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Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Carol Reed | Our Man in Havana
inventing the enemy
by Douglas Messerli
Graham Greene (screenplay, based on his novel), Carol Reed (director) Our Man in Havana / 1959, USA 1960
Now suddenly Wormold has a regular income, is able to join the country club, and throw his daughter the kind of birthday party which will continue to spoil her. But what does a spy do? And how can he attain further operatives? Without a pang of regret, Wormold decides to simply make them up, using the names of club members and other slight acquaintances. The London service, headed by "C" (Ralph Richardson) is delighted with his success. When Wormold further thickens the stew with imaginary drawings—based mostly on his vacuum cleaner equipment—of supposed rocket-launchers and other dangerous machines, he is paid even greater sums, finally allowing himself and his daughter the life she demands.
That she has also attracted the eye of the local Cuban chief of police, Captain Segura (Ernie Kovacs)—known as a man who "beats his prisoners, but...never touches them"—further complicates things and draws even more attention to Wormold. The arrival of a secretary, Beatrice (Maureen O'Hara) and radioman heats the situation even further; Wormold now must work harder still to maintain his deceit.
Havana is played for all its tropical atmosphere, as a world of dark events and strange goings-on. Wormold's best friend is a German, whom we later discover worships Bismarck in the way others had Hitler. When he is murdered, it seems that the weave of international intrigue is not simply something Wormold has "made up," but a mysterious reality that endangers his own life. Of course that is precisely the point, intrigue and paranoia only lead to further intrigue and paranoia; imaginary enemies eventually become real ones.
In short, having enemies, so it turns out, is beneficial to everyone. It is friends who are the dangerous folk. But then, Senator McCarthy had already showed us that!
Los Angeles, March 7, 2012