Our Man in Havana: Cuba Before Fall

DATELINE:  Greene for Thrills

ready for bed Guinness Doth Make Coward!

Would lightning strike twice? Throw in a Graham Greene novella, director Carol Reed, and a hotbed of political activity in the 1950s, and voila, you have an instant spy thriller, called Our Man in Havana.

The novella and screenplay were written by Greene himself, which may or may not be good, considering his lofty and singular opinion of what a good film should be. He respected Carol Reed enough to trust him again after The Third Man. And, with his lukewarm anti-American streak, the pre-Communist Castro lent his blessing to the project.

The result is a last-ditch look at the charm of old Havana before it underwent a lifetime of rot. To see it like this may sadden any self-respecting tourista.

Add in a delicious cast:  Alec Guinness as a would-be spy, Ernie Kovacs as a Cuban military leader, Maureen O’Hara as an officious colleague, Noel Coward as a Home Office Boy, with Ralph Richardson as his boss, and Burl Ives, hot off his Oscar, as a German expatriate, and something’s gotta give. The story concerns a British vacuum salesman who gives off airs of an obsequious secret agent who riles up the Cuban dictatorship before Castro. You mean there was no role for Errol Flynn who was there for the Cuban rebel girls?

At one point, Guinness notes that his daughter has an American accent for some reason. We suspect it has to do with the producer hiring his girlfriend, but we may be too harsh.

Burl Ives advises Guiness to take a job as a secret agent for Noel Coward and send it fake secret reports by fake secret agents. Alas, reality bites: everything he makes up is actually true.

The humor is so dry in this film that it almost seems arid. Greene rakes the James Bond ilk over the coals, with its bird-dropping invisible ink and codes taken out of a Dickensian book of Lamb to the slaughter sayings.

Kovacs and Guinness play a game of drinking checkers as a mental match.

Today’s audiences may be more befuddled by the intelligence of yore. Some of the actors are clearly in a straitjacket with not much ado. Yet, the overall effect is high-dudgeon Cold War spy thrills.

Our Man in Havana is simply amazing when not overwrought with super-suction.

Giancana: Recognizing Truth & Disbelieving Sam(e)

DATELINE: Unimpeachable Crime

sam Sam Testifies to Congressional Hearing!

Mobster Sam Giancana’s great nephew wrote and produced a documentary on the notorious and contradictory mob leader. It is fascinating and entitled: Momo, the Sam Giancana Story. If you wondered about an inspiration for The Godfather, here it is.

Giancana’s daughters oversaw the production and participated in giving personal details about their father.

What came out of the life of a Chicago mobster, one of the successors to Al Capone, is a dapper and dangerous figure who wanted to be a globe-trotting figure of celebrity. He hobnobbed with the likes of Frank Sinatra and was boon companion to Phyllis McGuire of the famous singing sisters.

He had tentacles everywhere but managed to keep his life compartmentalized. He was a kindly family man—and to his associates he was a bad-tempered businessman.

Reconciling the elements reaches a state of improbability that turns viewers into cartoon version of “Believe or Not!”

Giancana made deals with Joe Kennedy to make his son president. He made deals with the CIA to murder Fidel Castro for taking away the mob’s Cuban casinos. He made deals to run Las Vegas—and he was a man who liked to control influence over powerful people. He shared mistresses Judith Exner Campell and Marilyn Monroe in order to gain an advantage.

He had close ties to Jack Ruby, a mob nightclub owner in Dallas, who often did business for Giancana. One of Lee Harvey Oswald’s brothers was hooked into the New Orleans mob.

The stretch or reach of Giancana may be disturbing beyond having turned Oswald into a patsy and hired Chicago killers to murder John Kennedy, hired J.D. Tippitt to kill Oswald, and then had it all go awry.

On the verge of talking to a U.S. Senate committee in 1975, his flamboyant mob boss attitude perturbed more than a few in the criminal element who ordered him assassinated in his own home. His flashy style did him in.

With corruption so total and human nature so contradictory, the life of Momo Sam Giancana takes on a sense of reality that may have you shake your head in recognition and in disbelief.