Santiago was one of those routine action adventure programmers that Alan Ladd's agent Sue Carol insisted on casting him instead of letting him gradually transition to character roles. But when you're married to the agent and as agreeable a fellow as Ladd apparently was during his life you can't turn your agent down so easily.
This is one of the few American made films that deals with the Cuban rebellion as opposed to the Spanish-American War, not that there are that many that deal with it. The setting is Cuba in 1895 and the island which did not choose to participate in the general revolt against colonial Spain is finally getting tired of being a colony.
The plot concerns two American gun runners, Alan Ladd and Lloyd Nolan who hate each other both looking to sell guns to the Cuban rebels for cash on the barrel-head. To collect they have to go to Cuba with the delivery.
Along for the ride is Rosanna Podesta who is a Cuban patriot and both men are interested in her, Nolan quite cynical and open about it. It all doesn't make for a pleasant voyage to Cuba aboard Captain Chill Wills's old Mississippi steamboat used for transportation.
When they're on Lloyd Nolan and Chill Wills dominate the film. Nolan who never gave a bad performance on the big or small screen is a really thoroughly rotten human being. Ladd and he have quite a bit of history between them and Ladd has excellent reason to hate his guts.
No player on the planet was ever safe from Chill Wills's scene stealing antics especially as he got older and honed that particular aspect of his craft to perfection. Wills understudied Humphrey Bogart from The African Queen on how to pilot this drunken riverboat captain through the film. In a better film the Academy might have noticed this character.
Lots of action comes hard and fast in Santiago. The film is nicely paced and should appeal to fans of that genre and of the players involved.
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