The Great Escape at this point. Jen's cooperative because her brother was killed by Machado's secret police, but something terribly unforeseen spoils things and the assassins are forced to flee.
In fact the something that is unforeseen should have been foreseen and Garfield should have come up with a better idea. But the drama of this film is the tension of these conspirators working together in close quarters and we the audience getting to know them. We Were Strangers at first, but they all become comrades during the shared experience of conspiracy. Besides John Garfield and Jennifer Jones, the other in the plot are Gilbert Roland, Wally Cassell, and David Bond.
Best performance in the film by far though is that of Pedro Armendariz as the secret police lieutenant. Huston might have seen Armendariz in a similar role in John Ford's The Fugitive which was set in Mexico. It was a good stroke of typecasting then because Armendariz is a truly hateful figure.
I looked up Gerardo Machado who was the president of Cuba at the time and he was overthrown in 1933 but not by these guys. Wikipedia describes him as an equal opportunity tyrant who had all factions hating him by 1933. He started out as a fighter and youngest general in the Cuban war for independence against Spain in the 1890s. But last year's freedom fighter has a way of turning into today's tyrant.
We Were Strangers in the Huston career comes between Key Largo and The Asphalt Jungle, both better films, but this one while the assassination plot is far fetched is carried along by the skilled direction of a fine group of players.
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