Looking Backward: Our Man in Havana (1960)

17 May
Our Man in Havana (1960)

“Oh, there are lots of other jobs that aren’t real…”

I couldn’t resist. I knew Our Man in Havana was coming up on TCM Second Looks Friday night, but I’ll be zonked by 2:00 a.m., and I came across a copy, so I jumped the gun. Sue me.

The moment I knew I loved this movie: Wormold (Sir Alec Guinness), about to scale a wall, takes a moment to say a friendly howdy to a local blind beggar of his acquaintance (“Fidel”), who responds in kind as he ambles down the street. (A bit later, Noël Coward closes a bamboo door – secrecy, you know, old man – which I had to run back and watch again out of pleasure, but still I’m sticking with the blind man moment.)

Weird, lovely, dry little movie, and quite a thing it is: a man learns quickly that feeding the narrative is more profitable than providing the truth. Without giving too much away, only the Cuban setting feels dated (and was dated already when filming started, apparently, just after the revolution). Well, that and the vacuum cleaner technology, which has come a long way. But I’m referring as much to the direction and performances as the subject matter. Three cheers, as always, for Carol Reed.

(The whole thing made me wonder whether Steven Soderbergh, avowed fan of Reed’s The Third Man and inveterate crooked-angle user, has ever considered any Graham Greene…it does adapt well.)

Another tremendous dopily hono(u)rable Everyman performance from Sir Alec. If you’re keeping track, this one falls between his horse’s ass in The Horse’s Mouth and his Arabian prince in Lawrence. So it’s not like he had range.

Ernie Kovacs

It isn’t whether you win or lose…

And this is one more reason to mourn the early passing of Ernie Kovacs. I have nothing against James Dean or Heath Ledger or anything; I’d just like to propose a spare seat at that gone-too-soon table, is all. I’m intrigued still, after pondering Bell, Book & Candle again recently, at his ability to be comic and sinister at the same time in a way that resembled no one else’s comic villainy (in the case of BB&C, that’s too strong a word – perhaps rascality). Then he starts talking about torture and creeps me the hell out.

This is also a film that almost never turns up on the schedule, so catch it while ye may – and enjoy the always-enjoyable pre-/post- viewing discussions that start with Second Looks host Illeana Doiglas and spread like kudzu over Twitter via the TCMParty hashtag.

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One Response to “Looking Backward: Our Man in Havana (1960)”

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