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A short if less than sensational piece of Cuban verismo
An admirable example of truth in labelling, Affair In Havana is about just that. True, a couple of violent deaths result, but they're both crimes of passion, not the end-products of a typical thriller plot. Affair in Havana, in fact, resembles nothing so much as a swift, steamy verismo opera, albeit one set to a Cu-Bop score.
This is the pre-Castro Cuba whose final days were so vividly summoned in The Godfather, Part II: Fulgencio Batista's venal, wide-open playground for wealthy Americans (the movie was filmed, by Laszlo Benedek, entirely on location).
At the airport, sugar-cane tycoon Raymond Burr, confined to a wheelchair and sporting a platinum buzz-cut, deplanes with his young wife (Sara Shane, who's again called Lorna, as she was the year before in Three Bad Sisters; judging by her performance here, she probably couldn't be counted on to remember yet another name). Instead of heading out to Burr's baronial estate in the mountains, they dine at a Havana club where the high-strung jazz pianist (John Cassavettes) strikes Burr's fancy and so gets invited over to the table. He seems uneasy, as does Shane, which is understandable, since they've been carrying on a clandestine affair whenever she's in town. Nonetheless, Cassavettes accepts Burr's invitation to stay at the country place and play at his annual `fiesta.' There the points of the triangle spend suffocating, white-knuckle evenings sipping demitasses while Burr plays his tapes of native music at ear-splitting volume.
With, for the bulk of the movie, only the three principal characters on screen, Affair in Havana stays tense and claustrophobic. This works only to a point beyond which It needs, however, something more in the way of incident and background.
Burr seems to hold his wife responsible for an accident that caused his paralysis, but what happened is never revealed; He has also retained a private detective to take film of the illicit lovers, but we don't know what provoked him to do so, or when he first learned of her infidelity (was his asking Cassavettes to join them innocent or disingenuous?); And Burr's chauffeur/valet seems dog-loyal to Shane, smitten in fact, but we never learn why. So when the plot threads converge in the final few minutes, it's not so much startling as abrupt. Most of the movie doesn't prepare us for the end, leading us to wonder, Did the production suddenly run short of pesos?
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