Customer Reviews

99
4.4 out of 5 stars
Our Man in Havana
Format: Amazon Instant VideoChange
Price:$2.99
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Sir Carol Reed's 1960 film of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" gets off to a slow start. The expatriate British widower Jim Wormold (Alec Guinness) is having difficulty making enough money to support the expensive tastes of his cherished teenaged daughter Milly (Jo Morrow), who has caught the idea of a Batista torturer and equestrian, Capt. Segura (Ernie Kovacs). The British spymaster for the Caribbean (Noël Coward) insists that Wormold become a British secret agent, and Wormold decides to take the money and when pressed for results, concocts nonsense "intelligence."
His ludicrous inventions, including a military installation he invents out of vacuum cleaner parts, are taken very seriously. As in Greene's "The Third Man" (also filmed by Reed) and "The Quiet American" (filmed by Joseph Mankiewicz), ignorance ("innocence") proves to be extremely dangerous to others. This film is not as great as those other two, but has a very strong cast (including Burl Ives as a German doctor, Maureen O'Hara as a plucky M16 professional sent to assist Wormold, and Ralph Richardson as the agency head back in London) and splendid black-and-white cinematography of Havana almost as good as that of Vienna and Hanoi in the other two films. The camerawork is by Oswald Morris, John Huston's cinematographer on another, broader 1950s spy spoof (Beat the Devil) and other films (including the 1952 Moulin Rouge, Moby Dick, The Roots of Heaven, The Man who Would be King, and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison) plus Kubrick's "Lolita" and Reed's "Oliver!"
Guinness (who had a career in spying movies ahead of him!) delivers a subtle performance. More unexpectedly, so does Ernie Kovacs, who was generally a very broad and antic comic. A thuggish police officer in a Latin American dictatorship is an easy target, but Kovacs draws on the tradition of cortesia and is considerably more professional than the M16 establishment that turns out to be at least as devoted as he is to keeping up appearances. Burl Ives (who long outlived Kovacs, but stopped getting roles like those in which he was so memorable in the late 1950s) also delivers a subtle performance as he is dragged into the madness Wormold's fantasies unleash.
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 10, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Our Man in Havana is an excellent, sly black comedy with a screenplay by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. James Wormold (Alec Guinness) is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. He's getting by but needs more money to take care of his teen-aged daughter. He's recruited as a spy for Britain by Noel Coward. He doesn't really know what's wanted, but he can use the money. Since he doesn't know anything of value, he begins making up stories and inventing plans, and mentioning the names of people supposedly involved. The names, of course, are just names he picked at random. His masterpiece is his "discovery" of a giant military complex, the plans of which he gets to his controller (Coward), who sends them on to London. The plans are actually the diagrams of one of his vacuum cleaners. This first part of the movie is a funny, sharp-edged parody of British pomposity and the thick headedness of "intelligence."

But then people begin to die.

It seems there may be more than British spies in Havana, spies who also believe the plans are genuine, and who are a lot more ruthless than the British. The second half of the film is darker, less funny and much more sardonic.

The cast is a strange grouping of disparate acting styles, but somehow they all work very well together. In addition to Guinness and Coward, there is Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O'Hara and Ralph Richardson. Coward is priceless as a mannered, fatuous, obliviously incompetent spy. Kovacs for once is less Kovacs and more the part. He plays the Cuban police's main man in catching spies. He's amusing, and so are his lines. Among them, "There are two classes of people: those who can be tortured and those who can't." He and Guinness share a great scene where Guinness, who has to get away from Kovacs, challenges him to a checkers match with the pieces being miniature liquor bottles. Each time a piece is taken, the victor has to drink it. Guinness manages to lose regularly. Kovacs preens on his victories and only gradually, and increasingly incoherently, begins to suspect.

For Reed, who directed The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and other classic films, this is, in my opinion, the last of his first-rate movies. For years it has needed a Region 1 DVD release. There is a fine Region 2 DVD which I have. I'll add to this review if there are any significant differences or extras.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2004
Alec Guinness gives a terrifically funny performance as Wormold, a reluctant, middle-aged British resident of Havana who is approached by his country's desperate, and ridiculously credulous, "intelligence service" to do his patriotic duty and become a part-time spy. Wormold is also the lonely father of a nubile daughter and he needs extra money to answer her increasingly expensive wishes. The government will pay well. One day, rather hopelessly and absently, he sketches the interior of a vacuum cleaner he is supposed to be selling at his modest business, pretending his sketch pertains to some dangerous, real-life strategic device. His secret agent employers are elated. They send Wormold money. Unfortunately, they also become desperate for more "intelligence" from the now equally desperate Wormold. As he invents ever more outrageous fictions, the spy masters grow ever more fascinated. Then comes the kicker: Wormold's elaborate fantasies begin to come true. He has created a monster, in effect. The complexities of his imaginary spy world begin to envelope him. The outcome is terrible - and terribly funny. The subtle comic genius of Guinness may be lost on some American audiences, or it may be just your cup of tea. I laughed till I cried. I have never forgotten this movie since I saw it when I was an English major, studying Graham Greene, among others. I eagerly await its issuance in DVD.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
A simply wonderful adaptation by Graham Greene of his book about how an unwitting British expatriate who is having difficulty supporting his daughter's expensive habits as a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana is recruited to become a secret agent for the British government. The movie is intelligent, witty, and timely with great casting and excellent performances. While billed as a tongue-in-cheek comedy, it may not be too far from the truth in shedding light on how governments recruit their spies, obtain secret information, and cover their tracks. The film is excellent - and the book is, too.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
This is a very funny black comedy with a screenplay by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. James Wormold (Alec Guinness) is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. He's getting by but needs more money to take care of his teen-aged daughter. He's recruited as a spy for Britain by Noel Coward. He doesn't really know what's wanted, but he can use the money. Since he doesn't know anything of value, he begins making up stories and inventing plans, and mentioning the names of people supposedly involved. The names, of course, are just names he picked at random. His masterpiece is his "discovery" of a giant military complex, the plans of which he gets to his controller (Coward) who sends them on the London. The plans are actually the diagrams of one of his vacuum cleaners. This first part of the movie is a funny, sharp-edged parody of British pomposity and the thick headedness of "intelligence."

But then people begin to die.

It seems there may be more than British spies in Havana, spies who also believe the plans are genuine, and who are a lot more ruthless than the British. The second half of the film is darker, less funny and much more sardonic.

The cast is a strange grouping of disparate acting styles, but somehow they all work very well together. In addition to Guinness and Coward, there is Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O'Hara and Ralph Richardson. Coward is priceless as a mannered, fatuous, obliviously incompetent spy. Kovacs for once is less Kovacs and more the part. He plays the Cuban police's main man in catching spies. He's amusing, and so are his lines. Among them, "There are two classes of people: those who can be tortured and those who can't." He and Guinness share a great scene where Guinness, who has to get away from Kovacs, challenges him to a checkers match with the pieces being miniature liquor bottles. Each time a piece is taken, the victor has to drink it. Guinness manages to lose regularly. Kovacs preens on his victories and only gradually, and increasingly incoherently, begins to suspect.

For Reed, who directed The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and other classic films, this is, in my opinion, the last of his first-rate movies. He continued to direct but made such things as The Key, Oliver! and The Agony and the Ecstasy.

This is a film that cries out to be on DVD. It's not even available on VHS. I taped it three or four years ago when it was on cable and watched it again over the weekend. Keep an eye out for it if its ever released. It's a very good movie.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2003
Graham Greene served in British Intelligence during the 1939-1945 war along with other literary types such as Malcolm Muggeridge. They all were less than impressed with the organization and expressed this in various literary ways. For Greene it was a series of semi historical novels. I would guess that Inspector Clouseau would not feel out of place in the MI6 of the post war era. In this novel Greene illustrates all of the misunderstandings and quirks of fate that foul up intelligence operations. An inept person is recruited into the organization. In order to show results he fakes the recruitment of subagents and fabricates information they are supposed to have given to him. His security is bad and these reports are read by the other side thinking they are true. The sub agents are arrested and tortured to death. The hero is recalled to London and given a medal and retirement to cover up for the bungling of himself and the poor judgement of the person who recruited him and the people who accepted his false information and used it for national policy direction.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It is scandalous that this fine film has been withheld from DVD and VHS, Region 1 release in the United States. What possibly could be the problem? It couldn't be because of the director, the same Carol Reed of The Third Man, The Fallen Idol, A Kid for Two Farthings, Oliver, and scores of other fine films. It couldn't be because of the superb cast of Alec Guinness, Maureen O'Hara, Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Ralph Richardson, and Noel Coward. It certainly would not be because of the same infallible textures by photographer Oswald Morris which brought oohs and aahs for Kubrick's 1962 Lolita and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Surely there could be no argument that novelist Graham Greene's screenplay could be any less entertaining than his book. Given such a superb company, and the undeniable fact that this is an eye-popping, first-rate production, one wonders for the reason of its exile.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2004
One thing this film accomplishes that it did not intend to is to give us all a farewell look at pre-communist Cuba. Many Cuban exiles have been ctitical of this film saying it focused too much on the negative aspects of Cuba during this period making the country seem so kitchen sink . Erine Kovacs did a stellar job playing Capt Segura, the hated & corrupt police offical who drives around Havana in a mouth watering Mercedes 300SL roadster. This movie was in my opinion the performance of Air Alec Guiness's career not Star Wars. I wonder why it is not out on DVD....
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Our Man in Havana is an excellent, sly black comedy with a screenplay by Graham Greene and directed by Carol Reed. James Wormold (Alec Guinness) is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana. He's getting by but needs more money to take care of his teen-aged daughter. He's recruited as a spy for Britain by Noel Coward. He doesn't really know what's wanted, but he can use the money. Since he doesn't know anything of value, he begins making up stories and inventing plans, and mentioning the names of people supposedly involved. The names, of course, are just names he picked at random. His masterpiece is his "discovery" of a giant military complex, the plans of which he gets to his controller (Coward), who sends them on to London. The plans are actually the diagrams of one of his vacuum cleaners. This first part of the movie is a funny, sharp-edged parody of British pomposity and the thick headedness of "intelligence."

But then people begin to die.

It seems there may be more than British spies in Havana, spies who also believe the plans are genuine, and who are a lot more ruthless than the British. The second half of the film is darker, less funny and much more sardonic.

The cast is a strange grouping of disparate acting styles, but somehow they all work very well together. In addition to Guinness and Coward, there is Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O'Hara and Ralph Richardson. Coward is priceless as a mannered, fatuous, obliviously incompetent spy. Kovacs for once is less Kovacs and more the part. He plays the Cuban police's main man in catching spies. He's amusing, and so are his lines. Among them, "There are two classes of people: those who can be tortured and those who can't." He and Guinness share a great scene where Guinness, who has to get away from Kovacs, challenges him to a checkers match with the pieces being miniature liquor bottles. Each time a piece is taken, the victor has to drink it. Guinness manages to lose regularly. Kovacs preens on his victories and only gradually, and increasingly incoherently, begins to suspect.

For Reed, who directed The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and other classic films, this is, in my opinion, the last of his first-rate movies. He continued to direct but made such things as The Key, Oliver! and The Agony and the Ecstasy.

This is a film that cries out to be on a Region 1 DVD. If nothing else, this Region 2 DVD is an excellent reason to go out and buy an all-region/PAL-compatible DVD player. Amazon sells them.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I can only add some personal observations here, about one of my favorite films of all time, and in my opinion, the best Cold War film ever! Remember one thing: this is loosely based on a true story and it is the one weakness. They should have done a biography instead of this black comedy. You'll see what I mean, below.

1. This film is so educational, even for today's jaded audience. If you've ever wondered about spies, MI-5, MI-6 (they are two different operations), Cuba in the 1950s or even how Alec Guinness looked as a young man ... your answers are here. This film is an object lesson about one nation gathering intel on another. Just consider the fact that the cast and crew were free to wander Havana. Noel Coward and Ernie Kovacs took advantage and had holidays there. Kovacs brought back boxes and boxes of his favorite missile-sized cigars!

2. This is one of Ernie Kovacs' finest performances, and I heard he was up for an Oscar, getting ousted only because he admittedly could not do a Spanish accent. He also wasn't very pleased about playing a captain, even though here he is menacing as a Bautista-era Cuban police captain.

3. Burl Ives is equally chilling as a washed-up German spy, but only because he is a sad, wise, cornered man. I've never seen Ives in another film. Here Ives also is Oscar-worthy.

4. I love all the stories about the shooting in Havana for this film. I especially love Kovacs talking about all the people who mistook him for a real Bautista policeman. And you haven't lived until you've seen Alec Guinness in a Guayabera shirt! It speaks to the genuineness of this film.

5. There is a deep political warning in this film, and it isn't simply about corruption. It is also about not caring and the dangers that can befall us through disinterest. Guinness learns the hard way with all the deaths near the end of the film, but the British government also learn that gathering intel is fraught with stupid perils - to be done rightly or not at all! This may be a symbolic message about D-Day because ...

6. This film and Guinness' character is based on the riveting true story of Spanish WWII spy Juan Pujols. Desperately trying to 'get in good' with the Nazis, Pujols pretended to hand them juicy intelligence from Britain, inventing fictitious agents-in-place just like Guinness' character does. Pujols had never even seen England, yet he had the Nazis duped.

His real mission was to get the attention of MI-6 so he could work for Britain. After a year of successfully handing the Nazis pure fiction, Pujols was finally accepted by MI-6 - they codenamed him Garbo. He made D-Day possible, and even saved the operation when it was imperiled. At the end of his life, just short of 80 years old, Pujols said, "I don't think I did enough."

All I can conclude here is you don't really like film and therefore you're not doing enough, if you put off watching this classic 1950s gem.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed


 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.