Our Man in Havana


1h 51m 1960
Our Man in Havana

Brief Synopsis

A salesman in Cuba takes up spying to support his spendthrift daughter.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Spy
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 1960
Premiere Information
World premiere in London: 30 Dec 1959; New York opening: 27 Jan 1960
Production Company
Kingsmead Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Havana,Cuba; London, England, Great Britain; London,Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (London, 1958).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In Havana, a very properly dressed British gentleman strolls into the vacuum cleaner store managed by James Wormold, and after being treated to a demonstration of the Atomic Pile vacuum cleaner and ascertaining that Wormold is a British citizen, cryptically states that he will being seeing Wormold again. On the street outside the shop, Havana police captain Segura, known as the "Red Vulture" for his affiliation with the Communists, questions Wormold's friend, Dr. Karl Hasselbacher, about the British vacuum cleaner customer. After Hasselbacher cautions Wormold about Segura's interest in his customer, the man follows Wormold into a bar and pulls him into the washroom, where he introduces himself as Hawthorne, a member of the British Secret Service. Hawthorne then offers Wormold ₤150 per month to become an agent and recruit a network of sub-agents to provide the London office with information about "the enemy." At his hotel room later that night, Hawthorne hands Wormold a copy of the Lambs' Tales and instructs him to use it to encode messages. In need of money to pay for the horse and concomitant membership in an expensive country club that his seventeen-year-old daughter Milly has requested for her birthday, Wormold accepts the assignment. Sometime later in London, Hawthorne unhappily reports to his superior, "C", that the only contact from "their man in Havana" has been a request to pay for an expensive membership in a country club. Upon receiving a curt message from London ordering him to recruit some agents, Wormold hurries to the country club, where he parrots Hawthorne's recruitment pitch to an engineer named Cifuentes and Prof. Sanchez, who regard him as a lunatic. When Wormold laments his miserable failure to Hasselbacher, the doctor advises him simply to "invent" the agents. Inspired, Wormold sends London a cable about his three new recruits, Cifuentes, Sanchez and a stripper named Teresa, who has "ties to important government ministers." One night, seeing a giant shadow of his vacuum cleaners, Wormwold is inspired by their weapon-like appearance and makes sketches of the Atomic Pile, informing London that a pilot he recruited named Montez, whose name he saw on an airline's roster of pilots, spotted them as he flew over a mountain range. Upon examining the drawings, Hawthorne notices that they look like giant vacuum cleaners and is about to voice his suspicion when C pronounces the weapons "more dangerous than the H bomb" and congratulates Hawthorne for his excellent judgment in hiring Wormold. Shortly afterward, Wormold and Hasselbacher are celebrating Milly's birthday at a nightclub when Segura stops by their table and flirts with Milly. Beatrice Severn, a British agent who has just arrived from London to help Wormold, eavesdrops on Segura's suggestive conversation and shoots him in the back with a bottle of seltzer water. After Segura leaves, Wormold, unaware that she is a British agent, introduces himself to Beatrice, who is equally unaware that he is the man to whom she is to report. Upon learning Wormold's name, Beatrice identifies herself and tells him that she has come to Havana with Rudy, who will work as their radio operator. The next day, Beatrice comes to Wormold's store and informs him that the Prime Minister wants photographs of the weapons and has asked to meet Montez. In reality, Montez is a name Wormold appropriated from the roster of a Cuban airline. Stalling for time, Wormold lies that Montez has lost his job piloting for the airline, but he will attempt to find him. Stopping at a bar, Wormold spots a comic strip in which a pilot crashes his plane and decides that Montez should experience the same fate. Upon returning to the office, Wormold states that Montez has agreed to fly a private plane into the mountains, an extremely dangerous task. Soon after, Beatrice and Wormold visit Hasselbacher at his home, and Beatrice becomes suspicious when she sees a copy of Lambs' Tales . When she begins to question Hasselbacher about his German ancestry, Wormold vouches for his friend. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call, and after speaking with the caller, the doctor becomes ashen-faced and announces that Montez has died in a car crash. Worried that all of Wormold's agents may be in danger, Beatrice insists on warning them. Wormold takes her to the Ophelia Club where Teresa is performing, and when the police arrive, Beatrice and Wormold drape Teresa in a veil and haul her out a window onto the street, where they are apprehended by the police and taken to Segura for questioning. Segura explains that he has had Hasselbacher's phone tapped, then plays back a recorded phone call in which a man with a stutter informs the doctor of Montez's death. When Hasselbacher tells the caller that Montez was only to be frightened and not harmed, Wormold realizes that his friend is working for the enemy. Now questioning his friend's loyalty, Wormold goes to see him and finds him wearing a German officer's uniform from World War I. Hasselbacher, who blames himself for Montez's death, admits to decoding Wormold's cables and passing them to the enemy, who had threatened him with deportation unless he cooperated. Flabbergasted, Wormold sputters that he invented everything, to which the doctor responds that he "invented it too well." Soon after, Segura summons Wormold to his office where Cifuentes, whom Wormold had claimed never to have met, testifies that Wormold accosted him at the country club. Segura then demands that Wormold supply him with secret information and give him permission to marry Milly, or else he will be deported. Matters take a turn for the worse when Hawthorne informs Wormold that the department has learned an enemy agent plans to poison him when he gives the keynote speech at the upcoming European Trade Lunch. At the luncheon, Wormold assiduously avoids all food and drink. When his tablemate offers Wormold a slug of scotch from his flask and takes the first gulp, Wormold drops his guard. After draining the flask, Wormold is called upon to give his speech and Hubert Carter, seated across the table, offers him a shot of scotch for fortification. When Carter stammers, Wormold realizes he was the agent who called Hasselbacher. He drops his glass in fear, and after the scotch splashes onto a dog lying on the floor, the dog licks his fur and dies. Shortly afterward, Hasselbacher is murdered, and when Segura asks Wormold to identify the body, Wormold suggests that he investigate Carter. Unsettled by his friend's death, Wormold confesses to Beatrice that he is a fraud and sends her back to London. Later, Segura comes to the shop where Wormold, determined to secure the captain's gun to avenge Hasselbacher's killing, challenges him to a game of chess using miniature liquor bottles as chessmen. The bottles are to be drunk as they are captured, and because Segura is the superior player, he becomes inebriated, after which Wormold suggests that he would be more comfortable if he removed his gun belt. After Segura divulges where Carter lives and passes out, Wormold takes his gun and finds Carter. Wormold invites Carter to accompany him to the Ophelia Club, and before leaving, Carter instructs a colleague to meet them at the club. Outwitting Carter, Wormold takes him to a different club, and as they walk into the street, pulls out his gun. As Carter begs for his life, pleading that he is unarmed, Wormold fires but misses him. As Wormold walks away, Carter pulls out his gun and fires and Wormold shoots back, killing him. At the cemetery where the funerals of Hasselbacher and Carter are held on the same day, Segura presents Wormold his deportation papers and orders him to leave immediately for London. Arriving at the airport to see off Milly and Wormold, Segura hands Wormold the spent shells he fired at Carter. Upon reaching London, Wormold is escorted to Secret Service headquarters where Beatrice greets him and promises to wait for him. C, however, has realized that if the Admiralty ever learns about the folly, his agency will be dismantled. Consequently, he lies that he has learned the weapons have been dismantled and praises Wormold for his valor, adding that he has been recommended for a decoration. As Wormold joins Beatrice in the street, a vendor tries to sell him a toy weapon in the shape of a vacuum cleaner.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Spy
Adaptation
Release Date
Mar 1960
Premiere Information
World premiere in London: 30 Dec 1959; New York opening: 27 Jan 1960
Production Company
Kingsmead Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Havana,Cuba; London, England, Great Britain; London,Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (London, 1958).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Our Man in Havana


Because it's not available on DVD, the 1959 espionage comedy Our Man in Havana is one of the least known of Carol Reed's films. Yet its high-octane cast -- including Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Ernie Kovacs and Maureen O'Hara -- and witty Graham Greene script make it a standout, well worth rediscovery and re-evaluation.

Greene based the story on his own experiences in espionage during World War II. While serving in Portugal near the war's end, he had met some German spies who were sending invented reports back to their dying fatherland in order to keep collecting their paychecks. His first idea was to write a screenplay about an Englishman who does the same thing in pre-war Estonia in order to keep his greedy wife happy. But when the outline was presented to the British film censors it was rejected as derogatory to the British Secret Service. Realizing that he'd have a hard time winning audience sympathy for a character who betrayed England on the eve of World War II, he re-set the story in '50s Havana, changed the wife into a daughter and published it as a novel.

With its exotic setting and comic take on espionage, Our Man in Havana was a natural for the movies. Among the filmmakers vying for the rights was Alfred Hitchcock. When he refused to meet Greene's asking price of 50,000 pounds, however, Greene sold them to his friend and frequent associate Carol Reed for much less, figuring that if he were going to take less than he wanted, he could at least sell the rights to someone he knew would remain faithful to the novel.

Reed and Greene had scored a pair of international hits with The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949). With Reed's career in a slump in the late '50s, this seemed the perfect project to revive his cinematic fortunes. They had little problem selling the project to Columbia Pictures and moved to a hotel in the British resort town Brighton to work on the screenplay.

Columbia asked them to put some U.S. marquee names in the film, so Reed cast American stars like Ernie Kovacs and recent-Oscar®-winner Burl Ives in juicy supporting roles. To star as the vacuum cleaner turned secret agent, he turned to Alec Guinness, a U.S. favorite from such classic '50s comedies as The Ladykillers (1955) and his Oscar®-winning performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Another American favorite, Noel Coward, took the role of the agent who recruits Guinness. Coward had lost out on the role of Harry Lime in The Third Man a decade earlier, so the new film was something of a consolation prize. The studio wanted Lauren Bacall for the female lead, but when she proved unavailable, they turned to O'Hara, whom they already had under contract. Jean Seberg decided to make a little French film called Breathless (1960) rather than play Guinness' daughter, so Reed cast another Columbia contractee, Jo Morrow. To play Coward's boss, he cast Ralph Richardson, who had risen to international stardom in his The Fallen Idol.

Shooting was set for Cuba in early 1959. Then Fidel Castro's communist revolution overthrew the U.S.-supported government of Fulgencio Batista. Columbia's executives were concerned about sending a film company into the unstable country, but Greene assured them that his friendship with Castro would guarantee their safety. When they submitted the script to the new Cuba's Labor Department for work permits, however, they were asked to make changes until they reassured the bureaucrats that the depiction of a corrupt Cuban government would clearly be set during the Batista regime. They even included a written prologue to explain "This film is set in Cuba before the recent revolution."

When filming started, more censorship arrived in the person of the Ministry of Interior, which demanded to inspect the script. They demanded a few minor line changes, insisted that a shoe-shine boy change from rags to nice pants and required Kovacs to shave the beard he had grown for his role as a corrupt police chief (modeled on the head of Batista's police repression squad). By that time, Cubans associated beards with the rebel leaders, so it wouldn't do for a villainous representative of the overthrown government to wear one. When the company moved to the Tropicana to re-create the island's legendary strip club, there was even a censor among the extras, who would rise up and protest whenever one of the women showed too much skin.

Early in the filming, Castro invited Reed, Greene, Coward and Guinness to visit him. When they arrived at his bungalow, however, he was embroiled in a meeting. After waiting 90 minutes, they left. Weeks later, however, the new premier showed up for an impromptu set visit during which he assured Reed there would be no censorship problems. Contrary to rumor, much of it invented by Columbia's PR department, he did not ask O'Hara for a date or try to romance Morrow.

O'Hara had her own brush with the revolution when she met freedom fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara at the hotel where the company was staying. She was impressed by his knowledge of Irish history and the nation's rebellions against the British, particularly when he explained that he had learned it all at the knee of his Irish grandmother. She would later state in her memoirs that the famed Che Guevara cap, worn by students and political dissidents around the world, was really an Irish rebels cap.

After seven weeks of location shooting, the company moved to London for studio work and one day of location work at Parliament Square. They also found it necessary to post-dub all of the Cuban street footage because of problems controlling crowd noises during the shoot. Each day that they shot exteriors, locals would surround the set. Though they provided inexpensive extras for the film, they also became vocally involved in the action, hissing whenever an actor dressed in the blue uniforms of Batista's police force appeared on set.

For most, Our Man in Havana was a congenial experience. Kovacs was delighted that Guinness and Coward "got" his sense of humor (Guinness would call him the funniest man he had ever met), while O'Hara was delighted by Guinness' professionalism and warmed by his praise of the British accent she assumed for her role as a Secret Service secretary. Guinness, however, had not enjoyed his experience working with Reed. Early on Reed had surprised him by stating that Guinness' character was really less important than the events happening around him, so there would be few close-ups of the star. When Guinness showed up on the set with ideas for playing the character as an untidy, fussy little man, Reed told him, "We don't want any of your character acting. Play it straight. Don't act." Not knowing what to do with a direction like that, Guinness delivered an undistinguished performance, allowing Coward and Kovacs to steal the film.

Producer-Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Graham Greene
Based on his novel
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Art Direction: John Box
Music: Hermanos Deniz
Principal Cast: Alec Guinness (Jim Wormold), Burl Ives (Dr. Hasselbacher), Maureen O'Hara (Beatrice Severn), Ernie Kovacs (Capt. Segura), Noel Coward (Hawthorne), Ralph Richardson ("C"), Jo Morrow (Milly Wormold), Paul Rogers (Hubert Carter), Gregoire Aslan (Cifuentes), Maurice Denham (Navy Officer), Maxine Audley (Teresa), Ferdy Mayne (Prof. Sanchez), Karel Stepanek (Dr. Braun), Elisabeth Welch (Beautiful Woman), Rachel Roberts (Prostitute). BW-111m.

by Frank Miller
Our Man In Havana

Our Man in Havana

Because it's not available on DVD, the 1959 espionage comedy Our Man in Havana is one of the least known of Carol Reed's films. Yet its high-octane cast -- including Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Ernie Kovacs and Maureen O'Hara -- and witty Graham Greene script make it a standout, well worth rediscovery and re-evaluation. Greene based the story on his own experiences in espionage during World War II. While serving in Portugal near the war's end, he had met some German spies who were sending invented reports back to their dying fatherland in order to keep collecting their paychecks. His first idea was to write a screenplay about an Englishman who does the same thing in pre-war Estonia in order to keep his greedy wife happy. But when the outline was presented to the British film censors it was rejected as derogatory to the British Secret Service. Realizing that he'd have a hard time winning audience sympathy for a character who betrayed England on the eve of World War II, he re-set the story in '50s Havana, changed the wife into a daughter and published it as a novel. With its exotic setting and comic take on espionage, Our Man in Havana was a natural for the movies. Among the filmmakers vying for the rights was Alfred Hitchcock. When he refused to meet Greene's asking price of 50,000 pounds, however, Greene sold them to his friend and frequent associate Carol Reed for much less, figuring that if he were going to take less than he wanted, he could at least sell the rights to someone he knew would remain faithful to the novel. Reed and Greene had scored a pair of international hits with The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949). With Reed's career in a slump in the late '50s, this seemed the perfect project to revive his cinematic fortunes. They had little problem selling the project to Columbia Pictures and moved to a hotel in the British resort town Brighton to work on the screenplay. Columbia asked them to put some U.S. marquee names in the film, so Reed cast American stars like Ernie Kovacs and recent-Oscar®-winner Burl Ives in juicy supporting roles. To star as the vacuum cleaner turned secret agent, he turned to Alec Guinness, a U.S. favorite from such classic '50s comedies as The Ladykillers (1955) and his Oscar®-winning performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). Another American favorite, Noel Coward, took the role of the agent who recruits Guinness. Coward had lost out on the role of Harry Lime in The Third Man a decade earlier, so the new film was something of a consolation prize. The studio wanted Lauren Bacall for the female lead, but when she proved unavailable, they turned to O'Hara, whom they already had under contract. Jean Seberg decided to make a little French film called Breathless (1960) rather than play Guinness' daughter, so Reed cast another Columbia contractee, Jo Morrow. To play Coward's boss, he cast Ralph Richardson, who had risen to international stardom in his The Fallen Idol. Shooting was set for Cuba in early 1959. Then Fidel Castro's communist revolution overthrew the U.S.-supported government of Fulgencio Batista. Columbia's executives were concerned about sending a film company into the unstable country, but Greene assured them that his friendship with Castro would guarantee their safety. When they submitted the script to the new Cuba's Labor Department for work permits, however, they were asked to make changes until they reassured the bureaucrats that the depiction of a corrupt Cuban government would clearly be set during the Batista regime. They even included a written prologue to explain "This film is set in Cuba before the recent revolution." When filming started, more censorship arrived in the person of the Ministry of Interior, which demanded to inspect the script. They demanded a few minor line changes, insisted that a shoe-shine boy change from rags to nice pants and required Kovacs to shave the beard he had grown for his role as a corrupt police chief (modeled on the head of Batista's police repression squad). By that time, Cubans associated beards with the rebel leaders, so it wouldn't do for a villainous representative of the overthrown government to wear one. When the company moved to the Tropicana to re-create the island's legendary strip club, there was even a censor among the extras, who would rise up and protest whenever one of the women showed too much skin. Early in the filming, Castro invited Reed, Greene, Coward and Guinness to visit him. When they arrived at his bungalow, however, he was embroiled in a meeting. After waiting 90 minutes, they left. Weeks later, however, the new premier showed up for an impromptu set visit during which he assured Reed there would be no censorship problems. Contrary to rumor, much of it invented by Columbia's PR department, he did not ask O'Hara for a date or try to romance Morrow. O'Hara had her own brush with the revolution when she met freedom fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara at the hotel where the company was staying. She was impressed by his knowledge of Irish history and the nation's rebellions against the British, particularly when he explained that he had learned it all at the knee of his Irish grandmother. She would later state in her memoirs that the famed Che Guevara cap, worn by students and political dissidents around the world, was really an Irish rebels cap. After seven weeks of location shooting, the company moved to London for studio work and one day of location work at Parliament Square. They also found it necessary to post-dub all of the Cuban street footage because of problems controlling crowd noises during the shoot. Each day that they shot exteriors, locals would surround the set. Though they provided inexpensive extras for the film, they also became vocally involved in the action, hissing whenever an actor dressed in the blue uniforms of Batista's police force appeared on set. For most, Our Man in Havana was a congenial experience. Kovacs was delighted that Guinness and Coward "got" his sense of humor (Guinness would call him the funniest man he had ever met), while O'Hara was delighted by Guinness' professionalism and warmed by his praise of the British accent she assumed for her role as a Secret Service secretary. Guinness, however, had not enjoyed his experience working with Reed. Early on Reed had surprised him by stating that Guinness' character was really less important than the events happening around him, so there would be few close-ups of the star. When Guinness showed up on the set with ideas for playing the character as an untidy, fussy little man, Reed told him, "We don't want any of your character acting. Play it straight. Don't act." Not knowing what to do with a direction like that, Guinness delivered an undistinguished performance, allowing Coward and Kovacs to steal the film. Producer-Director: Carol Reed Screenplay: Graham Greene Based on his novel Cinematography: Oswald Morris Art Direction: John Box Music: Hermanos Deniz Principal Cast: Alec Guinness (Jim Wormold), Burl Ives (Dr. Hasselbacher), Maureen O'Hara (Beatrice Severn), Ernie Kovacs (Capt. Segura), Noel Coward (Hawthorne), Ralph Richardson ("C"), Jo Morrow (Milly Wormold), Paul Rogers (Hubert Carter), Gregoire Aslan (Cifuentes), Maurice Denham (Navy Officer), Maxine Audley (Teresa), Ferdy Mayne (Prof. Sanchez), Karel Stepanek (Dr. Braun), Elisabeth Welch (Beautiful Woman), Rachel Roberts (Prostitute). BW-111m. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The title credit reads "Carol Reed's production Our Man in Havana." In the film's opening shot, an attractive woman swims in a pool as "Capt. Segura" watches her. The camera then cuts to a man gazing at a seductive woman standing on a balcony. The following written prologue appears over the image of the woman swimming in the pool: "This film is set in Cuba before the recent revolution." According to a Hollywood Reporter item in the "Rambling Reporter" column, the decision to film in Havana was made in December 1958. On January 1, 1959, Fulgencio Batista, the head of Cuba's U.S.-backed regime, was ousted from power by a military junta, and on February 16, 1959, Fidel Castro was appointed prime minister of the newly installed revolutionary government (for more information about Castro and the Cuban revolution, please for The Truth About Fidel Castro).
       An April 1959 New York Times article noted that the regime change meant that the film's script had to be submitted to the Minister of the Interior, which suggested thirty-nine changes. The New York Times added that establishing the film took place before the revolution would avoid any criticism about presenting the current regime as corrupt. According to a January 1959 news item in Los Angeles Times, the character of Capt. Segura was modeled on Capt. Esteban Bentura, the head of Batista's police squad. A May 1959 Variety article noted that the Cuban labor union insisted that British production personnel were matched by Cuban stand-bys.
       The Variety article added that filming in Cuba presented several obstacles. The noise of Cuba's streets required that the soundtrack be post-recorded at a local studio at the end of each working day. Daily rushes were sent to editor Bert Bates in London, creating a three-day delay between the time the footage was shot and Bert's viewing of the results and reporting back to Reed. An April 1959 article in Time added that location shooting was done at the Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club and other locations in Havana. According to October and December 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items, Jean Seberg and Evy Norland were considered for the role of "Milly." In February 1959, Daily Variety reported that Lauren Bacall was being considered for a role.
       The film closely parallels Graham Greene's novel. The major differences are that "Professor Sanchez" has a larger role in the novel, which ends with "Wormold" being given a second assignment. Lambs' Tales, originally known as Tales from Shakespeare which figures prominently in the film, was an 1807 compendium of summaries of William Shakespeare's plays written by Charles and Mary Lamb. A biography of Reed noted that Greene worked as a spy in the British Secret Service from 1943-1944. Fifteen years before writing the novel, Greene conceived of the idea for Our Man in Havana in an outline he wrote for Brazilian filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti. The plot was originally set in Estonia during World War II, and Cavalcanti and Greene were forced to abandon the project when the British Board of Film Censors refused to issue a certificate because the film would make fun of the Secret Service. Fifteen years later, Greene wrote the novel, but changed the setting to Cuba because he felt that "a reader would not be sympathetic to a man cheating his country in Hitler's day." The biography noted that Alfred Hitchcock negotiated for the screen rights to the novel, but would not meet Greene's price.
       Reed, who directed two other films based on Greene novels, The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, then secured the screen rights. Kingsmead Productions, the company that produced Our Man in Havana, was organized by Reed. The film was made with the financial backing of Columbia Pictures. Although the Variety review says that local music was "composed by Hermanos Deniz and played by his Cuban Rhythm Orchestra," Filmfacts calls it "The H. Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1960

Released in United States Winter January 1960