MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.
Our Man In Havana (1959, 111 minutes)
Alec Guinness stars as James Wormold in Graham Greene’s gentle send-up of the growing James Bond phenomenon. Directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man), it’s set in a bustling Havana in 1958 during the last days of the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista, as Fidel Castro’s revolution gathers steam in the Cuban outback. Wormold sells vacuum cleaners, just the kind of innocent cover needed for a potential British secret-service operative, or so thinks Hawthorne, about to recruit Wormold as “his man in Havana.”
Smelling a rat, Captain Segura of the local police questions Wormold’s German friend Dr. Hasselbacher about Hawthorne (Noel Coward). “Who is that man speaking with Mr. Wormold?” asks Segura (Ernie Kovacs) from the back seat of an American limousine. “I don’t know, just a customer,” replies Hasselbacher (Burl Ives). Once Hawthorne discovers that Wormold has a British passport, he says mysteriously, “I’ve enjoyed our little chat. We’ll meet again.” Wormold’s shop assistant, Lopez, remarks, “He never intended to buy.”
Segura is also keeping an eye on Milly (Jo Morrow), Wormold’s beautiful young teenage daughter, and frequently drives her home from school. She is knee-deep in the adolescent-girl stage where she’s in love with horses (an infatuation soon to be replaced by one for boys). Milly’s father worries about her future. As Hasselbacher returns to the shop, Wormold bemoans his financial status. “I could manage a small loan,” says the doctor. “It’s not that,” Wormold replies. “It’s just that I don’t want Milly to grow up in an atmosphere like this: civil war, men like Segura. I want a finishing school in Switzerland for her, a home in Kensington and an Anglo-Saxon husband with two-thousand a year—and no mistress.”
The solution to Wormold’s financial predicament becomes increasingly obvious once he bumps into Hawthorne again, this time in a storied Havana watering hole called Sloppy Joe’s. “What could be easier, meeting a fellow countryman in a bar?” remarks Hawthorne. “Where’s the Gents?” he asks the bartender. “You go in there and I’ll follow,” he says to Wormold. When Wormold protests he doesn’t need the Gents, Hawthorne replies, “Don’t let me down. You’re an Englishman, aren’t you?”
Hawthorne pokes open the doors to the toilet stalls with his umbrella to ascertain they are alone. “Better turn on the water. It looks more convincing,” he says to a bewildered Wormold. “And, of course, it confuses the mic, although there probably wouldn’t be one in a place like this. My name’s Hawthorne, but you will know me better as 59200. I’m in charge of the Caribbean network. Come tonight to room 506 Capri Hotel to sign the Official Secrets Act.” Wormold replies, “You don’t really think I’ll come, do you?” Hawthorne seals the deal by announcing: “A-hundred-and-50 a month plus expenses. Tax free.”