|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Index||29 reviews in total|
This has to be the most radical, left wing film ever made in Hollywood.
It is amazing that Huston and some of the other principals were not
blacklisted afterwords; the McCarthy era was well underway in 1949 when
the film was released. (Garfield was blacklisted, but not as a result
of this particular film.)
This is a taut, suspenseful, exciting movie. But what stands out for me is that the central theme and focus of the story is the "need" to dedicate one's life to the overthrow of a dictatorship by whatever means necessary. I've never seen an American film so uncompromisingly pro-revolutionary. The heros of the film are guerrilla warriors planning a bombing that will kill dozens or hundreds of innocents along with lots of deserving government officials.
One significant drawback to this film is it's very extensive use of process photography, shooting the principal actors against background film shot on location. Whole scenes are shot this way and it's distracting.
John Huston directed this 1948 thriller about a group of revolutionaries
trying to overthrow the brutal right wing Cuban Regime in 1933 when it was
crime, promulgated by their "parliament", for more than four people to
gather in public or criticise its government.
John Garfield (Tony Fenner), stars as the ex-Cuban who comes back from the U.S. to set up the revolution.He meets and is assisted by Jennifer Jones (China Valdez) who gives him active support after her 19 year old student younger brother is gunned down on the steps of his university by the evil secret policeman (Pedro Armendariaz).Tony devises a plot to assassinate the head politico hoping his family and the heads of government and their family attend his funeral at a cemetary near where China and her family live.They decide to dig a tunnel from her house and place explosive under the grave to get the hated government in one fell swoop.At least that's the plan (no spoiler here).
Yet again Jennifer Jones is in a completely new role speaking with a convincing Cuban accent.She works in a bank but cannot escape the attention of the secret police who keep hounding and threatening her for information on Tony Fenner whom she has now grown to love.Assisting them both are a group of committed partisans including Gilbert Roland who plays a simple dock worker (his brother was killed by the government).He steals this picture by his acting and by singing topical calypsos about their revolutionary activities;(I find myself singing these verses or even making up new ones!).Another member "goes off the rails" and nearly gives the game away.
I suppose if you know Cuban modern history you can guess the outcome as Huston has to stick to the facts.The final showdown with Thompson sub-machine guns is almost surreal.This title is hard to find and is not available from main stream video dealers.Occasionally it comes up for auction on "e-Bay".If like me you love quality 1940's films you will enjoy this actioneer.
This film is an astounding anomaly to Hollywood film-making, in that it
is openly supportive of armed revolutionary terrorism, even if it means
the death of innocent people. And since it was made in 1949, by
Columbia Pictures, just as the Hollywood Blacklist was beginning, it is
even more unusual.
The quality of the film is first-ratea taut, well-constructed thriller, with convincing characterizations by the actors and strong direction by John Huston. The fact that it is about Cuba, made 10 years before the victory of the Fidel Castro-led revolutionary forces, is more coincidence.
The revolutionaries are seen as intense fanatics, yes, but each with a justification for their zeal. They are seen as different from each other, occasionally at odds, but essentially united in their purpose. They openly discuss the rights and wrongs of revolutionary violence, and come to a consensus to go ahead.
Jennifer Jones is impressive, as are Gilbert Roland, Pedro Armendariz, and John Garfield. I can't think of another studio-made American feature like this one, worth seeing for both its quality and its unique place in American movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As the bombastic credit music fades, a prologue rolls across the
screen, laying out the historical situation in black and white: evil
government, heroic rebels. The opening scene presents the Cuban Senate
passing a bill to outlaw all public assemblies. Just as your heart is
sinking at the prospect of a heavy-handed and simple-minded pageant,
the style of the scene changes. The senators are told to stand if they
are in favor of the bill, and a few rise immediately. Then, one by one,
in a series of close-ups, the senators glance around nervously, feeling
the pressure to conform, look craven or embarrassed or merely
indifferent, and stand. I've never seen a more subtly scathing attack
on politicians, and it works because it's visual, not verbal. Instead
of lecturing us, it lets us see for ourselves.
WE WERE STRANGERS is exceptionally well-directed by John Huston, shot not just with flair but with moments of disorienting originality, and inkier shadows than many a film noir (the actors' faces often half-obliterated by darkness.) The script is even more surprising, and it's hard to believe this film was made in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, or indeed any era, since it condones not only assassination but the murder of innocent bystanders for political ends. It stars John Garfield and Jennifer Jones as Cuban revolutionaries and features lame Hispanic accents and some atrocious back-projection scenes in which the actors appear to be walking in place in front of a movie screen. It could be a disaster, but instead it's gripping and fascinating; not a complete success, but both unexpected and unforgettable.
Set in Havana, the story centers on China Valdez (Jones), a proper young woman whose brother, a member of the revolutionary underground, is shot down in front of her eyes after passing out leaflets. Bitter and burning for revenge, China joins the underground and volunteers for a project headed by an American, Tony Fenner (Garfield) to wipe out the entire government by assassinating a high-ranking politician and then bombing his funeral. The small band of rebels moves into China's house, digging a tunnel from the basement to the family mausoleum of the intended victim. The group includes a relaxed, rumba-singing dock-worker (Gilbert Roland) and a wealthy university student who goes crazy with guilt because the man they plan to murder is a family friend. Meanwhile China is shadowed by Ariete, the secret police man who killed her brother: an oily, menacing villain whose suspicions of China are heightened by his lust for her and obsessive jealousy of Fenner.
Granted, Jennifer Jones looks ridiculously glamorous; even after she has joined in digging through the rotting corpses of the graveyard she appears in every scene with flawless eye makeup, crisp sexy blouse and upswept hairdo. Granted, her accent is on a par with Natalie Wood's in WEST SIDE STORY (all of the "Cubans" speak accented English; Garfield, thank heavens, speaks in his usual Bronx-bred tones) But Jones is good, wearing a hardened, mask-like face that barely conceals her terror whenever Ariete pops up. They have a terrific if obvious scene together, in which China sits rigid with mounting disgust and panic as Ariete messily devours a crab, pounding and crunching and slurping, gulping rum and getting drunker and sweatier as he tells her that he's really a man of sentiment and honor.
Garfield's performance is not at all what you'd expect; he's so restrained, in his early scenes he seems almost drugged. We never learn much about his character, a ruthless, efficient mastermind. Once he trades his light tropical suit for a grimy t-shirt, he becomes a more familiar Garfield: skin glistening with mud and sweat as he digs, he exudes grit and sex appeal and lets his façade crack to show vulnerability. With little build-up, he and Jones fall into a predictable clinch, in a scene unforgettably shot in pitch blackness with spare flashes of lightning. The triumph of his performance is that he never tries to make Fenner likable, charming or heroic; the irresistible Garfield grin is nowhere in sight. He's callous, laconic and impassive, yet somehow his charisma is overpowering. Because he was so intense and unafraid of emotion, I've never thought of John Garfield as an under-actor, but in his late performances it's remarkable how little he actually does. He gets tremendous effects out of stillness, often just watching and listening to his busier co-stars. You feel what he feels, almost physically; he has no need for pantomime.
WE WERE STRANGERS is a blend of stark honesty and Hollywood clichés, brilliant direction and cheesy effects. Unfortunately, at the end, Hollywood wins. Garfield gets to go out in style, holed up with his true love, blasting away with a machine gun, lighting sticks of dynamite from his cigarette and lobbing them like hand grenades at the police. Jennifer Jones makes a hokey speech over his corpseand then the revolution breaks out and in five minutes the government topples! The film never really comes to terms with its endorsement of mass murder (Gilbert Roland insouciantly sings, "What is wrong and what is right / Will be decided by dynamite"), and it's hard to say whether it shows honorable ambivalence or shameful woolly-mindedness. But I came away from this strange, flawed, feverish movie electrified. How did it ever sneak out of 1940s Hollywood?
***SPOILERS*** Almost forgotten film about the White Terror that was
unleashed on the Cuban people by the brutal and Fascist Gerardo Machado
regime that lasted seven years from 1925 to 1933 when Marchado was
finally driven from power in a popular and spontaneous revolution.
Because of its more or less anti-corporate message, Dictator Marcado
was fully supported by the US government and big business, the film "We
Were Strangers" didn't get the credit or recognition that it deserved
being considered pro-Communist. The film was soon put on the shelf
gathering dust never to see the light of day until some thirty after
it's release back in 1949.
Having her brother Manalo,Tito Renaldo, a student activist gunned down on the very steps of Havana University turned the meek and God-fearing bank clerk China Valde, Jennifer Jones, into a fiery revolutionary against the government. China joined up with a number of Cuban freedom fighters lead by American Tony Fenner, John Garfield, who masquerades around on the island as a talent scout looking for the latest in both Cuban music and dance crazes that he could bring back to America. We soon learn that Tony Fenner is really a Cuban exile named Antoino Ferrer who's father, together with his family, fled Cuba in 1925 when Machado took over.
Trying to get things going in overthrowing the Machado regime Tony who's been heavily financed by Cuban exiles, like himself, back in New York City's Spanish Harlem gets a number of his Cuban friends and fellow revolutionaries in Havana together to dig a tunnel under the Havana Cemetery. It's there they would plant some hundred pounds of explosives setting them off when a Cuban government big shot, that Tony & Co. plan to assassinate, is being laid to rest With Machado and his henchmen, political and military, in attendance thus decapitating the Machado dictatorship.
China has a far more personal reason in her covert actions in that the head of the hated Cuban Gestapo-like secret police Armondo Ariete, Pedro Armenda, was the person who gunned down, as we saw earlier in the movie, her brother Manolo. Ariete has, not knowing that he murdered her brother, been trying to make it with China since he saw her at the bank where he was checking on Cuban/USA bank money transactions. The transactions that Tony and his Cuban freedom fighters are heavily, in order to keep their resistance movement alive, involved in.
Beautifully photographed in black and white "We Were Strangers" has a strikingly sharp, and dark, film-noir quality to it with Tony and his gang of revolutionaries breaking their backs, and almost suffocating from the stench, in digging underneath and planting a giant land-mine in the middle of the Havana Cemetery. Only to have the planned funeral of Machado henchman Acento Contreras (Fred Godoy), who Tony and his gang assassinated, transfered to another cemetery outside he city because Acento's sisters wanted to have a little privacy in their brothers final send-off.
Despite a number of setbacks, like the Acento Contreras fiasco, by Tony and his revolutionary gang the Cuban people themselves later took to the streets and drove Machado from power but not before Tony, or Antiono Ferrer, Fenner's lost his life as he was gunned in a wild shootout with the police and Cuban militia at the end of the film.
It was ruthless tyrants like Gerardo Machado, and the US support of them, that made it possible for future dictators like Fidel Castro to gain control of the countries that they were driven out of. Being in league, and in bed, with dictators like Marchado and later Batista didn't play to well with the majority of the Cuban people who greatly suffered under them. In the end it not only turned them against the US but also,like in the case of Fidel Castro, welcomed Soviet support that also endangered the security of those very countries, like the USA, who during the hight of the Cold War whole heartily as well as foolishly supported them.
Though directed by John Huston, written by Huston and Peter Viertel,
and starring Jennifer Jones, John Garfield, Pedro Armandariz and
Gilbert Roland, 1949's "We Were Strangers" is a largely unknown film.
It is, however, an important one in the history of Hollywood as it was
bankrolled by Sam Spiegel for Huston's new production company.
Impressed with Huston, Spiegel went on to bankroll "The African Queen."
Commercially unsuccessful at the time of its release, the story
concerns the White Terror of the Fascist government in Cuba from
1925-1933. When her brother, a member of the resistance, is killed,
China (Jones) joins the fight to overthrow the government. A plan is
concocted by Tony Fenner, an American born in Cuba who is posing as a
talent agent. The idea is to assassinate a high-ranking official and
then set off a bomb at the funeral, killing the top people in the
The best scene in the film is between Jones and Pedro Armendariz, who plays a secret policeman, Ariete. He is deeply suspicious of Fenner and is sure that China is his lover. While the revolutionaries hide outside in the rain, he eats and bullies, threatens, and flirts with China, who is terrified but tries to keep calm. A taut, excellent scene. All of the acting is excellent - Jones, wearing darker makeup and sporting an accent, is very good as well as beautiful. Garfield does a good job as Fenner, and Gilbert Roland is a standout. The last 15 minutes of the film are very exciting, with the last scene being poetic but failing to be upbeat, which was perhaps the intention. It's a downer.
A very good movie that for some reason didn't get everyone in it in trouble and accused of being a Communist - surprisingly, Garfield's appearance in the movie had nothing to do with his eventual blacklisting. I guess "We Were Strangers" was too obscure.
Dealing with Cuban revolutionaries a few years before Castro, the story line is tough, thoughtful, ironic. Jones(especially good as China Valdez) and Garfield are well teamed. Roland provides humor and bravado in a performance(one of his best)that balances the pace of the film's drama and action. The Mexican and American supporting players are all on the mark, a pleasure to watch. Huston directs with a consistent, steady hand; with knowledge and empathy in canvassing territory not easily accessed by the war weary now grown complacent audiences of 1949.
"We were strangers" is considered a minor film among all Huston's
masterpieces of the era:"treasure of the Sierra Madre" "Key Largo"
"Asphalt jungle'' or "African Queen" .But many of this director's works
are sleepers :"a walk with love and death" "Heaven knows mister
Allison" or " Reflections in a golden eye" -which was an accurate
rendition of McCullers' novel- are good examples ,sometimes more
praised abroad than in America.
"We were strangers " is in the center of Huston's work:one of his permanent features was failure ("treasure" "asphalt" "misfits" ).the heroes of "strangers" are in a way ,misfits:they do not mix with the people and they do not feel that history is moving faster than they do.Forget the political background which may seem,to some,naive and vague :sometimes we wonder whether the heroes themselves are believing in what they are doing:hear this little ditty one of them sings as a leitmotiv ("we are digging all day,we are digging all night" "We were strangers" shows Huston's fascination for death: it would reappear in the overlooked "walk with love and death" ,in the dance macabre at the beginning of " under the volcano" and it is even more glaring in the director's final opus "the dead' where one of the characters ,still alive,appears on her deathbed.
Fighting against the tyrants is one good thing:doing so by digging a tunnel to get to a graveyard to kill one of the men of the dictatorship,Huston challenges realism!"there are two parts in the cemetery,says Jones ,one for the poor,one for the rich" even in death...
Jones ,some kind of romantic passionnaria (the part was tailor made for her- and Garfield an idealist American are part of the odd couples who are numerous in Huston's work:"African queen" "Heaven knows..." or "Roots of heaven" or "the Barbarian and the geisha" or "Annie" or...you name it...
a Huston which should not sink into oblivion....
Can anyone tell me where I can find a copy of this? I haven't seen it in thirty years, and if it is half as good as I remember, this is a must-see! What's up with Columbia holding back their classics? The Reckless Moment, made the same year (1949) by Columbia is also unavailable. These are major films directed by, respectively, John Huston and Max Ophuls, starring the likes of Jennifer Jones, John Garfield, Gilbert Roland, Joan Bennett, and James Mason. The Reckless Moment was recently remade decently as The Deep End, but it still doesn't compare. If anyone knows where I can get We Were Strangers, please post it here. Thanks, movie lovers!
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.
|Page 1 of 3:||  |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Plot keywords||Main details||Your user reviews|
|Your vote history|