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.

Project Blue Book: Stick a Fork in It !

DATELINE:  Fork in the Series?

Fork in the series

Malarky & Weapon of Choice: his Fork.

Project Blue Book dealt with one of those deliberate hoaxes of the 1950s that Hynek exposed to the glee of his government sponsors.

“Scoutmaster” allegedly shot an alien while out on a camping trip with his Boy Scout contingent. Like all these tales, it is based on some kind of factual story.

This episode was intriguing because the series split up their tandem investigators. The generals pulled Captain Quinn (Mike Malarkey) out for some nasty bit of rogue operation.

Hynek was left to play Sherlock Holmes without his impediment Watson. And, beyond a doubt, Hynek (in the form of Aiden Gillen) showed he could carry the show with his professorial pedantry.

On this episode Hynek came up with the ridiculous explanation of swamp gas to explain strange lights in the sky. Not even the townspeople buy it in 1952.

As part of the investigation about the strange shaped cranium discovered at the site of the UFO encounter, he had to consult a tribal expert. He visited a Native American shaman (Graham Greene, who else?) for some answers to his UFO mystery.

On the other hand, the series seemed to show Quinn off to the most negative of all his bad qualities. Perhaps he will be written out or turned into some kind of righteous victim. His sado-masochism did not play out as heroic or tough-guy. We hope sincerely that he is abducted by aliens and used for sexual experiments.

The character is vicious and a thug in an Air Force uniform. He literally sticks a fork into someone. With only a few episodes left in the initial season, we are not quite sure what to make of his development.

In some ways, the series Project Blue Book is becoming rather unpleasant.

 

 

Dangerous Edge: Greene for Danger

DATELINE:  Literary Marvel

Greene  The Other Shade of Greene

Before Graham Greene was known as a Native American actor and movie star, he was one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  Oh, they were different people with the same name.

British writer Greene joined Hemingway as a character as vivid as his heroes of fiction. Like them, he was a converted Roman Catholic with severe doubts and moral lapses. He was, like them, often a writer and journalist, and he shared a background as a spy with many of his literary heroes. He was not a nice man.

And he loved to write movie reviews. Well, he wasn’t all bad.

As a cinematic novelist, his works often reached the screen with great influence: from This Gun for Hire, The Third Man,  Power and Glory, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Quiet American, Travels with my Aunt, and on and on.

He seemed always to visit a far-off location right before it blew up into an international crisis spot: from Cuba to Haiti to Vietnam.

As a boy, his father was the headmaster of their school—and all his classmates regarded him as a spy for the old man. The notion stuck.

He was notoriously promiscuous and a womanizer, as well as an inveterate traveler. He was virulently anti-American for the most part—and loathed the movies that messed up his message (Quiet American Audie Murphy comes to mind, which can be seen in the book Audie Murphy in Vietnam by William Russo).

He defended notorious Communist Kim Philby, the Brit spy, and one of his closest friends. He accepted honors from the Soviet Union, but not from the Nobel Prize committee. No wonder the FBI and CIA kept him under surveillance.

Greene was also a suicidal manic-depressive most of the time, though he lived until his 80s and finally came to realize his mission was to write. He believed his work ultimately was his life and his identity. He was not far wrong.

The documentary about his life, Dangerous Edge, even features people like John LeCarre, his likely successor in literature, and the film uses many clips from the famous movies. He used to call his less serious work “entertainments,” but it all ended up as serious and entertaining.

Wind River of No Return

 DATELINE:  The Usual Targets?

Graham Greene   Greene for Danger!

What can you say about a movie that shows the FBI as inept and callow, insensitive to Native American needs, and represented by a woman? It almost seems like it was directed by Donald Trump, but the culprit is Taylor Sheridan (a better director than writer).

Wind River is literally a chilling murder mystery set in frigid American Indian lands.

If there are women agents in the FBI, this film is not meant to give them any respect. On top of it all, the murder victim in this Wyoming Bureau of Indian Affairs story is a young girl, adding to the layer of “me tooism” topicality.

The FBI investigator could have been represented by a rookie male agent, but that might have sent shivers down the spine of the macho men in the movie.

Jeremy Renner plays a Fish & Wildlife government agent who must step outside his usual job to solve the crime and assist the FBI.  He does have added impetus as his own daughter appears to have met an untimely end too.

We give Renner credit for convincing us he is an outdoorsman and knowledgeable hunter of predators. We also want to commend Graham Greene as the sheriff of the Indian reservation who plays world-weary perfectly. He is always the best part in any film.

Elizabeth Olsen is so wide-eyed stupid that she shows up in a blizzard without gloves, boots and winter hat. Don’t blame her. Blame the ridiculously disrespectful script.

The cast of American natives are played by Native Americans, which is most refreshing. Every minority actor seems perfect in his role.

They present a world still misunderstood, patronized, and resigned to maltreatment by the United States government.

Movies about discrimination and physical abuse of women and Native Americans should not compound the problem. For all its good intentions and strong production values, there is something missing in the basic value of the script in an otherwise well-done movie.