Wednesday, June 2, 2010

One man's terrorist....

TCM is showing a night of movies directed by John Huston tonight. I've mentioned Bette Davis' wonderful rant in In This Our Life before; that movie airs in the wee hours of the morning at 3:15 AM ET. The movie airing before that, at 1:15 AM, is one I haven't recommended before: We Were Strangers.

Set in Cuba during a dictatorship of the early 1930s, We Were Strangers stars Jennifer Jones as China Valdés, an employee at a local export bank. She's not very politically active until one day when her innocent brother is gunned down at the university by the forces of the evil dictator. At the same time, American Tony Fenner (John Garfield) enters Cuba. He's actually there on a missoin to help out the revolutionaries who are plotting to overthrow the dictator. Needless to say, their lives are about to cross in a bunch of ways. Fenner and his gang of Cuban exiles have been using the bank where she works to funnel money between the US and Cuba. But, more imporantly, China has a nice house that Tony thinks the revolutionaries can use in one of their plots. The house is right next to a cemetery where families of some of the prominent members of the government are buried. Tony figures that if the revolutionaries can assassinate one of the members of the government, the rest will show up at the funeral, and the revolutionaries can bomb the government from below. That, of course, involves tunneling, with the beginning of the tunnel being in the Valdés house.

China agrees and sends the rest of her family to the countryside, while she stays and continues working at the bank. The tunneling commences, and as it goes on, she and Tony fall in love. And, in true Hollywood fashion, there's also a love triangle. The third member of that triangle is Pedro Armendáriz playing Armando Ariete. Ariete is the head of the secret police and as such, has a lot of reason to be inspecting the bank where China works. What he doesn't know is that her brother is the man that was killed by him at the university all those months ago. He also doesn't know that she's become the hostess for those revolutionaries, including Fenner. Still, he falls in love with her.

In some ways, it's fairly formulaic stuff, but We Were Strangers isn't that bad a movie. Jennifer Jones isn't my favorite, and certainly isn't a convincing Cuban, but since this could be a dictatorship anywhere, the miscasting isn't such a big deal. John Garfield is fine as always, the handsome man with a dark and troubled past. And Armendáriz is superbly sinister as the head of the secret police. The supporting cast includes Gilbert Roland and Ramon Novarro as two of Garfield's fellow revolutionaries, and both add quite a bit to the proceedings. The movie has also been released to DVD, so you can watch it any time you like, not just 1:15 in the morning.

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