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We Were Strangers

4.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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(Feb 22, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

It's been seven long years since his people last tasted freedom. So when Cuban-born expatriate Tony Fenner (John Garfield) finally returns to Havana, he joins the Organization, a small band of revolutionaries dedicated to ending the tyrannical rule of President Gerardo Machado. Aided by fellow rebel China Valdes (Jennifer Jones), Fenner proceeds with his audacious master plan: to execute the head of the senate and then assassinate all of Cuba's leaders at his well-attended state funeral. And so, as the secret police race to stop them, Fenner and Valdes tunnel beneath the cemetery, where theyintend to detonate a bomb so powerful, it will wipe out Machado's entire government with one blow. One of director John Huston's most controversial and rarely screened films, WE WERE STRANGERS is an explosively intense, action-suspense thriller.


Following the 1948 one-two punch of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo, and before hitting the halcyon streak of The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), and The African Queen (1951), John Huston directed a fascinating movie called We Were Strangers--which could have been the working title of almost any picture Huston made. The first endeavor of his and Sam Spiegel's independent Horizon company, it's a very offbeat film that deserves to be better known. In 1933, an American leftist (John Garfield) returns to his native Cuba to help topple a dictator. Thrown together with a diverse band of co-conspirators--including a recently radicalized young woman (Jennifer Jones) and an endearingly lusty proletarian (Gilbert Roland)--he hatches a macabre plot for planting a bomb under El Presidente and his cabinet. Have no doubt that, in finest Hustonian tradition, the quest will trace a twisted itinerary, with several grotesque detours, to the most bitterly ironical of endings. The casting of Garfield, soon to be a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, retrospectively darkens this HUAC-era production. Aesthetically, the Cuban setting, spare rhythms, and stylized, quasi-literary dialogue speak to the looming shadow of Ernest Hemingway, a big influence on Huston's early writing and a boon companion of the director and co-screenwriter Peter Viertel, while in theme and mood the picture honors the growing cult of French Existentialism-with-a-capital-E (hardly coincidentally, Huston had directed the first American stage production of No Exit not long before). --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Gilbert Roland, John Garfield, Jennifer Jones
  • Directors: John Huston
  • Producers: Sam Spiegel, S.P. Eagle
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English, Spanish, Japanese
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: February 22, 2005
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00070HK42
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,325 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "We Were Strangers" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
At long last a forgotten blockbuster film from Hollywood's Golden Era will soon be released on DVD! Passed up for re-issue on video this action packed, star studded epic will leave an unforgettable impression. Starring Jennifer Jones as the sultry cuban belle and revolutionary, "China" Valdes, John Garfield as Tony Fenner, a courageous Cuban-American revolutionary, Pedro Armendariz as Ariete, the ruthless chief of dictator Machado's police and co-starring Gilbert Roland, Morris Ankrum, Ramon Novarro and others. Filmed entirely in Havana, Cuba in 1948 and released in 1949, this film is based on a true story of the Cuban underground fight against the dictatorship of Machado,during the final days of his regime in 1933.

"We Were Strangers" is definitely one of Hollywood's best action films, virtually forgotten but luckily will soon be available.

I highly recommend this film. Do not miss it as it will definitely become one of your favorites!
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In between making the classics "Treasure of the Sierre Madre" (1948) and "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), John Huston made "We Were Strangers," which virtually vanished and was never released on VHS and seldom shown on television. At the time of the film's release, which was right at the beginning of the HUAC Committee and American political paranoia, it predictably received unfavorable and questionable attention. It was released in April of 1949 but audiences were perplexed by it and it quickly vanished from theaters.

Based on the overthrow of Cuban dictator Geraldo Machado Morales in 1933, the story is about a group of revolutionaries who plot to bring down their corrupt government. China (pronounced Cheena) Valdez witnesses her brother's murder after he distributes leftist pamphlets and vows that she will kill his assassin. At his funeral, however, she is persuaded to join an underground group whose motives are more carefully orchestrated. China's house is next door to a cemetery and the leader of the group (John Garfield) devises a scheme to assasinate an official whose family plot is in the cemetery and detonate a bomb at the man's funeral thereby killing as many officials as possible. To do this, they must dig a tunnel from China's house to the cemetery. Most of the movie is concentrated on the digging of the tunnel as Garfield and Jones' develop a romantic interest in each other. However, the film never lets the romantic issues overpower the film's basic purposes of depicting the desperateness of the Cuban terrorists and the film ends with a violent and exciting shoot-out sequence.

The film often suffers in a few places from sluggish pacing but the performances are all first rate.
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The most recent issue of FILMFAX Magazine (Autumn, 2007) includes an interesting article which claims that this movie was one of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's 'trigger' films.

Oswald's widow went on record (in the Warren Report) stating that Oswald watched this film twice in 24 hours when it was shown on a local Dallas TV station, just over a month before Kennedy was killed. Researchers have verified that "We Were Strangers" was, indeed, screened twice in Dallas over a weekend in October of 1963. Following Kennedy's death, the film was effectively buried---it wasn't shown again on TV and was never released on video. It was only released on DVD about five years ago. Even the official PR copy for the DVD neglects to mention these facts.

Nobody knows if Oswald ever saw "The Manchurian Candidate". But he did absolutely see "We Were Strangers". Wondering what he was looking for in this movie, and wondering how this movie might've influenced history, make watching this film an interesting experience.
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Format: DVD
Released in 1949, WE WERE STRANGERS had the misfortune to run into the Communist Witchhunt on two counts. The first was actor John Garfield, a liberal who defied the House Unamerican Activities Committee at the height of its dark powers. The second was the film itself, which a presented a group of leftist Cuban militants in a sympathetic light as they worked up a terrorist plot to overthrow a repressive right-wing government. Garfield was blacklisted by the film industry for his refusal to play ball with HUAC and he died of heart attack at age 39 in 1952. WE WERE STRANGERS was not as popular as director John Huston's earlier or later movies, it received mixed reviews at the time, and it quickly disappeared from theatres. The rare television showing aside, the film virtually disappeared for fifty years--and particularly so after the assasination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The story is based on the 1933 overthrow of right-wing Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales, who was ultimately toppled from power by United States influences working Cuba--which is exactly what the film shows. China Valdez (Jennifer Jones) witnesses the murder of her brother by a government official and is radicalized as a result. She is determined to murder her brother's killer, but she falls into a group insurrectionists who have a wider plan: the overthrow of the government itself. The team, which is merely a cell of a larger organization, includes Cuban-American John Fenner (John Garfield), Armondo (Pedro Armendariz), Guillermo (Gilbert Roland), and "the chief" (Roman Novarro.
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