Major Jock Sinclair has been in this Highland regiment since he joined as a boy piper. During the Second World War, as Second-in-Command, he was made acting Commanding Officer. Now the ... See full summary »
Jim Wormold is an expatriate Englishman living in pre-revolutionary Havana with his teenage daughter Milly. He owns a vacuum cleaner shop but isn't very successful so he accepts an offer from Hawthorne of the British Secret Service to recruit a network of agents in Cuba. Wormold hasn't got a clue where to start but when his friend Dr. Hasselbacher suggests that the best secrets are known to no one, he decides to manufacture a list of agents and provides fictional tales for the benefit of his masters in London. He is soon seen as the best agent in the Western Hemisphere but it all begins to unravel when the local police decode his cables and start rounding up his "network" and he learns that he is the target of a group out to kill him. Written by
During the checkers/drinking game, when Capt. Segura removes his gun belt and hangs it on the back of his peacock chair, the holster's retaining strap is fastened over the pistol's hammer. In later shots, it moves to under the grip safety, and then when Wormold removes the Colt from its holster, the strap is already unfastened completely. See more »
Comedy and espionage make uneasy bedfellows in this Alec Guinness vehicle. Viewers should expect more of a morality play than a gleeful farce.
Guinness frequently played characters leading double lives. Here we see his character Wormold tripped up by one that may cost him his life. Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana who is approached by a fellow named Hawthorne (Noel Coward), alias Agent 59200, who wants Wormold to serve the British Secret Service "for $150 a month and expenses" as his subagent, 59200/5, collecting secret information regarding pre-Castro Cuba.
Encouragement for this comes not only indirectly from his love for his spendthrift daughter Milly (Jo Morrow) but more directly from his best friend, a castoff German doctor named Hasselbacker (Burl Ives), whose advice forms the heart of the message from screenwriter Graham Greene, adapting his own novel:
"That sort of information is always easy to give. If it is secret enough, you alone know it. All you need is a little imagination...As long as you invent, you do no harm. And they don't deserve the truth."
The joke, which is also the story's tragedy, is Wormold invents too well, convincing not only his London paymasters but the opposition of his fiction's veracity. Director Carol Reed famously made a spy film, "The Third Man," which blended tragedy and comedy in equal measure. This time, the comedy is more front-and-center, but efforts at creating a light tone conflict with the more serious message and various characters' fates. "Our Man In Havana" struggles at times with what kind of film it wants to be.
Perhaps Guinness's own difficulty with his part contributes to this confusion. He reportedly found Reed's instruction ("Don't act!") unhelpful. Ives is especially heavy for the film's most delicate part, making it oppressively sad; I wish that Reed's collaborator Orson Welles could have taken this part and invested it with some of his trademark cunning and craft.
Much of "Our Man In Havana" does work, and well. Oswald Morris's cinematography employs actual Havana locations to great effect, using unusually angled shots of the crumbling, sun-drenched city. You feel the tension of Wormold's world in every scene. Ernie Kovacs, a hero of early TV comedy, gets a lot out of a thanklessly straight part, the menacing but sensitive Segura, who lusts for Milly and explains his position with real sensitivity even though he never loses the cruelty of the character.
"Do you play checkers, Mr. Wormold?" he asks.
"Not very well," answers Wormold.
"In checkers, one must move more carefully than you have tonight."
Wormold isn't kidding; he only knows enough to lose. In a world this topsy-turvy, it proves the right approach.
Coward does much to serve the comedy, which would be almost entirely absent without him. His recruitment of Wormold, which is played like a seedy homosexual liaison in bars and men's rooms, is a riot when one knows not only Coward's own legendary proclivities but his friendship with that master of spy fiction, Ian Fleming. Some of the film is even set in Fleming's own Jamaican stomping grounds; one can imagine the creator of James Bond must have enjoyed this send-up of his work before it was a gleam in Albert Broccoli's eye.
"Our Man In Havana" plays with your mind and conscience for an hour and a half. It capably establishes a dark mood with cheerful undertones though it would have worked better vice versa, which was my takeaway from reading the novel. Anyway, it's intelligent, entertaining, and worth a look.
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