Film Review: Our Man In Havana (1959)

Release Date: December 30th, 1959 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Based on: Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Music by: Frank Deniz, Laurence Deniz
Cast: Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs

Kingsmead Productions, Columbia Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“In our service it is essential to bury the past very quickly and very securely.” – C

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for a bit and I noticed it was leaving the service, so I wanted to give it a watch.

I didn’t know much about this film other than it starred Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars trilogy), was directed by the fabulous Carol Reed, who made one of my favorite films of all-time with The Third Man, and it took place in Cuba before the revolution.

Interestingly, some of the film was shot on location in Havana only two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime. Fidel Castro even visited the film’s set and met the crew while they were filming in Cathedral Square.

I had to look the stuff up about where it was shot, as I assumed it couldn’t be shot in Cuba. But the streets and the world looked just like it. I was surprised to see that most of what was captured on screen was authentic other than some of the interior scenes, which were shot at Shepperton Studios in England.

Carol Reed did a stupendous job in capturing the life of Havana at the time. His eye and use of cinematography really brought everything alive in the same way he did with Vienna in his superb masterpiece The Third Man. In fact, this film sort of feels like a true companion to The Third Man in style and subject matter.

Reed also worked with novelist Graham Greene again, as this was an adaptation of Greene’s book of the same name.

Unlike The Third Man, however, this film has more comedy. It follows similar tones but its lightheartedness sets it apart in a unique and charming way. Not to say that Orson Welles didn’t have a charm about him in The Third Man but he’s only in that film for a short bit. Alec Guinness in this picture is in just about every scene and he exudes an infectious charm that lures you in and holds onto you until the final frame.

I really loved this movie. Carol Reed took another Graham Greene story and gave it a pretty pristine visual counterpart. This is a movie that feels truly authentic to the subject matter and gives us a great story in a very lived in and genuine world.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Carol Reed films, as well as the political thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock.

Film Review: Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Also known as: Across the Everglades, Lost Man’s River (working titles), Inferno Verde (Uruguay), Muerte en los pantanos (Spain)
Release Date: September 11th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Chana Eden, Mackinlay Kantor, Emmett Kelly

Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“Ah! The sweet-tastin’ joys of this world!” – Cottonmouth

I never knew about this movie, which is odd, as I have grown up and lived near the Everglades almost my entire life. I’m also a fan of Nicholas Ray’s films but I am also mostly just familiar with his work in film-noir. Needless to say, this was an interesting discovery, as I was perusing the content on FilmStruck (a streaming service every cinephile should get).

What’s fantastic about this film is its use of on location shooting. This was legitimately filmed within the Everglades, which is really impressive for a motion picture that came out in 1958.

Having lived on the edge of the ‘Glades, I know that the production must have been an insane undertaking. The swamps are a hell of an undertaking just trying to hike them and since this film really gets into the murk, lugging all that heavy equipment had to be a hell of a workout. Plus that heat, the humidity, the never knowing when the hell you’re going to get instantaneous downpour from the heavens, the bugs, the snakes, the alligators, the boar, the bears, the panthers, the snapping turtles, all of it, man. So I can’t give enough props and respect for the crew that captured this beautiful picture.

I really loved that this film put its focus on environmental conservation, especially in the Florida Everglades. I loved the opening sequence that showed a train arriving to Miami around 1900 or so. The lavish outfits of the women and their love of fashionable plumage was a good addition to the film’s backstory of showcasing how mankind doesn’t really give a crap about how it wrecks the planet, as long as they can achieve the level of status that affords them the luscious plumage of birds being hunted towards extinction. I’m not a super lefty or anything but pillaging nature for fashion is pretty f’d up, just sayin’.

Anyway, Christopher Plummer (in his first starring role and only his second film) shows up in Miami, which is pretty much just a swamp with a train station in 1900. He makes a goofy mistake and finds himself forced into being a game warden for the Audubon Society. He is warned about a man named Cottonmouth (Burl Ives), who has a posse that kills wild birds for their feathers. The two men cross paths and make their intentions clear to one another.

As the film progresses, Plummer’s Murdock falls in love with the job, the wild around him and pretty much sees God’s hand in it all. This isn’t a religious film, he just goes on some tangents about natural beauty and whatnot from the perspective of a dude from 1900ish America.

The two men, despite their rivalry and being on opposite ends of the law, develop a respect for one another, which all comes to a head in the film’s climax. This isn’t a predictable film. It actually feels a lot more realistic than Hollywood’s standard theatrics of the time.

It’s worth noting that Nicholas Ray was fired before the film was completed and Budd Schulberg, the film’s writer, took over and then handled the editing. His lack of experience is apparent in how the film is cut and paced but Ray’s vision still comes through in the framing of most of the shots and the general cinematography. There are just a handful of things that come off as weird in the film. For example, when Murdock, talking about the majestic birds, refers to the sun gleaming off of their feathers, a shot of birds in silhouette is cut over the dialogue. But maybe getting all the wildlife footage was difficult and this is all they had to work with in post-production.

I really liked this movie, despite its few flaws. Plummer and Ives had a good chemistry, the direction was mostly pretty good and it just taps into the history of a place I call my backyard.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Nicholas Ray films: Hot Blood, The Savage Innocents and Bitter Victory.

Film Review: The Ewok Film Series (1984-1985)

I really liked the Ewok films when I was a kid. I didn’t even care that there weren’t lightsabers and Star Destroyers.

So how would I feel about it as a 38 year-old adult? And right after watching the six theatrical Star Wars films again? Review on those, coming shortly.

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984):

Release Date: November 25th, 1984
Directed by: John Korty
Written by: George Lucas, Bob Carrau
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Eric Walker, Warwick Davis, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Aubree Miller, Burl Ives (narrator)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Korty Films, Walt Disney, 97 Minutes

Review:

“A rock? These little bears are nuts!” – Mace

These were television movies and they were unlike all the other Star Wars films before them. These took place entirely on the Forest Moon of Endor and were about the Ewoks who live there. According to various sources, they take place just before the events of Return of the Jedi. Which is strange, considering the Ewoks meet humans and Wicket can speak basic (or English) and then in Return of the Jedi, they try to barbecue humans and then can’t speak a lick of basic. Also, there is no Imperial presence or half-built Death Star in the sky. Let’s ignore those details however.

These movies didn’t hold up in regards to special effects. There is a lot of really outdated stop motion. This is mostly used while the heroes are fighting big creatures but it is a definite step down in quality from the theatrical films. I can’t hold that against these movies though, as they were made for television and had a very limited budget compared to the bigger films before them.

Caravan of Courage is still pretty easy to watch and it is entertaining. It makes the Ewoks more relatable and it delves into their culture more than their limited presence in Return of the Jedi. It also expands everything you think you know about Endor. It is more vast than what you can take away from Return of the Jedi. And these films’ existence, is probably why I don’t dislike the Ewoks in Jedi when so many other fans do. Caravan of Courage succeeded in making the Ewoks more than just space teddy bears.

In this film, the story follows Mace and Cindil, who are shipwrecked on Endor. They meet the Ewoks and enlist their help in trying to track down their missing parents. There are challenges every step of the way. There is also a lot of use of magic, which makes these films feel more like Tolkien than Lucas but in a galaxy with the Force, is it really that implausible? Besides, I don’t think that these are considered canon anymore, after Disney bought the franchise.

Caravan of Courage is a heartwarming movie, it plays pretty quickly at 94 minutes and is full of enough adventure to keep you engaged.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985):

Release Date: November 24th, 1985
Directed by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Written by: George Lucas, Jim Wheat, Kim Wheat
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Paul Gleason, Carel Struycken, Niki Botelho, Eric Walker, Sian Phillips

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Star cruiser… crash, crash!” – Wicket

The second movie is the better of the two. It also brings in more characters and is lead by Wilford Brimley, most known for Cocoon, The Thing, Our House and commercials about oatmeal and “DIABEETUS!”

Where the first film relied on narration to talk about the Ewoks, this chapter quickly pulls the other Ewoks out and focuses on Wicket, who can speak basic very well. It makes the interractions between Cindil and Wicket more direct.

In this movie, Cindil’s entire family is killed by barbaric marauders and the Ewoks are captured. Wicket and Cindil escape, meet Teek (a speedy alien) and a grumpy old man named Noa. Together they go on to rescue the Ewoks and save the day, conquering the evil space barbarians and a witch that can turn into a bird.

Okay, the summary sounds ridiculous but it works for the film.

This movie is just better than the first in that it starts off treading some dark territory but evolves into a film about friendship, love and compassion. It brings together strangers and shows just how broad “family” can be.

Also, Wicket isn’t just a child Ewok in this movie, he is actually pretty bad ass.

The direction was good, the acting improved, the sets were better, the world was bigger and the score was really good for not being done by John Williams.

Yes, these films feel dated but who cares? Both are still pretty watchable and one could argue that they are better than the Prequel Trilogy. I’m not the one to argue that, I’m just saying one could.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.