Monday, December 28, 2009

PIER 5, HAVANA (1959)

This B-film, which tries to conjure up good feelings by referencing Casablanca and The Third Man, is worth watching as a novelty on two fronts: 1) it's one of the last American films shot at least partly on location in Cuba; 2) it's got a pro-Castro plotline. Just after the Cuban revolution, when Castro's forces drove Batista from power, American Cameron Mitchell, who runs a Miami airstrip, goes to Cuba to find his old buddy Hank who's gone missing. Because Hank had become a heavy drinker, no one seems terribly concerned about his disappearance. Even Hank's estranged wife, Allison Hayes, an old flame of Mitchell's, seems to have forgotten all about Hank and is now being romanced by plantation owner Eduardo Noriega. Mitchell works with the local cops but also strikes out on his own, crossing paths with some brutal thugs who work for Otto Waldis, Hank's former boss. Hank's decomposing body is found—it's assumed he got drunk and took a fatal fall in pouring rain—but guess who stumbles into Hayes' apartment? Hank (Logan Field), on the run from the same thugs who are after Mitchell. It turns out that Waldis is smuggling bomb fuses (in boxes marked "chocolate") to pro-Batista forces preparing to bomb Havana. Yes, the folks backing Castro are the good guys here, but who can they trust, and will they be able to stop the bombing?

This is a decent hard-boiled thriller which is helped immensely by the location shooting. Mitchell is par for the course for as the rough-around-the-edges hero, but Hayes (one of those women—like Julie Newmar—who is always described as "statuesque") is fun to watch, even if she's not much of an actor; she looks good standing around and glaring at people. Waldis looks like a disgruntled Edmund Gwenn (Santa in Miracle on 34th Street). Field, as the missing buddy, gets a good scene or two in near the end, and Michael Granger is fine as the cop. At 67 minutes, it doesn't wear out its welcome. [TCM]

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