SANTIAGO, a neglected 1956 Alan Ladd adventure, is typical action fare from its era; fun and dumb. Actually, it did fair business for an unpretentious little star vehicle. Gun-runners in Cuba, 1895: one (Ladd), noble under his veneer of self-interest, another (Lloyd Nolan), nasty enough to sell out his dear old Ma. In between is—of course—‘The Woman’, here named ‘Dona Isabella’ (grabbed from the screenwriters bag of hoity-toity hot-blooded Latin damsels), played by 22-year-old Italian import Rossana Podesta, who was getting a big Warner’s push that year with Helen of Troy. This time, in the Caribbean, she launches not a thousand ships but a M’sippi paddle wheeler, piloted by bourbon-powered scene-stealer Chill Wills. Load up stoic Ladd, snide Lloyd ,some shiny guns and shove off for ‘Cuba libre’.
Some fun exchanges of tough-guy dialogue (Nolan’s a kick); some recognizable supporting rascals for the good/bad gangs—Paul Fix, Frank de Kova, L.Q.Jones, Royal Dano; an irritating kid we’re supposed to be charmed by, ‘act-arduous’ trekking in the palm trees, villainous Spaniards. Dependable Warner’s workhorse Gordon Douglas directed with his typical unsung efficiency, putting some real panache into a dandy ambush scene rough enough to serve as a model. Scored with some zest by the unheralded David Buttolph, racking up another notch on an endless line of credits.
Podesta/Isabella gets to tell Ladd/’Cash Adams’ that the Cuban rebels (engaged in something like a conga, after getting weapons–go figure) bear “hatred in their souls, but not in their hearts.” If one crept out on a limb to claim this is a notable movie, the branch would snap and you would plunge onto the studio jungle floor, but as a toss-back-some-with-an-old-buddy-and-chuckle item, it’s an enjoyable 93 minutes that recall the innocence of Saturday matinées past. It shot its way into 51st place for the year, grossing $5,700,000.