OUR MAN IN HAVANA places an ace cast and crew on location in Cuba just months after Castro’s revolt dumped dictator Batista. Graham Greene wrote the script for this 1959 spy satire from his novel. Carol Reed, expert at steering stories about dissolute expats over their heads in murky waters—The Third Man, Outcast Of The Islands—directed an impressive lineup of actors and crack cameraman Oswald Morris. All prime ingredients, but other than the atmosphere, stray moments in some of the performances and a nice score—brothers Frank & Laurence Deniz provide one coated in Caribbean ambiance—it’s a frustrating fizzle. Laboriously paced (107 minutes feel like 125) and a wee too smug about its cheekiness.
English ex-pat ‘James Wormold’ (Alec Guinness) enjoys a low-key life in Havana, selling vacuum cleaners, shooting the daiquiri-flavored breeze with philosophical German émigré ‘Dr. Hasselbacher'(Burl Ives), trying to keep his precocious daughter from getting too close to ‘Captain Segura’ (Ernie Kovacs), one of Batista’s corrupt cops. Things perk up when MI6 operative ‘Hawthorne’ (Noël Coward) enlists/coerces Wormold into working for British Intelligence. Wormold invents agents and fabricates information, causing enough of a stir to require a secretary, ‘Beatrice Severn’ (Maureen O’Hara). Eventually his fudging spins out of control.
So does the meandering story, more a collection of mildly amusing (and self-amused) episodes than a sufficiently involving or pungent narrative. The cast mix—Brits for Old Boy networking and sarcasm, Americans for box office bait—doesn’t jell as hoped: Ives, flush from his one-two punch in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and The Big Country, isn’t convincing with a German accent; recessed O’Hara is almost an afterthought and has little chemistry with Guinness; 19-year-old starlet Jo Morrow as his daughter is a squeaky contrivance. Kovacs comes off best, playing up languorous lethality as the policeman. On Her Majesty’s side, Guinness is fine, and Ralph Richardson adds piquant shots as ‘C’, head of MI6 (‘M’ not yet on the scene), but Coward, pucking about in fussbudget mode, goes a mince too far.
Critics generally give this lollygagging exercise in expiation high marks; a US take of $5,200,000 placed 47th in ’59.
With further cast contributions from—pros all—Gregoire Aslan, Paul Rogers, Ferdy Mayne, Maurice Denham, Maxine Audley, Karel Stepanek, John Le Mesurier, and unbilled in a quick slice as a prostitute, Rachel Roberts.