Our Man in Havana ★★★

A lot of the filmmaking seems a bit too kind for what could have been a ridiculously radical and subversive satire in the vein of Ishtar, but Greene and Reed are just too nice when it comes to this kind of parody of Greene's own novels. The slanted camera angles feel forced and the various comic set pieces are always played for a type of genteel laugh that stays within boundaries. Reed gets a lot of information through his frames—widescreen deep focus to play with foreground/background dynamics of characters, but he just doesn't do much to push us into uncomfortable territory. It's a lot of chuckles, not many guffaws.

Part of this may be Alec Guinness, who seems all too relaxed and charming in this situation. This calls for Jerry Lewis type insanity (or possibly Dennis O'Keefe?), especially the whiskey-speech scene—it's the kind that seems to be built on various set pieces (the dinner plate, the dog, the glass), but never builds. Comedy requires stakes too, but there's not much happening here in terms of building a universe, just more of a "and this happened then this happened" thing, and Guinness's relaxed mode keeps things too cooled. "Just a joke in doubtful taste" Guinness murmurs to himself near the end of the film, which could be a metaphor for the movie. Perhaps it may have been better to shoot outside of the state where government officials were surely looking over every shoulder. Surely Maureen O'Hara can do comedy as well?

One perfect visual joke, however: as Guinness meets with Coward in Jamaica, the latter attempts to get some privacy from a man standing in the background by closing a useless bamboo door. Neither acknowledge it, and it's funnier for it.

Peter liked this review