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: The Black Swan (1942)

Release Date: December 4th, 1942 (USA)
Directed by: Henry King
Written by: Ben Hecht, Seton I. Miller
Based on: The Black Swan by Rafael Sabatini
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara

20th Century Fox, 85 Minutes

the-black-swanReview:

Not to be confused with that movie where Queen Amidala turns into a lesbian mutant bird ballerina, this is the much superior film to carry the name Black Swan. And sure, Aronofsky’s film was fine and dandy but this is swashbuckling! Swashbuckling always wins!

The Black Swan stars the always magnificent Tyrone Power. Another great swashbuckling actor who died way too soon like Errol Flynn. I guess they didn’t choose the swash life but the swash life chose them.

This film sees Power’s character Jamie Waring leave the life of piracy in an effort to help another former pirate, Captain Morgan, clean up the British waters around the Caribbean. This leads Waring into a situation where he must go head-to-head with the Black Swan and Captain Leech, his once friend.

Maureen O’Hara plays Lady Margaret, who is the daughter of the former governor. Waring takes a liking to Margaret but she is set to marry English gentleman Roger Ingram. Ingram however, is feeding information to the pirates. Waring abducts Margaret to save her from marrying Ingram and because he is smitten with her. This leads to Waring and Margaret finding themselves having to work together to outwit the sinister Captain Leech.

The Black Swan won an Oscar for cinematography. It was also nominated for best special effects and the best musical score. All three of those things were great in this film. The cinematography was beautiful. The attention to detail and set design was perfect while the lighting and atmosphere were awe-inspiring for the time. The final battle between the ships was executed marvelously and holds up today.

The sword fighting scenes were also well-executed and some of the best I’ve seen in classic swashbuckling pictures. The only complaint about it, was that the fighting sequences were sped up and the action felt rushed and a bit unnatural. I think it would’ve played better had it been edited in at normal speed. Then again, speeding it up a bit hides imperfections. Also, this was common practice in Hollywood, at the time.

The Black Swan is a fun movie but that’s the whole point of swashbucklers. Tyrone Power is just as good of a leading man in this genre as Errol Flynn. Also, Tyrone Power certainly likes running around with his shirt off a lot more than Flynn.

Rating: 9/10